"Welcome To Our Hometown of Itri, in South Lazio" NonnaLou's Profile
We are an English family, who have chosen to leave the rat race in the UK to completely change our lives, to come and live in "Bella Italia".
We now live near the lovely little mountain town of
situated close to the South Lazio seaside resorts of
Gaeta, Formia and Sperlonga on the beautiful Ulisses Coast.
ITRI is situated mid-way between Rome and Naples .
We fell deeply in love with this area of Italy when on holiday a few years ago.
Unlike Sorrento, Amalfi, Tuscany, Umbria and Le Marche,
this is an area that is as yet largely undiscovered by foreign visitors,
where you can still sample a taste of
"Real Italy" .
We have a passion for all (well nearly all !!!) things Italian,
and can now speak the language pretty well.
We hope to share our knowledge, experiences and enthusiasm for this wonderful area.
ITRI and Southern Lazio is so full of history, culture and natural beauty, and has so much in its favour.
Our SOUTH LAZIO WEBSITE: http://southlazio.shapcott-family.com
We love to make new friends, so............................
please feel free to contact us: at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Virtual Tourist
Please do take a look at our BLOG about where we live : http://trecancelle.wordpress.com
Also take a look at my Blog "Avanti Sempre Avanti" at http://nonnalou.wordpress.com
which tells the story of our move from the UK to Italy and our adventures along the way.
for more information about this lovely little town and the surrounding area.
Ciao for now !!!
We purchased a a deserted "casale" or farmhouse, which hadn't been lived in for over 10 years, even then it had not been a true family home. The facilities were very basic and left much to be desired.
The house came with a large piece of land measuring just over 8 acres. Of that a sizeable section was made up of 600 olive trees. So now we are Olive Farmers , or "contadini".
The countryside surrounding Itri has been noted for the quality of its olives since Roman times. The Itrana variety is exclusive to this specific area, thriving in the unique environment. Everywhere you care to look in Itri there are olive trees, its undulating hillsides are tinted with their distinctive silver grey foliage. In the rocky terrain olive trees thrive, benefiting from the hot, dry summers, temperate winters, refreshing Tyrhennian sea breezes and fertile mountain soil, indeed the cultivation and preparation of this fruit is the mainstay of the local economy.
Having purchased the house and olive groves, we suddenly found ourselves with approximately 600 trees to tend. Such ancient knowledge and skills were normally passed down from father to son over many generations, and it became all too clear that for us complete novices this was going to be a very steep learning curve.
To start to tame the wilderness and reduce the risk of fire during the hot summer drought, we invested in a strimmer, a mighty beast, which came with a backpack, making it lighter and more manageable to carry over large distances. Slowly but surely, we were succeeding in reclaiming the land.
Paul received his first lesson in clipping off the little, unwanted side shoots which sprout from the main branches and around the base of each tree. These superfluous sprigs, known as "frasche", needed to be trimmed off and burned, so that all the tree’s productive energy would be channelled into making the olives plump and juicy.
By the beginning of November many of the olives on our trees were growing round and plump and gradually turning from green to a dappled pink colour. A neighbouring contadino advised that they were almost ready to harvest, but told us to wait a week or two for the optimum time to commence the harvest, and so that we could be assured that the olive mill machinery was good and clean, and working well.
Now we needed to consider whether to employ extra hands for the olive harvest and exactly what equipment we needed to purchase. We soon found out that daily labour did not come cheap. After careful consideration we opted to purchase our own equipment, rather than wasting the valuable cash on paying someone else to do the work for us. We ordered a "machinetta" (a mechanical shaker), complete with an air compressor, plus several nets, crates, and a petrol pump hoses and spray attachments for treating the olives when we are ready to do so.
So amid all the chaos of the house renovation we were about to embark on the adventure of our first olive harvest.
Our friends gave us some basic instructions as to how to go about things, but mainly we learned on the job and by our own mistakes.
We would spread the huge, green, synthetic nets under four or five trees. Paul would then fire up the air compressor, which was driven by a small, raucous petrol engine, and connect the long, flexible, pneumatic hose to the compressor’s air reservoir. There were a variety of tools that could attached to the end of the hose, for harvesting olives there was the machinetta, a mechanical shaker, a pair of vibrating clappers, mounted on an aluminium telescopic pole, which could be extended to a maximum length of four metres.
Paul or our son Ben operated the shaker, to dislodge the fruit from the higher branches of the trees, while I endeavoured not to get battered by the tumbling fruit that was raining down. I worked on the lower branches, detaching the olives by gently running my fingers over the fronds, and popping off the green drupes. Then I would scramble about under the trees to manually gather any that had bounced off the nets.
As the compressor chuntered and hissed, we would gather up the nets until the olives were rolled to one edge, then we would sort and pull out some of the leaves and stray twigs, before pouring the olives into the prepared plastic crates, and lug the nets on to the next batch of trees to be harvested.
We would work on until dusk, and then pack away our equipment and load the full crates of olives into the back of our car. The olives needed to be processed within a 24 to 48 hour period after picking, otherwise the quality would deteriorate rapidly, any bruised or damaged fruit would begin to oxidise and ferment, resulting in higher levels of acidity.
As we bounced and trundled down the pot-holed road to Itri the car was bursting with the intense fruity aroma of the freshly picked olives.
In Itri there were a couple of olive mills, the largest of which was a new building, marked with a curious tall post mounted with a ball made of yellow wire mesh, which is illuminated at night, presumably it was supposed to represent an olive. However, we chose to get our olives processed at the local co-operative.
We soon learned that Itrana olives were suitable as table olives, but these had to be harvested and handled with great care to avoid any bruising of the fruit. First they were poured into a shaking device which separated off the leaves and smaller undersized olives. The larger olives then had to be sorted by hand on large tables specially designed for this purpose, to eliminate any with any with blemishes or bruises.
However olives, freshly harvested from the trees are inedible and must be treated to remove the astringent bitter taste. The olives must be put into a brine solution made of sea salt and left to cure for about 6 months, after which these take on a distinctive bitter flavour, with a hint of wine vinegar. We picked some of the biggest and healthiest olives we could find in our groves for curing at home in brine.
There are in fact two types of Itrana table olives:
“White” which in reality are a golden green colour with pale pink markings, harvested early in the season whilst they are only semi ripe, and
“Black” which are actually a deep purple colour, harvested in March or April, when they are fully ripened. Although the Itrani olives are mainly cultivated in the Itri area, they are more commonly marketed abroad, mainly to America, as “Olive di Gaeta”. Top chefs recommend that recipes such as "Spaghetti alla Puttanesca" or "Straccetti alla Marinara" require only the best ingredients, such as Gaeta Olives.
We decided to process the majority of our olives into oil, which seemed to be the easier, less time consuming option. In Itri the mills are modern and mechanised. First our crates of olives were weighed, and marked with our surname, and then stacked until it was their turn for processing. The olives were tipped into a hopper and passed through a vibrating machine which separated the olives from the leaves and any other debris. Then they were washed, and mechanically sliced, crushed, mashed and churned to produce a smooth pulp. The next process was to extract the mixture of oil and water within a large centrifuge, and then this underwent another session of spinning to separate the oil from the water, which had been added during processing. Finally it was decanted into our own portable container.
And so the harvest continued, and we regularly visited the "frantoio" with our latest batches of harvested olives.
It had been backbreaking work, but it was incredibly satisfying to see our own olives transformed into freshly milled, vibrant golden green oil. Our olives had been harvested early in the season, so they tend to produce slightly less oil, but one of an extra high quality with a fruity and slightly peppery after taste. Oil derived from fully mature olives, harvested later in March or April, would be somewhat denser, less bitter but with higher levels of acidity.
To be classified as “Extra Virgin” olive oil has to be extracted during the “first pressing” of the olives and must have an acidity level of below 1%, therefore, the lower the acid, the higher the quality oil.
Therefore our own olive oil, could be labelled: Extra Virgin; First Pressing; Cold Pressed as well as an Early Pressing. It was a superior quality oil, with an good flavour, derived solely from Itrana variety of olives, and was therefore exceptionally low in acidity, in fact far below the1% international standard.
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