I have recently returned from the launch of harvest season at my beloved Domenica Fiore olive estate in Orvieto, Italy. People who know me understand that this is my favourite time of year. It’s when those of us involved in this passion project come together to celebrate the first pressing; to share a delicious meal and raise a glass to Mother Nature in anticipation of the bounty to come. As far as I’m concerned, it’s better than Christmas. The weather is dependably fantastic, the food is superb and there’s no pressure to buy a bunch of presents. The gift is the olive oil.
And this year, Mother Nature (a.k.a. Santa) didn’t disappoint. 2021 has been extremely dry and hot in Italy. (There were weeks when it was over 40 degrees Celsius in the region.) We don’t use an irrigation system and instead feed our olive trees with 80 percent recycled rain water. As a result, our yield will be lower than average this year, which is not a negative with respect to quality. Generally speaking, a yield that is lower results in an oil that is especially intense in flavour. After a hot and dry summer there are fewer olives on the trees. This means the tree gives more nutrients to less fruit, resulting in olives that are more concentrated. And based on the flavour I experienced after the first pressing, that is most definitely the case this year.
Upon tasting, our Oil Master, Cesare Bianchini detected a flavour profile of mint, arugula, chicory and camomile in the new olive oil. I’m no expert, but agree the mint and arugula are distinct. The chicory and camomile more subtle. All I know for sure is, I love it! And that finish at the back of the throat is strong. This oil will stand up well as a finisher for grilled meats and roasted vegetables and soups. Perhaps my favourite way is to use it for dipping bread as a snack.
At Domenica Fiore we begin each harvest season with our prized Novello di Notte. “Novello” means first, or, new and “di Notte” means, of the night. Given that it is still quite hot at the end of September, we harvest late at night under the cool cover of darkness. This protects the olives from exposure to heat while being picked and pressed, which is one of the main factors that causes olive oil to break down and oxidize. (Don’t keep your olive oil next to the stove.) It also protects the oil from the light, another enemy of olive oil. And since we are harvesting Novello di Notte early (I don’t believe any other producer in the area is harvesting in September), there is an even lower yield, as the fruit isn’t as ripe as it will be a few weeks later. All of this results in a superior extra virgin olive oil that is higher in polyphenols and antioxidants than other extra virgins of similar quality. And we’ve got the lab results to prove it.
For the first time this year, I invited a few members of the press to join in our harvest festivities and to learn about how best quality olive oil is produced and to witness our techniques. Perhaps you’ll see it written about in the coming months. And I plan to do more of this in the years to come. Domenica Fiore is my passion project in celebration of my mother and my Italian heritage, and my mission is to bring extraordinary olive oil to the world. Part of that is an education effort, as most people don’t know what makes good quality oil. For Italians, it’s a way of life. I consume it every day, and you should too.