November marks the height of olive picking in Israel. Unlike many other industries in this new, tech-savvy country, olive harvesting is the oldest. The whole country produces 19,500 tons of olive oil annually in an industry that is literally thousands of years old.
Olives have been a huge part of Israel’s tradition, diet and livelihood for thousands of years. The Torah speaks of olives often, describing the country as “a land of oil producing olives and honey.” (Deuteronomy, chapter 8, verse 8)
So if you love virgin olive oil in your salad, think Galilee. Israeli olive oil is so delicious, it has been recognized internationally, earning Israel prizes in many competitions.
And some of the best olive oil in the country comes from ancient groves nestled nearby Tsfat. There are 250 dunams of olive groves in the Galilee, with many trees being hundreds and some thousands of years old.
Many of these olive trees rely on rainwater alone, with farmers harvesting 50 kg of olive oil for each dunam. If we do the math, that means 12,500 kg of olive oil hails from the north.
Olive Branch Festival
As October and November are the prime times for harvesting olives, of course there is a festival. (As Israelis just love to celebrate, there is a festival for almost everything!)
During the Olive Branch Festival, visitors can tour local olive presses in the Galilee and Golan, where there are 120 presses alone. Watch the olive pressings, hike through the groves, try picking your own and enjoy spending time with Druze communities in the north, sampling their tasty food.
Here you can meet the people behind the olive oil, including wonderful Druze families whose livelihood is based on olives. And, of course, you can buy olive oil fresh off the press, plus a variety of cosmetics made from olive oil.
Jeeping in 1,000-year-old groves
Take a jeep drive to some of the groves where you can view ancient, gnarled trees that are 2,000 years old. Imagine. These trees were around in biblical times and have been through it all!
On your ride, you may see Arab families picking olives. It’s a family affair with everyone gathered around. They spread out a blanket and beat the branches, letting down a hail shower of olives tumbling across the mat. They then patiently sift through every olive, picking out the best of the crop.
As the Arab proverb goes, “The olive should go from the tree to the stone.” The olives are then gathered and for best results, quickly sent to the mill for pressing. The first pressing produces virgin olive oil.
Places to visit during olive season:
Deir Hanna – community of 10,000 Muslims and Christians where you can make your own marinated olives. Here you can see 2,000-year-old olive trees.
Kfar Kedem – recreated ancient Galilee village. Make goat’s milk cheese
Ein Camonim – see pressing with 250-year-old millstones (as well as more modern machines) This farm is between Rosh Pina and Karmiel and features olive groves and a boutique dairy with some 30 cheeses
Do you live outside of Israel?
Order olive oil directly from Israel by way of Galilee Green
Directory of quality olive oil presses in the north (Hebrew)
Olive press directory (English)