History and characteristics of the olive or olive tree.

History and characteristics of the olive or olive tree.

Jun 22, 2022


Ilaria Rosa

The olive tree or olive tree (olea Europaea) is native to Syria and Asia Minor; it is a spontaneous wild fruit tree widespread since ancient times, which formed vast forests.In the Mediterranean there are more than 1000 types of olive trees and in Italy there are about 500 qualities. Over time the Greeks discovered its great properties and began to cultivate it.

Evergreen tree, broad-leaved, which stands out for its longevity and frugality, typically heliophilic (i.e. it needs direct sun exposure), thermophilic (suitable for living in warm, warm temperate environments), and xerophytic (also suitable for environments characterized by long periods of drought).
The olive tree is a supporting column in the history of Mediterranean civilizations and of the whole West, there are numerous legends that are told about it: the first speaks of Athena, the Goddess planted her spear in the ground on the occasion of the blessing of men and it was there that the first olive tree was born; the second mentions the forest sacred to Zeus, on the edge of the world, where the mythical Hercules gathered an olive tree there. The latest anecdote refers to Noah, it is said that to announce the end of the universal flood, the dove brought him, tight in its beak, an olive branch. Its relevance was also proclaimed on the occasion of the Olympic games where the winners were intertwined with crowns with foliage.

Its vegetative activity diminishes in the winter period, it grows slowly, it is long-lived, and in favorable climatic conditions it can become millenary. The fruit of the olive tree are olives; the young plant can bear fruit three or four years after planting (recommended in late spring). The stem is of hard, cylindrical wood, twisted with a greenish gray color, the crown has a conical shape with fruiting branches and pendulous branches, the leaves are two-colored with the lower part white-silver and the upper green. The cluster inflorescences (little fingers) have small hermaphroditic flowers, with calyx, 4 sepals and white petals; and are emitted mainly at the axil of the leaves of the twigs of the previous year.

Depending on the cultivar and the area, flowering occurs from May to mid-June, followed by fruit set, then the corolla withers and detaches with the enlargement of the ovary. The fruit set has a very low percentage (about 5%) and is negatively affected by many environmental factors: sudden drop in temperature, strong and hot winds and water stress. Then the first fruit growth takes place, which stops when the endocarp begins to lignify, and occurs from the beginning of July until the beginning of August. After this phase, the endocarp will be completely lignified and the fruit will resume growing (globose ellipsoidal or ovoid drupe); this will initially be light green in color, while subsequently, from October to November, depending on the variety, veraison will take place, that is, the change in color that approaches ripeness. When fully ripe, if the olives are not harvested, they gradually begin to fall (drop) and lose water.

As for the pruning of the olive tree, it must be done in late winter-early spring, safeguarding the younger, thinner but more productive branches; Instead, it is necessary to eliminate the internal and dense branches, cut the branches that grow at the base of the trunk (suckers), leave a single tip per branch and cut most of the unproductive branches that rise upwards (suckers).

There are three types of cultivars: those for oil, those for table, and those with a dual purpose. The oil cultivars have more yield with a high lipid content but with smaller olives; those for the table are much larger, have a lower oil yield and are sold for direct consumption. The plant suffers from low temperatures, in fact frosts can damage the wood already at -7 ° and cause the death of the entire aerial system. The olive tree prefers medium-textured and well-drained soil, even if coarse and with outcropping rockiness, tolerates salinity, and suffers in heavy and stagnant soils. Once olives were harvested by hand, climbing high wooden ladders, with canvas sacks over the shoulder or with wicker baskets attached to the belt.

The harvest runs from mid-October to the end of December, still today in some areas of Italy it is done by hand as it once was, otherwise nets are spread under the plants and the branches are beaten with long flexible sticks. There are also modern and mechanized methods to shorten the olive harvest time, this consists in the use of shaking machines similar to large overturned umbrellas that collect the olives inside as they fall, or hand shakers that with their oscillating movement do so that the fruits fall on the nets on the ground. Immediately after harvesting, at the latest within two days, the harvested olives should be taken to the mill; this is because the fruit as soon as it is detached from the plant and stored in the perforated crates begins to lose water and fungi and bacteria settle in it, which can alter the organoleptic properties of the oil.

Over time, the acidity also increases and the product can no longer be defined as “Extra Virgin Olive Oil.” Even the environmental temperature has a negative influence on the conservation of the harvest, this should not exceed 5 °. In conclusion, therefore, the olives should be brought to the mill immediately after harvesting, but if this is not possible, it should absolutely not exceed the fourth day. Upon arrival at the mill we will proceed to weighing, then the olives will be cleaned of twigs and leaves, and subsequently washed.

At this point, the various processing steps will take place: pressing, kneading, extraction and filtration.
Italy, after Spain, is the second largest producer of olive oil in the world, with a production of over 464,000 tons; the European Union has recognized 41 PDO and 1 PGI denominations. The concentration of crops is more pronounced in the south with 77.9%; the greatest development is in Puglia with 5 million trees planted and in the Volturno valley where numerous secular plants can be observed.
Thanks to the commitment of serious producers, and the work of operators who work to collect the fruits at the right time and send them promptly to the mill, the result can only be a great product characterized by unique aromas and flavors.

In particular, Italian oils are a pride of our producers and are known and loved all over the world. Discover our dedicated collection.

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