I certainly would not describe the story between olive oil and me as love at first sight. In fact, my first “contact” with it was in Tunisia, many years ago. It was used for frying fish, vegetables and who knows what else, during the barbecues organized by our tourist village. Maybe it was the cheerful and relaxing surroundings, the young people who came from all parts of the world or the heat and the peaceful atmosphere, but it seemed that along with our hunger we could also satisfy our need for adventure, to break rules and to escape at least for a little while and feel really free. Looking back, these are the only possible reasons for being so happy and why none of us raised any objection to the quality of the olive oil used for frying. I chose the word “contact” at the beginning of the paragraph with care because neither the word “taste” nor “smell” can describe what reached us and what brought me to cancel the words “olive oil” completely from my vocabulary.
Ten years later, when I moved to Tuscany, I continued to refuse the terrible smelling olive oil and was firmly convinced that nothing, absolutely nothing could replace butter, this delicate, sweet-smelling condiment, an institution and one of the most important supports in my life – from the gastronomic point of view. I have had the privilege of enjoying it in all imaginable ways: dewy, made from fresh, non-pasteurised milk, from cream, snow-white, yellow-golden, salted, richly decorated, mixed with curd and flavoured with fresh aromatic herbs. To dress my salad I used sunflower oil, because its flavour is neutral and does not hide the taste of salads and vegetables. This idyll came to an end when I stopped smoking. I don’t know why, but from that moment on I started to eat olives, preferably brined, but also in oil or vinegar, although I still continued to make my salad dressing with sunflower oil.
For days, months and years I passed dozens of olive trees every day without noticing them. Then, one day, the parents of a girl who went to school with my daughter proudly gave me a bottle of olive oil made exclusively with the olives from their own olive grove and harvested by them. I still remember that I gave it away, not to undervalue the gift but because I would not have appreciated it as it deserved. Two years later, I received the same gift from another friend: bright green, spicy, aromatic, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil, from olives harvested by hand and processed the same day (!). The benefactor had lunch with us and because I did not want to be impolite, I dressed the salad with his olive oil. My daughter has always loved it and as I was getting tired of preparing our salads and boiled vegetables with two different kinds of oil I started to use only olive oil. In this way I slowly got used to it and some weeks later, when I happened to use sunflower oil I no longer liked it.
Then, one fine day, friends gave me the possibility of taking part in an olive harvest lasting eight Sundays and I certainly did not say no. For me, it was like diving into freezing water on a hot summer day: shocking, breathtaking, but after the initial impact refreshing and very enjoyable. The experience made my life richer – I was in fact supplied with a whole year’s stock of first class olive oil – and I got to know the world of the olive oil producers, who love their olives almost like their own children and defend and protect their oil in the same passionate, warlike, proud, stubborn and patriotic way they do with their favourite soccer team. (Extracted from “Athena’s Gift, Anneliese Rabl)
Anneliese Rabl …. finding a life in Tuscany