As I looked out at Francesco’s olive grove, I couldn’t believe it was November. The grass was scorched yellow and the surrounding hills were a thirsty brown. It looked more like late August. In fact, it hasn’t rained hardly at all this year in Amelia. This has had a terrible impact on nature: there are songbirds singing now that usually only come out in spring! Funghi…. don’t even say that word around these parts: mushrooms, a classic element in autumnal Umbrian cuisine, have been scarce. The Amerini are getting worried.
So, what does this mean for the olive trees and the local olive oil production? Although the oil is good quality, it means there is less. Without rain, the olives did not get very big and they are exceptionally ripe. This gives the oil a slightly different taste from last year. Some of the fresh grass taste of green frantoio olives is lost and the buttery leccino comes to the fore. As I have told our customers time and again, olive oil is an agricultural product and its taste varies from year to year depending on the weather and growing conditions. If it doesn’t, you probably aren’t eating very good oil.
Although there are few olives this year, what olives that come to the mill are putting out a high percentage of oil (since there is little water in them). This offers some good news for the people whose livelihoods depend on this crop.
As I visited people picking olives on the rolling hills around Amelia and chatted with farmers anxiously waiting in the frantoio, the economic fragility of agriculture hit home for me. It is important that we recognise the risks that olive oil producers face each year as they hope for a healthy and abundant crop of olives.