Northernmost olive Grove in Europe

For a long time I would like to be present at an olive harvest. Greece, Italy, southern France, it doesn’t matter. It will be relatively spontaneous, because the exact time of the harvest is always determined by the olive growers at short notice. It would probably be sometime in late October or November. There, the temperatures on a Greek island or in Provence can still be very pleasant. But instead of a trip to the south, Corona came. And then, quite unexpectedly, an invitation to the olive harvest in the immediate neighborhood, in Pulheim near Cologne.

Ab Oktober beginnt die Farbänderung der Früchte von grün zu schwarz. Botanisch ist die Olive eine Steinfrucht. Olivenfrüchte werden bis zu drei Zentimeter groß / © Foto: Georg Berg
From October on, the color of the fruit begins to change from green to black. Botanically, the olive is a stone fruit. Olive fruits grow up to three centimeters / © Photo: Georg Berg

Italian ambience near Cologne

Umberto Tozzi belts out Ti Amo from the amplifier and the harvesters cheerfully pluck black, purple, red and also green olive fruits from the trees in a field in Pulheim near Cologne. Here, 115 olive trees of the Lecchino variety are in their 12th year. This olive tree normally grows in the highlands of Tuscany and Umbria. But also on the rich and fertile soil of the Gilbach loess clay plateau, the tree, which stands for a long life, wisdom, strength and fertility, thrives better year after year.

Olivenernte in Pulheim bei Köln. Unter den Erntehelfern, allesamt Freunde aus der Nachbarschaft ist auch die ausgewiesene Olivenöl-Expertin Carmen Sanchez-Garcia / © Foto: Georg Berg
Olive harvest in Pulheim near Cologne. Among the harvesters, all friends from the neighborhood, is the proven olive oil expert Carmen Sanchez-Garcia / © Photo: Georg Berg

It is the end of November, the sun is shining, the trees are bearing an extraordinary amount of fruit and so, for the first time, oil is to be extracted from the olives from Gartenhof Becker in Pulheim. It is likely to be a world premiere. For the first time, olive oil will be produced at the 51st parallel, farther north than ever before.

Michael Becker vom Gartenhof Becker und Bastian Jordan von Jordan Olivenöl sind die beiden Initiatoren des Olivenprojekts am Niederrhein / © Foto: Georg Berg
Michael Becker of Gartenhof Becker and Bastian Jordan of Jordan Olivenöl are the two initiators of the olive project in the Lower Rhine region / © Photo: Georg Berg

Olive enthusiasts at work

Behind the project are olive grower Bastian Jordan, whose company Jordan Olivenöl harvests 50,000 trees on the Greek island of Lesbos. And Michael Becker, who runs Gartenhof Becker in Pulheim together with his brother. Becker established the olive grove on an open space in 2005 out of pure passion for olives. The olive grove is also a nature trail for the customers of his garden farm. Along the five rows of olive trees are information boards on growth and care. In June, an olive festival is always held at long tables among the trees, and olive juice sommelière Carmen Sánchez then offers tastings and sensory workshops on olive oils.

Wegweiser für gesunde Olivenbäume. Sie brauchen vollsonnige Standorte, sind aber ansonsten eher anspruchslos. Feldversuch mit langem Atem / © Foto: Georg Berg
Guide to healthy olive trees. They need full sun locations, but are otherwise rather undemanding. Field trial with staying power / © Photo: Georg Berg

Field trial with staying power

Over the years, the idea of the olive grove on the Lower Rhine has become a real field trial with heavy losses due to winter frost. Thus, there is constant replanting and addition of pollinator varieties for a better harvest. The plantation is located in the open area. It is somewhat protected from the wind by other crops. The distance from tree to tree is 3.50 meters, and the row spacing is four meters. After each hard winter, Michael Becker and his brother tested other varieties. Among them Leccino, Cipressino and Olivastra Seggianese. Michael Becker always remains confident, because nowhere else in Germany, he says, are winters milder than in the Cologne Bay area. Moreover, the higher risk of frost is offset by the very rich soil he can offer his olive trees in Pulheim.

Das Ernteergebnis hat 2020 alle Erwartungen übertroffen. 2019 wurde die gesamte Ernte von 75 kg noch eingelegt und somit zu Tafeloliven. 2020 soll das erste Mal auch Öl aus der Ernte entstehen / © Foto: Georg Berg
In 2020, the harvest result exceeded all expectations. In 2019, the entire harvest of 75 kg was still pickled and thus became table olives. In 2020, oil will also be produced from the harvest for the first time / © Photo: Georg Berg

Olive juice from Rhenish olives

Over 200 kilos of Rhenish olives were harvested from the 115 olive trees with the help of friendly neighbors. Enough to get for the first time on a small mobile hand press, the juice from the olives. In modern oil mills, the olive juice is extracted from the fruit by centrifugal force. Here in the field test on the garden farm Becker the small harvest is won not with Hightech, but with simple devices and the conventional work steps: washing, crushing and pressing.

Die getrockneten und gereinigte Oliven werden zerkleinert / © Foto: Georg Berg
The dried and cleaned olives are crushed / © Photo: Georg Berg
Olivenöl-Produzent Bastian Jordan an der Handpresse. Bastian Jordan richtet die Handpresse ein, aus der bis zum Ende des Tages dann 3,5 Liter Öl gewonnen werden / © Foto: Georg Berg
Olive oil producer Bastian Jordan at the hand press. Bastian Jordan sets up the hand press, from which 3.5 liters of oil will be extracted by the end of the day / © Photo: Georg Berg
Im Presssaft setzt sich eine wässrige Flüssigkeit ab, die später vom oben schwimmenden Öl getrennt wird. Kölschgläser dienen hier in Pulheim als Laborbehälter / © Foto: Georg Berg
A watery liquid settles in the press juice, which is later separated from the oil floating on top. Kölsch glasses serve as laboratory containers here in Pulheim / © Photo: Georg Berg

By the end of the harvest day, the small hand press will have extracted 3.5 liters of olive oil from the mash. Michael Becker and Bastian Jordan are satisfied. After all, it’s a minor sensation and the result of their passion for olives. Becker and Jordan are not pursuing an economic benefit with their project. Rather, the aim is to show that climate change is shifting the vegetation zones. The high-yield harvest at the 51st parallel is only possible because the olive grove near Cologne has been able to get through the winter without frost for around 10 years. But we also know what this means for many pests and their spread.

Begegnung im Olivenhain am Niederhein. Carmen Sanchez Garcia ist Sommeliere für Olivenöl und in diseser Funktion auch international gefragtes Jurymitglied / © Foto: Georg Berg
Meeting in the olive grove on the Lower Rhine. Carmen Sanchez Garcia is a sommelier for olive oil and in this function also an internationally sought-after jury member / © Photo: Georg Berg

Let’s talk about olive juice – with Carmen Sánchez Garcia

The substances that we particularly appreciate in olive oil, that make up its taste and its health-promoting effects, are polyphenols and other antioxidants. The biggest enemy of olive oil is oxygen. It sets undesirable oxidation and fermentation processes in motion. This is why modern oil mills are veritable high-tech laboratories, where the main concern is to ensure that as little oxygen as possible reaches the olive paste into which the picked fruit is processed immediately after harvesting. All parts of the olive tree contain the bitter substance oleuropein, a powerful antioxidant that is thought to be the reason for the trees’ high resistance and biblical age of up to 1,000 years.

Carmen Sanchez Garcia redet bei Olivenöl der Spitzenklasse stets von Olivensaft / © Foto: Georg Berg
Carmen Sanchez Garcia always talks about olive juice when talking about top-quality olive oil / © Photo: Georg Berg

Harvesting olives so close to home turned out to be doubly fortunate. Among the harvesters on this day is Carmen Sánchez Garcia. The Spaniard is a sommelier for olive oil. For Carmen, a top quality olive oil is an olive juice. Olives give off deeply aromatic juices, provide a healthy fat and a unique sensory experience, she says. It is to these oil juices that she dedicates her work. With her olive juice agency, she advises producers, sits on international olive oil competition juries, and gives sensory workshops to help anyone and everyone experience the fresh aromas, spicy bitter notes, and warming pungency of the best olive oils.

Carmen Sanchez Garcia entschlüsselt für uns das Geheimnis von Olivensaft. Auf ihren Workshops und Verkostungen weckt sie das Verständnis für das, was eine makellose Pressung von Oliven ausmacht / © Foto: Georg Berg
Carmen Sanchez Garcia unlocks the mystery of olive juice for us. At her workshops and tastings, she awakens an understanding of what makes an immaculate pressing of olives / © Photo: Georg Berg

Print publication


Radio report with olive juice sommelier Carmen Sanchez Garcia and Angela Berg on the subject of olive oil. How to recognize a top quality olive oil and how to use it in the kitchen. An enjoyable and entertaining contribution by journalist Susanne Schnabel. WDR 3 Kultur Am Mittag from 15.12.2020

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