THE OLIVE CULTIVATION
The olive-tree is an evergreen with elliptic leaves. It belongs to the botanical family of Oleaceae, the most important species being Olea europea sativa, that is native to the Mediterranean region.
The plant is an icon of the mediterranean landscape, being well suited to its environment characterized by mild climate, mainly calcareous soils, where are fertile and well-drained grounds. The plant can adapt also to other conditions, except where there is water stagnation. Olive-groves are mainly set in hilly or mountain areas.
The tree has an extended life span and start bearing at about fifteen years of age. Olive-groves are usually mixed with other cultivations, like vegetables or legumes, in order to cover the costs of the plantation.
The olive tree tends to be alternate bearing, producing a large crop one year with a smaller crop the next. The olive-grove requires some particular practices: it is ploughed in february, may and december (not very deep to avoid damages to the plant), hoed in periods of drought, and regularly pruned.
Being not propagated by seed, it usually uses the pollen of other plants, that be suitable for olive trees. Harvesting takes place from November to February. Olives destinated to pickling are normally hand-picked, what helps better preserving their quality. Difficulties of this method are related to the olive-grove location. Mechanical harvesting is required when it is situtated on a steep slope where it is not possible to use a ladder.
Olives are washed to eliminate any remaining impurities, and successively stoned and kneaded. The stoning is required since oil from stone could damage the olive oil. Through the kneading the oil is heated and stirred by means of proper machines in order to break the emulsions of oil and water formed during previous processes.
The olive paste is finally pressed. There are several methods:
Through the “discontinuous” method, the paste is placed on disks of vegetable fibres (called “fiscoli”, which today are frequently made of synthetic materials) that are stacked under the press. A minor pressure produces a better quality of oil.
Other methods of pressing are the centrifugation and the filtering, that are referred to as the “continuous” methods.
Olive cultivation in Sicily has remotest origins. It was probably established by Phoenecians and Myceneans, and the market was particularly flourishing under the Romans and Normans.
Among the many cultivars in Sicily are the Nocellara of the Belice Valley - with a remarkable spheric shape and a rich pulp - the Giarraffa, the Nocellara Etnea, the small Moresca and the Tonda Iblea.
Other praised varieties are the “bianculidda”, the “calamignara”, the “carbucia”, the “cirasola”, the “passulunara” e the “ugghiara”.