Posted by: viewfromtheriva | October 22, 2010

First olive picking of the year!


Plump and ready to harvest!

After waiting 11 months, nourished only by nature, the fruit on this ancient Soltanka (“lady from Solta”) olive tree was finally ready to be picked!  Our  small group (Finns, a Norwegian and folks from Split)  took the 11:15 ferry to the always wonderful island of Solta, ready to pick, enjoy lunch at the mill and then see their olives being processed.

Olynthia Natura, the award-winning boutique producer of some of Croatia’s finest oil, offers an Olive Picking on Solta tour only once each year–during their harvest from Oct. 20-Nov. 2o.  All of their groves are farmed organically and not only is every olive is picked by hand,  but every ounce of oil is bottled by hand!

Olynthia picks a bit earlier than others because they want the best flavor not more quantity.  When the fruits are still partially green, the flavor and nutrients are at their most intense–but the yield is less because the olives are less sweet and ripe.

This year the harvest is going to be fabulous because of the all-important rainfall in September that turned hard green puckered olives into plump blue/black beauties.

Ivan our team leader and olive grower

Making sure we didn’t kill ourselves or the tree was Ivan, a Solta native with his own extensive groves and formerly a pro basketball player and coach in Denmark.  In other words, a big guy.  But with gentle hands and a winning personality it’s hard to imagine him knocking heads on the court with fellow 240 pound power forwards.

We picked for about two hours.  The tree waiting for us was several hundred years old, conveniently planted up against a high rock wall which we used to pick the upper branches without having to use a ladder.  After spreading netting on the ground under the tree, we just began plucking the fruit and everyone marveled at how easy and natural it was to literally pull your hands through a branch, grab onto stems and fruit and then simply spill them out of your hands onto the ground.

Ivana works for her lunch

Ivana, shown here in mid-merriment, works for the Split Tourist Board, and despite being a native Croat, had never picked before–and she loved it!  With five of us picking, plus Ivan, the two hours flew by and pretty soon it was time to gather up the nets and put our bounty into olive baskets for their trip back to the mill for processing.

Gathering our precious cargo!

Each plastic basket is designed to hold about 20 kilos.  The “average” tree (we’re talking about trees 50-1000 years old so “average” is ????) yields about 50 kilos if the growing season and rainfall are good.  Our tree gave up a whopping 80 kilos!

The ticket that included our batch allows Olynthia to see what grove it came from, the date and the weight of the entire batch being processed

Once we lugged the baskets back to the van, it was a short trip through the incredibly narrow winding streets of Gornje Selo to the mill where dozens of baskets from groves all over the island were already stacked up waiting for their turn to be processed.

Since Olynthia has the only hi-tech processing plant on the island, it also serves as a cooperative–providing processing to other growers as well as for its own production.

Waiting to be processed

Because it was the first day of processing, the plant had less than 1000 kilos, but now that picking is in full swing, some days the plant will run 24 hours a day. This is because Olynthia presses all of its harvest within 12 hours from when the fruit was picked to preserve as much of the nutrients and flavor as possible.

Into the hopper

After being weighed, the olives are dumped into a hopper and drop down to be scooped up by a ladder-like conveyor (top middle of the photo) which takes them to be washed. Then any leaves and stems still left are separated before the olives enter a closed system that crushes the fruit as well as the pits.

This goopy paste (almost like bread dough) is churned for up to 20 minutes as the olive master looks on adding water and temperature (if needed, because cold-pressed oil cannot be heated past 23-24C) before sending the batch to a 7000rpm centrifuge which separates the oil from the water creating “liquid gold”.

Amazingly the whole process takes under an hour!

What Homer called "liquid gold"

I’ve written a previous blog on this subject with similar photos, but somehow this year the event was even more glorious…so much so that our Norwegian guest announced that next year she would come for a month to pick for free and was promply assured that room and board would he hers!

The Olive Picking on Sollta program continues to Nov. 20th if you are interested.  Just call 092-233-2509 in Croatia (385 area code) and I’ll be happy to explain the trip. It’s 450kn ($85) and includes RT ferry tickets, transfers, picking coach, olive oil tasting with bruschetta, home cooked lunch (rissoto with shrimp!), with yummy local Dobricic wine!, a free bottle of just pressed oil (worth $10) and yours truly on every trip!

Enjoy our new Croatian vacation portal

Read more about Croatia at secret dalmatia’s unique blog

Coming to Split?  www.thehotelsofsplit.com

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Responses

  1. our friends pick the olives from our olive trees, as unfortunately so far we’ve never been in Croatia at the right time to pick our own oliver 😦
    Never say never…


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