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The Olive Harvest and an Antiquated Curio finding its New Purpose

Long, sun-bleached ladders resting effortlessly against the trees; enormous nets spread wide around old gnarled trunks; olives falling with a soft pitter-patter into the nets beneath...

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At harvest time, the Seggiano olive groves are full of these simple, familiar sights and sounds. But what really caught my eye when I joined the Seggiano pickers this year were these strange ringed mats – a sort of woven doughnut shape that the pickers would lay down under the feet of their ladders to prevent them tearing the nets.

They are beautiful and very tactile things. I couldn’t resist pushing my arm through the centre and trying to hula one…! But my success with this trick made it clear that their purpose lay elsewhere. When I asked, I was surprised to discover that their use as ladder mats was an ingenious new use for a piece of traditional olive milling kit.

The mats, called fiscoli, were designed to be stacked around the centre of screw presses for extracting olive oil. With a thick spread of stone-crushed olive paste layered between them, the firm pressure would miraculously squeeze out the olive juice, which would trickle down the sides of the stack. This was then centrifuged to separate the oil, water and solid matter, before being bottled as extra virgin olive oil.

This process was in everyday use until the 1980s but is increasingly rare today due to the risk of olive residue in the fiscoli oxidizing, leading to rancid oil. Technology has evolved, and today David & co regularly drive to the miller who presses their olives immediately, using a modern, cleaner and more efficient iteration of historical methods.

The fiscoli still have a place in the olive harvest. Nothing protects the nets from the ladders better! And when I asked Peri about themshe said that they are perfect in the garden when planting new trees; a kind of protective ruff, which can be cut off once the sapling has matured. There seems no limit to their usefulness. Certainly, Beastie the cat seemed to know that they were something worth protecting when she wandered down to the olive grove!

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Lunaio Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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