Friday, 2 March 2012

A Canadian Meets an Olive

In the plane on the way to Croatia, I asked my sister whether I would get to see an olive tree on our travels.

She was highly amused, I fancy.

Istria was fairly bursting with olive trees, I soon found out.  Most homes had at least one in the yard for their own use.  And anywhere there was land room not occupied by wine grapes, an olive grove was sure to take its stand.

Early November is olive harvest time.  We stopped to speak with some farmers hand-picking their delicacies, and found that they were very like the farmers back home.  Concerned about the weather.  Concerned about prices for their crops.  Concerned about pests and fruit quality, speaking in just the same tones I have heard all around me all my farm-girl life.

What a small world we live in.

I learned that olive trees can be incredibly old - and that generation upon generation of Croats have lived in the same farm house, picked fruit from the same trees, and created the same precious olive oil as their anscestors before them.  The same tie to the land that I know to be true on the Canadian Prairies runs in the blood of these simple Croatian people.  It warmed me to them as if there were a blood tie between us, stretched taut across thousands of miles.

Near the quaint town of Bale we happened upon an olive oil co-operative, a communal processing plant.  Fascinated, we wandered in to have a look.  Much to our surprise, we got a tour of the facility by very friendly and accommodating staff who spoke excellent English.

On display were the original belt-driven olive presses used in the past.  Our guide carefully explained the processes used to extract the oil, and how much oil resulted from the raw olives.  The troughs to catch the oil, the weights for pressing, had all been preserved.

She then demonstrated the new equipment.  The modern process, because of its containment, allows no air to mix with the fruit and results in a much purer product, she explained.  It only takes 2 employees to process hundreds of liters of oil daily.

She was also quick to point out that their oil is pressed only once, and that the residual fruit and pits are ground up and added to the local farmer's soil as a natural fertilizer.

I found the information fascinating.  Now, this Canadian had not only had the chance to see some trees, I had also seen the process from picking to production!

Before we left, we were encouraged to taste some of the freshly-pressed olive oil.  I learned that fresh oil has a rich green tinge, and tastes very grassy.  This premium quality, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil  is prized as a finishing oil all over the world.  What a privelege to have been allowed into that world for one shining moment...

My experiences mean that when I am in a Canadian grocery store, I check the shelves and labels as I never have before.  I buy things I never used to buy.  Travel has opened my eyes to so much.

It is being built into who I am becoming.