January 19, 2022

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Cultivating Olives on the Slopes of Mount Etna

Cultivating Olives on the Slopes of Mount Etna

In the summertime of 2020, out of the blue, my father advised me of a good friend of his who, after many years spent working in Milan as a photojournalist, determined to return to his roots and start producing further virgin olive oil at a household farm on the slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano — Europe’s largest — on the japanese facet of Sicily.

I flew to fulfill the person, Enzo Signorelli, firstly of the olive choosing season, in late October of the identical 12 months. It was very moist the primary few days, so the harvest was postponed, and there was no certainty that I’d get to {photograph} it. Fortunately, towards the tip of my keep, the sky opened up and gave us two heat and vivid days.

Due to its peak, Mount Etna is seen from nearly in all places in northeastern Sicily. (In August its summit was 11,014 feet tall, although it modifications with eruptions.) However the volcano looms particularly giant for the area’s farmers and vintners: For millenniums, they’ve benefited from a mineral-rich soil, a results of its eruptions.

“Someplace alongside the slopes, there are olive bushes which are at the very least 500 years previous,” Enzo advised me, including that the Greeks, after which the Romans, have been identified to reap olives right here.

Enzo, now 63, moved again to Sicily in 2011, turning into the caretaker of the olive groves which his household has owned and tended to for over 100 years. “I wished to dedicate my time to the land and to the olives,” he stated. “At first I had no concept this curiosity of mine would flip right into a ardour — and later, right into a full-time occupation.”

Each autumn, Enzo gathers a small group of about 10 pickers to assist with the harvest. The lads work elsewhere throughout the remainder of the 12 months — choosing oranges and lemons, for instance — however hold themselves accessible for Enzo through the olive season, which generally lasts from the tip of October to mid-November.

The employees gathered every morning at seven, whereas it was nonetheless darkish and chilly, to make a hearth whereas they mentioned the day’s plan. Then they shortly laid out the nets beneath the designated bushes.

To reap the olives, the boys used their palms as in the event that they have been rakes, reaching into the bushes with each palms and gently however firmly pulling out as many olives as they may, then permitting the fruit to drop into the nets under.

The lads, who all know one another, spent their working hours sharing tales and telling jokes. Since they labored within the open air, they didn’t put on masks. Throughout their lunch break, they took out their hearty packed lunches and shared their meals. Riccardo, the group chief, kindly invited me to pattern the meal that his spouse had packed for him and his pals. Alessandro, one other of the younger staff, had joined his father for the choosing season and chatted with him about household issues.

All day lengthy I heard a gradual symphony of fowl calls, crickets and different buzzing bugs, olives dropping first towards the wood ladders after which towards the bottom, and the pickers’ very native Sicilian parlance.

The lads usually sang whereas they labored. Roberto, 35, with darkish hair and darkish eyes, entertained everybody with a powerful repertoire of native people songs, most of them about love and longing.

Although usually troublesome to farm, the volcanic soil close to Mount Etna is extraordinarily fertile. Over time, lapilli, ash and lava rocks, deposited by eruptions, have degraded to type a crumbly soil that’s wealthy in vitamins, together with minerals and natural matter. The altitude and the groves’ publicity to southern solar and winds, together with a average provide of rainwater, additionally promote soil fertility.

Because the grass in his groves is beneficial for shielding the soil from extreme evaporation, and because it softens the olives’ falls as they drop onto the nets, Enzo cuts it solely about three or 4 occasions a 12 months. Nonetheless, in the summertime months, the centuries-old roots of his olive bushes will break aside lava rocks of their seek for water.

This 12 months’s climate was particularly sizzling. Within the midst of a warmth wave, a close-by monitoring station, some 50 miles south of Enzo’s groves, registered a temperature of 119.84 levels Fahrenheit, probably the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe.

Usually inside hours of being harvested, the olives are taken to the oil mill, the place they bear a sequence of mechanized processes: The leaves are suctioned away; the olives are cleansed with water and cold-pressed to turn out to be a paste; the paste is shipped into the kneading machine, which begins separating the oil from the pulp. From there, the oil, which nonetheless comprises some water, is extracted centrifugally, then filtered.

The method, from begin to end, takes at most 40 minutes, after which the oil is prepared for consumption — though the flavour stabilizes over time, Enzo defined.

“We don’t throw away something,” he added. The strong residue and the paste is dehydrated and became gasoline. The residual water is made right into a focus from which polyphenols, a broad class of antioxidants present in vegetation, are extracted and added to animal feed.

Enzo produces 4 totally different olive oils, every coming from a definite cultivar, or selection, of olives. (In follow, that implies that every oil is produced from olives from a definite grove.) Whereas every oil retains its personal individuality, all of them current the three traits typical of this space: bitterness, spiciness and a candy aroma.

Along with producing olive oil, Enzo has established a brand new program to salvage a number of of Mount Etna’s previous and deserted olive groves, lots of which have been broken this summer time throughout a sequence of wildfires.

Since transferring to Sicily, Enzo says he’s discovered a brand new stability. “The countryside has taught me its personal rhythm — new for me, however as previous as these mountains themselves,” he stated.

“I get up, step out of the door, and the volcano is there. How may I not be proud of my resolution to come back again?”

Marta Giaccone is a photographer based mostly in Tallinn, Estonia. You’ll be able to observe her work on Instagram.

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