On a verdant hillside between Tiglio Basso and Ponte all’Ania, looking out onto the magnificent Apuane Alps and over the mid Serchio river valley, there is a lovely tall white stucco villa, capped by a red tile roof, on property which has been in the Barsotti family for hundreds of years.
The home overlooks terraced gardens of fruits, vegetables and saffron flowers, vineyards and 80 olive trees, fifteen of which are over one hundred years old, the rest about twenty five. Among them are scattered several pendolini, the pendolino is the masculine tree necessary for pollination which is, for the most part, accomplished by the wind.
This area is known for the Leccino olive which is adapted to these altitudes and this climate and prized for its low acidity. These olive trees are about 90% Leccini, but there are also some of the most typical Tuscan olive here which is the Frantoiano, and a few Ascolana.
Each year in mid November the olives are hand picked or shaken into nets and gathered and processed into the oil which, stored in a cool place and kept out of the light, will be enjoyed by family and friends for the year to come. The 80 trees produce about 900 kilos of olives which will yield from 120 to 130 liters of olive oil.
Throughout the region at this time of year, olives are picked and taken to the Frantoio, the olive press, and depending on quantity, are pressed, in individual batches or in combination with others olives to make up a minimum, and bottled.
Several years ago, the Barsotti’s son-in-law, Leonello Diversi, had the idea that he would like to be able to press his own olives, as he does his own wine, and he got to talking to two precision machinist friends who were married to friends from a nearby city. These machinists had emigrated and were now established in Winterthur, Switzerland. By phone and fax they developed, machined, and manufactured the system which Leonello has installed in his cantina. His own Frantoio.
The process begins outside under a portico with the separation of the olives from leaves and stems fanned through a large long slanted cylinder. As we enter the warm cellar the pungent fragrance of olives already at work in the press greets us. The olives are then washed, and put through the crusher, two rolling stainless steel cylinders. The crushed grey green pulp is then blended in a large warmed stainless steel vat for about an hour to begin to bring out the oil and render the pulp homogenous.
On a system of rails and pulleys the container of pulp is then transferred near the press and spread by hand with a trowel between 50 woven nylon mats layered with metal dividers. Nylon was chosen so as to not impart any residue or scent to the oil. At the top a 70 kilo weight is lowered and locked into place and the pressing is done slowly, and stops automatically at 400 bars pressure.
The sides of the mats glisten as the machine contracts from 700 mm to 450 mm as the pulp is compressed. The oleaginous emulsion is then piped to the decanter in which the oil descends and is separated from the water. It is then decanted into stainless steel containers and can be used immediately but ideally clarifies after about a month. We were treated to its delicious sharp flavour on squares of fresh bread dipped into the warm oil and a bottle to take home.
At this time of year the nespole, or loquat, tree is in blossom and the its sweet fragrance surrounded us as we came out from under the portico into the cool drizzle of a typical mid November day in northern Tuscany.