Every Umbrian has had at least one discussion about olive oil when October comes.
It’s a very serious, unavoidable matter because decisions made about olive oil will affect what you eat for the entire year.
Umbrians fall into three distinct categories: those who have olive trees and make their own olive oil, those who have friends who have olive trees that they help during the harvest in exchange for a few litres, and those who have to buy olive oil.
The first category is tormented by a difficult choice: the harvest time depends on the ripeness and, especially, on the climate.
The result is endless discussions, a mixture of science and superstition, in which, between phases of the moon and weather forecasts, they determine the dates of the harvest, attempting to dodge bad weather that could interrupt the harvest, delay crushing and affect the quality of the olive oil.
The second category good-heartedly sacrifices a few weekends for the coveted olive oil.
The third, which includes me, listens to the various discussions with curiosity and, having to buy olive oil, spends a few weekends visiting villages and mills to taste olive oils and select a supplier.
I have to say that I find this activity to be no trouble at all and entirely natural, a ritual that delights the taste buds and nose.
A few years ago, I discovered that this natural approach to olive oil is typically Umbrian and not, as I used to think, written in the DNA of all Italians, when some friends from Brescia came to visit me and I took them on a day spent visiting open mills.
Much to my amazement, my friends discovered that the world of olive oil extends far beyond the shelves of the supermarket and radiates philosophy and passion that involves the senses of taste and smell but, even more importantly, the heart.
At first, my friends didn’t understand the explanations of the producer who, with eyes shining, showed them the various stages of olive oil production and, to say the least, they were horrified by the idea of drinking olive oil to sample its quality.
In the end, they went home with five litres of olive oil, a little closer to me and a little more Umbrian.