If it’s late October, it’s time for the olives. The wiry branches of the ubiquitous olive trees are heavy with fruit — the popular, green Souri, the darker Nabali, the chartreuse-shaded Maalot, or any of the other species of olives grown throughout the country.
With the olive season lasting into December, growers have to decide when it’s time to pick the olives and then to crush them into the mash from which fruity, virgin oil will be extracted. Local, boutique-pressed oil is a thicker, more opaque substance than what’s usually found in the supermarket, and of a much higher quality than generic olive oils. It’s worth developing a taste for the velvety green stuff, and with the long season, there’s plenty of time to visit an olive orchard and olive oil press, known as a beit bahd in Hebrew, and take part in the olive oil process by picking, crushing or tasting different kinds of oils drizzled on a pita slathered with labaneh and zaatar.
1) For those in the middle of the country, it’s an easy ride over to the Aladdin Olive Farm in Kfar Rut, the community just off Highway 443 at the Shilat intersection. I stumbled upon Rimon Artzi and Orna Arad’s 18-dunam farm when I spotted their handwritten sign overlooking 443. They’ve been living on their farm for 18 years, first growing roses and then planting some 400 olive trees, along with their Palestinian partner Azzam Nazzir from a nearby village. They produce some six tons of organic olives, picking their Souri, Nabali, Bernea and Manzanillo olives and feeding them immediately into their olive oil press because they don’t want the olives to stand too long and develop a vinegary flavor. There are activities for kids and adults every weekend (9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday), including a small petting zoo and making pita from fresh whole wheat flour. Call Orna at 054-314-1822 or Azzam at 054-314-1824, or find them on Facebook.
2) Heading farther north, it’s worth stopping at Kerem Maharal, a moshav next to Zichron Yaakov, where Guy and Orna Relov own the Makura organic farm, a 1,670-dunam stretch of land that was first settled by Guy’s parents. The younger Relovs — now grandparents themselves — have been operating the farm for more than 20 years, first raising cattle, then switching to organic produce, growing primarily olives, as well as avocados lychees, mangoes, figs and grapes. The cold press is situated in a space adjoining their small shop, where they sell their olives, oils, jams and pottery made by Orna in her adjoining studio. “We’re not ‘organic, shmorganic,’ as people like to say,” said Orna, relating that Guy Relov became ill from the pesticides he used, which was what pushed the Relovs to become organic farmers. Visitors to the Makura Farm are welcome on weekends (Friday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) and during the week by appointment (call 054-433-0606). They are down the road from the Amphorae Winery. But wait another week or two, said Orna, for their Kalamata olives and oils to be ready.
3) Up in Haifa proper, stop at Haifa Coffee in the neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas to buy some freshly ground coffee, natch, as well as homemade olive oil prepared by owner Mustafa Abu El Aradat in his backyard and sold in recycled 1.5-liter and half-liter water bottles. This is the olive oil equivalent to moonshine liquor, with a slightly burning aftertaste that comes from very freshly pressed olive oil. Abu El Aradat is better known for his cardamom and Columbian coffees, but it’s always worth trying homemade olive oils, whether at the greengrocer or local corner store. Cafe Haifa, 21 Hawadi Street, Haifa, 04-853-7101.
4) Head down to Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev, about half an hour south of Beersheba, where 3,000 dunams of seven different species of olives are grown and made into Halutza extra virgin olive oil, which is also sold in the US. It recently won first prize in the Armonia Competition in Italy, beating out 430 other olive oils. But what makes this olive oil press — a larger, more institutional setup than the other, smaller farms — worth visiting is seeing how olive trees are grown in the desert, as well as tasting the oil, which has a grassier flavor than the other, northern versions. The kibbutz is open for visitors every day, and on Saturdays by appointment (08-656-2570).
5) The presses are already turning at Melo Hatene, an organic farm near Moshav Carmei Yosef (home to the Bravdo Winery) in the Ella Valley. Besides offering orchards full of various fruits available for picking throughout most of the year, families can also crush grapes, press olive oil, and learn about ancient forms of farming and food production. Right now, visitors can pick passion fruit and citrus fruit and visit the olive oil press, but only by appointment. Call Hilaf at 050-799-0097 to coordinate a weekday or Friday visit (closed on Saturday).