I recently went with Heather Jarman from Sapori-e-Saperi to the very beautiful agriturismo, Alle Camelie, in Pieve di Compito, just outside Lucca. It takes its name from the gorgeous camellias growing on the property. Most of the trees flower in spring, but luckily for us the sasanquas were covered in blooms.
The property has been in the Orsi family for centuries and lucky guests get to stay on a working farm in magnificent old buildings with heavenly views over the surrounding Lucchese countryside.
The family also grows grapes and makes excellent wine which we enjoyed with our lunch. (more on that later)
Grape picking is finished now and soon the vines will lose their leaves for the winter.
The main reason for our visit was to learn a little about olives and to try our hands at picking the ripe fruit. Augusto Orsi took us for a walk through some of his 4,000 olive trees. There are 3 varieties grown on the property, frantoio, pendolino and leccino, each grown for their different properties.
Augusto, with Heather translating, told us about his olives. The farm uses biological methods, which means, among other things, no artificial chemicals are used on the plants. All prunings are put back into the earth to help the soil nourish the trees.
These blue bags hanging in the trees attract male bugs and the poor little critters are sterilised and sent on their way. It is not a complete solution, but it helps.
We were given some instructions on olive picking and we headed off to the trees with nets spread out under them to catch our picked olives. The picking is all done by hand. For us it was fun and not too messy. The olives come away easily from the branches and they are clean and dry. I’m not sure we would feel the same after 4,000 trees.
The nets are put under the trees on the day of picking and the olives are pressed as soon as possible after the fruit is picked for the best results.
Augusto also showed us the equipment used to press the olives to make the oil. The new method may not sound as romantic as the old stone presses, but we are assured that the resulting oil is much better.
We are taken into the olive grove to see the drainage system for the terraced land. It rains quite a lot here in winter and the terraces would wash away easily if not for the ancient solution. The terraces slope towards a trench which carries the water safely away. The trench and the dry stone walls were put in place a couple of hundred years ago and still work very well, with lots of maintenance of course.
It is absolutely beautiful in the olive grove, and it would be tempting to lie down in the green grass and gaze at the blue sky.
But something very important called us…….lunch…..cooked to perfection by Elena Pardini.
The first course was a delicate white bean soup, followed by delicious ravioli (which I gobbled up before I got a photograph) then tagliata, delicious vegetables and salad.
The red wine was also made at Alle Camelie.
A heavenly fruit crostata followed.
Thank you Inge (below) and Augusto (and Heather) for a great day.
Alle Camelie….Via Della Pieve, Pieve di Compito
Telephone (39) 0583 55505