Sharon picked me up from the train station because Colleen had her hands full with dinner and her three year old twin girls. We got to Colleen’s house in the Tuscany hills around 8:30. I was quickly drug away from the table to be shown the pile of toys owned by the two little girls. Sophia and Faye took turns showing me things and telling me the names in either English or Italian. Sophia usually preferred to speak in Italian while Faye usually chose English. They sure did keep my brain on its toes. After the girls were put to bed we sat down and had a wonderful dinner together that included some delish lentils that Colleen had prepared with a Greek recipe that I’m assuming she learned from her Greek husband Vass. Either way, it was yummy. We were also lucky enough to be the taste testers for some of the wines Colleen was thinking of sending to her clients in Japan. They were in need of some great Italian wines, but needed them to have a certain price point. Colleen was in charge of the price point and we were all in charge of quality control. The next morning I was up bright and early ready to start picking some olives. I honestly had not a clue what this would entail. I was assuming it would be a lot like picking cherries. It wasn’t really.
First we drug very large nets up from one of their many olive groves that had been finished the day before. We then stretched the nets out and made sure the ground around the trees we would be racking was covered. Then Vass said, “Okay Rachel, you take a rake (which reminds me of the racks little kids use to build sandcastles) and you take the branch and then you rake the branch.” I said, “That’s it?” He smiled and said yes. It wasn’t hard work, just long and….well just time consuming. Some trees were taller and required someone to climb up into the tree, others were thicker and reminding me of trying to brush tangles out of a little girls hair, others were just so simple that it only took five minutes to finish the tree. After finishing a row of trees we were start from one end of the net and corral all the olives to one said, then pick out big pieces of twigs and leaves, then we’d corral them into baskets. Then we’d move the nets and start on another portion. We did this all morning until lunch, had a beautiful two hour lunch with grilled meats and lots and lots of side dishes for me, of course wonderful wines (Colleen is a wine consultant so can’t go wrong drinking wine at her house). After lunch it was back out to the field for a few hours and then inside to help make dinner. Another lovely meal with Colleen, Vass, Sharon, and the girls (well actually the girls ate first and then we all watched the Little Mermaid while we ate). The next day I was supposed to go into the olive oil making factory, called a Frantoio, but slept in a little late and decided to go for a run through the Tuscan hillsides instead…however it was raining, a lot, so I opened up the shades and ran on the treadmill instead. We spent most of the morning indoors since it was pouring down rain, but in the afternoon I ventured out with Sharon to look at vineyard properties and to help translate. That night Vass took me up to see the Frantoio and to explain the process to me. This whole time I pictured Vass doing all the pressing of olives by hand in some little shop in the town….nope, the Frantoio looked a lot like a Cantina. Even the machinery and process looked and functioned a lot like the process to make wine. There was a machine to sepearte the foliage, a cleaning process, a machine to separate the insides of the olives from the pits and the skins (and a pump the sucked it all outside to a large trash can), a machine that pressed the olive paste (pasta) to extract the oil, and then another extraction after the first. I learned that depending on what temperature you keep the olive pasta and olive oil during this process is what decides if it’s just olive oil or extra virgin olive oil, etc. I also learned that just because Vass is Greek doesn’t mean he learned to harvest olives and make olive oil from his family…he laughed and told me he learned when they bought the house that included five acres of olive groves. The next morning I had planned on leaving Colleen’s to go back to Pisa to see the tower and then to Rome to see start my adventures there with my friend Andrew. Sharon had an appointment in Lucca and offered to let me see Lucca while she had her meeting and then would take me to see the tower and then to the train station. Of course I couldn’t turn that down, so I packed up and went with her to Lucca.
I’d like to stop my story here for just a moment to say how much I enjoyed my time with Colleen and her family. Colleen is truly a superwoman. She is a very successful business woman, a mom of twin three-year-olds, and a wife (not just any wife, but a Greek/Italian wife who cooks amazingly and loves and cares for her family every moment they need her). I very much appreciated her being so open and welcome to having me stay in her home. Thanks Colleen!!!