The Sabine Harvest
Cultivated since prehistoric times in the Middle East, olives spread westward over the next three millenniums to become a staple of diets from the Middle East to the Mediterranean. Olive cultivation was already well established in the Roman region two millenniums ago, especially in the Sabine Hills, north of Rome, where it is still a major part of the local economy. A good friend lives in the Sabine area, and we help harvest his olives in November, always bringing home a sack of olives, which we cure according to his recipe: Wash the olives, place them in a stainless steel, glass or terra cotta pot – add 100g. Salt per litre of water, filling to cover, add fennel seeds wrapped in cheesecloth and a halved orange. Change the water every 4-7 days, for 4 weeks, when they will be ready to eat. Our friend also introduced us to the Penucha Grove B&B in the Sabine area, in an old manor dating back to the 1200’s, owned by a couple, Stefano and Valerie, who also produce and sell olive oil. Valerie’s grandfather’s farm in Northern Wales – Penucha Green, meant in Welsh “over the green valley”, hence their name means “over the olive grove”. Stefano and Valerie produce and sell olive oil from their grove of 180 trees, which are of 5 high –yield varieties, including: Olivago, La Raia and the small black, oil-filled Carboncella varieties, which yield between 19-23% virgin olive oil. In late May, the trees are sprayed with copper sulphite, which disinfects them and protects from pests, a procedure also accepted for biologically certified cultivation. Sometimes a pruning of the rapid growth is done in June-July, to make harvesting easier later on, the classic date for which is any time after All Saint’s Day. The longer the olives remain on the tree the more oil they will produce. Valerie’s family arrives for the harvest, which is classically done by spreading large nets under the trees and using a sort of large comb to harvest the olives. Nowadays they are run by compressed air and a two-person team can harvest about 10 trees per day. According to Stefano and Valerie, their grove yields from 300-600 liters of precious virgin olive oil per year. The olives are taken to the local press, at Coltodino, which also sells its own oil. Agricultural experts from late January to March prune the trees, then the cycle repeats. Curiously, the stunning stone manor at Penucha Grove, possibly originally belonging to the nearby Farfa Abbey, was the zone’s main olive press until about 50 years ago. Three gracious rooms are available for guests: the Cardinal’s Room, the Monks’ Cell and the Lord’s Room. Penucha Grove is also available for events and for inquiries regarding their extra-virgin olive oil.
Article written by:
Mary Therese Burns-De Francesco
La Gazzetta Italiana in November 2009.