An interesting question is when to harvest olives. This seems to be an easy decision. The answer; when they are ripe. But the real answer is actually much more complicated.
Before you plant an olive tree, you should understand what kind of olive oil you want to produce and what flavor do you want to present at your table. Begin with the variety characteristics as each variety of olive has its own profile, such as green fruit, ripe fruit, robust, mild, buttery, pungent, and aromatic.
To begin, you should know each of your varieties and their ripening process. Remember all olives start out green and all olives ripen to black. They ripen from the outside in so you may have a fully black olive but the inside is brilliant green and not even close to being ready.
Each variety ripens at a different time and different rate. You really have to know your olives, the climate, the mill you will be working with and whether you want a robust oil or a mellow oil. So the decision is to harvest early, or harvest late. Harvest early and you will have a greener tasting oil, much more robust with higher levels of polyphenols and antioxidants. Harvest later and you will have a more mellow oil with a shorter shelf life and lower polyphenols.
Other questions are equally important. Who is going to harvest your olives and what are the costs of harvesting? We estimate that cost to be the most expensive part of making oil. If you intend to rely on friends and family or crowd sourcing you can save money but you may not get all the olives harvested. Harvesting is hard work. We recommend that olives are milled within 12 to 24 hours of picking. Hopefully it will be cool enough to store them properly before transport to your milling site. Keep your olives in the shade. Keep them cool, to prevent decay of the fruit.
Decisions continue throughout the actual milling process so talk to your miller about your preferences. Talk early and often so that both sides know the process and the goals.
After milling the decisions about caring for the oil after milling, decanting, storage, storage temperature, and bottling will be the topic of another blog.
So many decisions! But knowing your olives, having good fruit, and engaging in discussions with your miller make the whole process much better. And much more fun.
Enjoy the harvest season.