Each conquest left its mark on the island and its abundant produce.
When you think of Sicilian cuisine one of the first things that spring to mind is olives and olive oil. Sicily’s olive oil is like liquid gold.
Every Sicilian is passionate on the subject of olive oil especially their own.
The beautiful olives were brought to the island by the Phoenicians and the Ancient Greeks who brought the art of cultivating the olive tree. Under Roman rule the Romans started the distribution of oil on a large scale to supply the needs of the whole of the Roman Empire. During Arabic rule the Arabs preferred to import their own oil and sadly uprooted many groves and replaced them with citrus groves. In the 18th century the Spanish revived the islands production of olive oil.
Olive trees can live for several hundred years and with advancing age they become more and more gnarled. For the production of the highest quality oils the ripe olives are still harvested by hand and then taken to mills to be pressed.
With Sicily having various microclimates and volcanic terrain the island produces a rich variety of oils found nowhere else in Italy.
Olive harvesting starts in October until the end of November. On autumn walks throughout Sicily you will see trees laden with this amazing fruit.
On average a single tree bears between 50 to 70 kg of olives from which about approximately 8 litres of olive oil is produced.
Earlier this year I was introduced to Salvatore Romano by Luisa Ingoglia the manager of London restaurant Tasting Sicily UK Enzo's Kitchen. Salvatore is the founder of Tasting Sicily.
Initially known as 'Il Mercato' the company was founded by Salvatore who has been a food lover since he was a child. Growing up in Switzerland, Salvatore returned home to Sicily and launched a new concept in true Sicilian deli food, in 2015 the brand became Tasting Sicily.
Tasting Sicily offers 100% hand prepared and hand packaged Sicilian specialities using products that are grown and produced in Sicily by small and local producers and they have now been bringing the flavours and colours of Sicily to all over the world for over 15 years.
Salvatore's home town is the beautiful village of Graniti set in the Alcantara Valley only a 20 minute drive from our home in Giardini Naxos so we vowed to meet up in Sicily and Salvatore thought that olive harvesting would be the perfect time and opportunity to meet up. Therefore one gloriously sunny Thursday morning last month we drove through the stunning countryside of Alcantara with our dog Daisy to meet Salvatore, his lovely wife Karen and his team of olive pickers.
Graniti is an authentic Sicilian village surrounded by much beauty, the area is covered by olive groves and aromatic herbs. Most recently the town has become more colourful with artists from around the world taking up an art residency and painting beautiful murals on the sides of the lovely buildings in the village.
After taking Daisy for a run on the beach I messaged Salvatore to say we were on our way and he replied that they were currently harvesting just below the main road into Graniti. As we arrived we saw everyone down in the olive grove, so parked our car eager to join in.
The olive pickers this year were visitors from Switzerland. The pickers stay in Graniti in guest houses and apartments which are part of Salvatore's home Vita Sicula. Harvesting usually begins the second week of October and takes about one week picking olives for around eight hours per day with coffee breaks and lunch served under the trees.
The team had started harvesting the previous Sunday and as we arrived they were just finishing the last few trees in the lower groves before heading up to another grove on the side of a terraced hillside. The day before our visit Salvatore had just taken his first batch of olives to the mill which had produced an incredible ninety litres of beautiful olive oil.
Salvatore and Karen are the perfect hosts and myself, my husband and Daisy were immediately made to feel at home and part of the team.
As is the traditional way we knocked down the ripe olives from the trees with wood poles, picked them by hand and carefully stripped from the branches with a special kind of small rake.
Nets were put down under the olive trees and we used wooden ladders to reach the highest branches.
The olives were then collected from the nets and put into crates (with a little help from Daisy) and then they were loaded into Salvatore's jeep ready to be taken to the mill to be pressed into olive oil.
After the last tree of the lower grove was harvested it was time for breakfast.
We all headed up the hillside into the next grove and sat and enjoyed bread soaked in the new olive oil that had just been produced the day before. It was absolutely delicious. We also enjoyed local cheeses and Tasting Sicily Arancia Rossa Marmellata (blood orange marmalade) which I have to say is the most mouth watering marmalade I have tasted EVER.
Then whilst Daisy enjoyed socialising with her new friends Salvatore taught us how to taste olive oil.
The proper way to taste olive oil is on its own without bread.
Salvatore explained that the oil is usually tasted using small blue glasses so that you do not discriminate the colour. We improvised by using small plastic espresso cups which we were told to hold in the palm of our hand with our other hand covering the top which would warm the oil up to our own temperature.
We were then told to slurp it into our mouth taking in some air as we slurped, hold it in our mouths for a few seconds and then swallow. He waited for our reaction and asked what we felt.
The oil had a pleasing aroma and was bitter on the back of my tongue which left a peppery finish in the back of my throat that made me cough. Salvatore explained that this was actually a compliment as the bitterness and pungency are the complex antioxidants that make oil so healthy and it is an indication of quality, freshness and a great olive oil.
After an enjoyable morning in great company it was soon time to go home. Daisy had so much fun that she actually refused to move and go home.
With the weather in October being usually warm and sunny, an olive picking holiday makes a wonderful experience in Sicily especially combined with staying in accommodation at Vita Sicula.
The various houses and apartments can make a wonderful self catering holiday at any time of year and are ideally located to reach Taormina and its local beaches, exploring the Alcantara Valley and Mount Etna and discovering the Eastern side of Sicily.
Vita Sicula is also a perfect venue for events and meetings.
Cooking classes and food tasting can also be arranged.
Salvatore and Karen's love for Sicily, its land and produce shines through,
for their full story and more information visit www.vitasicula.com
Vita Sicula translates to Life in Sicily, which certainly is wonderful.
|a big Grazie to Salvatore|
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With Love from
Sarah & Daisy xxx