CULTIVAR

 

There are around 800 different Olive Cultivars in Italy alone, many of which are used for Olive Oil. Similarly to grape varieties in wine, the Olive cultivar influences the flavour profile of your oil.  Different cultivars, depending on size of fruit, thickness of the skin, composition of the pulp can produce different yields, varying concentrations of anti-oxidants and overall different quality levels.

LOCATION AND CLIMATE

 

As you might expect, olives grown in cooler areas where there is more moisture (rainfall and dew) exhibit leaner, more restrained characteristics.  This doesn’t however mean that great oil can now be made in Iceland – you need a minimum amount of sunshine to make your Extra Virgin Olive Oil taste remarkable, similarly to tomatoes or stone fruit.

Olive trees are sensitive to winter freeze (the Casaliva cultivar is more resistant to cold, hence being grown in the Garda region).  It is also easier to farm organically where the climate is more stable and less chemical sprays are required to keep the trees healthy.

OLIVE MATURITY

 

Here’s the thing – all olives are green.  When they become fully mature, they turn black.
Olive maturity at the time of harvest is a major factor in flavour and quality: olives harvested earlier (green olives) feature more bitter, grassy characteristics, with lower yields and with the highest anti-oxidant content.  The oil is a much more intense green colour and has a longer shelf-life.  In terms of production, milling can take longer with green olives (a longer malaxation - the action of slowly churning milled olives to release droplets of oil - is needed and can be more complicated) but the results are far superior!  Don’t choose olive oil from over mature fruit: it lacks all the potential goodness and flavour.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL IN GROVE AND MILL

 

People who care passionately about what they make and follow it personally every day have the capacity to create products with far higher quality, with integrity, and that taste of where they come from.  They are also able to do this by caring for the environment they inhabit.

FRANTOIO DI RIVA BOX

This box contains 6 bottles of extra virgin olive oil made exclusively by Frantoio di Riva from groves on the banks of lake Garda.

Frantoio di Riva, 46°PARALLELO green label x 3 bottles (50cl)
Frantoio di Riva, 46°PARALLELO organic white label x 1 bottle (50cl)
Frantoio di Riva, 46°PARALLELO blue label x 1 bottle (50cl)
Frantoio di Riva, ULIVA Garda Trentino DOP x 1 bottle (50cl)

The Rockstar: Fil Bucchino

Fil Bucchino is a Florence born – Toronto bred punk musician turned olive oil taster, producer & ambassador.  His latest venture is a documentary, Obsessed with Olive Oil, which goes behind the scenes of the rebirth of quality olive oil production and the lengths Olive Oil professionals will go through to make that perfect product.  The film is currently doing the festival circuits around the world, so keep an eye out for it.

 

How did you find yourself living in Toronto from Florence?

My grandparents, on my mother’s side, made an attempt to emigrate to the U.S. but were diverted to Venezuela. My mother later returned to Italy to study medicine in Florence and that’s where she met my father. Shortly after my parents graduated we moved to Caracas, to join my grandparents. This became our home for almost 7 years. As the socio-political situation in the country worsened we were welcomed into Canada, and it has been our home ever since. I absolutely love Toronto and Canada.

 

What was your musical journey?

I was always attracted to music. My introduction to feeling music viscerally was dancing with my mother as a kid to “merengue” and “salsa”, and to playing Venezuelan folkloric instruments like the Cuatro and the Tambora. I started playing guitar, but I eventually left it for my true love of the bass. It was in Guelph while studying Biomedical Sciences, where I was able to really dive into music. In cities like Toronto it felt like you had to pick what group / type of music you belonged to but in Guelph it was different, punk, jazz, reggae, hip hop and latin all blended together, the musicians and the audience embraced it as one type of music. It was very special. I played bass in many bands as a hired gun, until my own band, originally “Flashlight” and later “Flashlight Brown”, signed a record deal and I spent almost a decade touring, writing and producing music. On the road I would always get my hands on the new harvest olive oil and share it with friends.

 

Do you feel artistic affinity between music and olive oil making?

Absolutely, there are so many parallels between them. Perhaps the most obvious one is that art as a whole entices a feeling and an experience. Music and well produced olive oil do the same. It’s about the senses and how they are processed by each individual. But it is also about the people behind music and quality olive oil that are very similar. It’s about their passion in the pursuit of excellence, of something they love and want to share. It’s about pushing themselves harvest after harvest or song after song to strive for perfection, to better themselves. It’s about sharing in their excitement, it’s an expression. I also found so many parallels between the process at the frantoio and the studio. You simply cannot take short cuts, every step of the chain is of crucial importance to a great oil or a great sounding production.

 

Do you spend more time working with music or olive oil?

I’ve been less hands on with music as I shifted to more of a supporting role for artists within a startup “Signal Creative Community” and with an artist management company “Play Along Music”. My time has been more actively devoted to extra virgin olive oil. I’ve replaced my music travels with olive oil travels so that doesn’t feel like much of a change. Truthfully, I feel very fortunate as it is so inspiring and satisfying to always work with people that share my passions: music and olive oil. I’m also excited as we’ve started to ideate on a project involving music and olive oil but it is still in its infancy stage.

 

What was is that made you jump into olive oil, become a producer, taster and ambassador?

I think it was a lucky moment, if it wasn’t that when we moved to Canada we were starved for better olive oil and other products from Italy I may have even taken it for granted. But there were two defining moments, one was tasting a properly produced oil and realizing that it is not “olive oil” (as we tend to group all extra virgins into one category) but rather “olive oils”. The second was when I attended my first harvest, it was literally a “cupid” moment and I never looked back. I became obsessed, I started participating in every harvest year after year, I wanted to know everything I could, I became a professional taster with ONAOO, and later enlisted in the Italian National Directory of technicians and experts of virgin and extra virgin olive oil, and today I also consult and judge contests. As far as becoming a producer, it started when I then took over my parents’ small quantity import, it started by bringing oil that we were sourcing for family and friends, but as my obsession grew I got involved in every step of production. Today I work closely with Andrea Pagliai and the Pruneti brothers, and through Abandoned Grove we produce and fly back across the Atlantic an olive oil that not only has passed the many chemical and sensory tests that we put it through but that also satisfies our obsession.

 

What was it that made the producers of olive oil go from making a product to making excellence? The Cutrera’s, Franci’s, who then influenced younger millers… what do you think happened in the 90s/00s to change the landscape of olive oil making and bring us the excellencies we can now appreciate?

A lot of people have different opinions on this, but I think that it was the understanding that quality and tradition are not synonymous. The new generation of producers embraced communication across the region lines in a more collaborative way than the older generation. They understood that not all olive oils are created equal, and that for example working a Coratina is different from working an Itrana and in turn demystified that a certain region or country makes the best olive oil. They understood that quality depends on how the harvest and the extraction process was carried out, not the region of origin. It’s about showcasing and maximizing the flavours and aromas of that specific cultivar, rather than just pressing olives to obtain oil (which is easy to do). The former is an extremely complicated process especially in today’s unpredictable climatic environment. They also embrace and continue to make very significant investments in technology. Without the distinction between quality and tradition I’m not sure that we would be where we are today in terms of a product of excellence.

 

How do you manage to stop the diffidence that some consumer have about Olive Oil, both because of the scandals and because of misconceptions?

It needs to start with education, by tasting, events, dinners, and even videos like the documentary. We need to experience Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Just like it happened to me and so many friends in the olive oil world, it is just as simple and undeniable, once you taste and smell a great oil, it is impossible to go back! Olive oil needs to be fresh, it doesn’t age well, and there is a whole separate olive oil world just like we learned with cheese, wine or even music. Once the consumer experiences and understands the product, she/he will start to refuse an oil that is defected, aged, spoiled, the same way we do with bruised fruits, stale bread, corked wine, rancid cold cuts etc. this is when the change will happen. Also, once people appreciate how a good bottle of oil will elevate 15 to 20 of their meals, the same way that one good bottle of wine can enhance a single meal, people will value quality oils and pay what they are worth. In turn create and help to sustain a more transparent industry. We are still far, but the movement has started.

 

Who is your olive oil hero?

Where do I start? I have many different heroes that have all contributed to my passion and learning in different areas of this industry, and in this industry we never stop learning. I would have to put Andrea Pagliai in Bagno a Ripoli at the top of my list, he is a mentor and a friend. He permeates love, and not only for olive oil but for nature, sustainable agriculture and community. To the list I would add Franco Pasquini, Simona Cognoli, Paolo & Gionni Pruneti, Marciello Scoccia, Luigi Caricato, Sandro Marques, Chef Andrea Perini, Filippo Falugiani, Nicola Di Noia.

 

Do you have an olive oil first memory?

Well three of them, one when I was a kid in Florence, the excitement of when my Nonna would bring home “Olio Nuovo” (the new harvest oil) every season. The second was tasting a properly produced oil for the first time, making me doubt everything that I thought I knew about olive oil. The third was the first time I tasted a cultivar of intense tomato leaf notes, it was a Sicilian Tonda Iblea.

 

Favourite cultivar?

I’m partial to many of Tuscany’s cultivars, primarily as we eat a lot of Tuscan food. Moraiolo, Frantoio, and depending on the season Correggiolo and Olivo Bianco. Every harvest it is very exciting to taste the varying levels and intensities of their herbaceous and nutty notes, green and black pepper spices and bitterness. I am also a fan of properly produced Tonda Iblea, Picual, Arbosana and Cima di Mola.

 

Which are the best places to listen to music in Toronto, (once we can again!)

There are many great places in Toronto, The Horseshoe Tavern and the old El Mocambo will always hold a special place in my heart, for the many early days memories of playing and watching live music. Lately I’ve been more focused on the shows rather than the venues. It’s always great seeing what promoters bring to Toronto – Massey Hall, Collective Concerts, Live Nation take chances on new artists and it will be interesting to see how that plays out when touring ramps up again.

 

Since we are all homebound at the moment, do you a favourite recipe you can share with our readers?

I keep it simple at home and focus on the best possible ingredients to do the majority of the work. Since EVOO literally enhances most dishes, and it is also in most cases the first and last ingredient in a recipe, with a good EVOO I’m already at least a third of the way to achieving a great dish. One of my ultimate favourites is Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino, a classic that has been particularly fun lately as we’ve been experimenting with different oils while in quarantine.

Add good quality spaghetti to boiling water that was salted to taste, as the pasta is cooking,  in a pan over low heat warm up the olive oil (the last time I used a Nocellara Messinese) add three cloves of garlic (cut in half and with the germ removed) and three fresh peperoncini (i found some really nice and hot Thai peppers). Heat on very low heat to ensure that the garlic and peppers don’t burn. When the pasta is very al dente place it directly in the pan and add some of the pasta water. Mix well, add more pasta water if needed and finish cooking. Once plated I add another string of raw Nocellara Messinese oil to complete the dish. It’s incredible the different variations in flavour when changing cultivars.

During this quarantine we also did a fun collaboration between Chef Kaya Ogruce of Death in Venice Gelato, in Toronto, and Abandoned Grove where he made an extra virgin olive oil and sea salt gelato, finished with an EVOO drizzle and lemon zest. One of the best gelatos I had ever tasted.

 

Fil Bucchino’s own olive oil venture is called Abandoned Grove.   You can follow him on IG here

This is the trailer of Obsessed with Olive Oil

Obsessed With Olive Oil Documentary Trailer from Marmalade Media on Vimeo.

 

The Forager: Caterina Cardia

Pienza native Caterina Cardia has foraged in the spectacular lands of the Val d’Orcia ever since she was a young girl.  Today she supplies some of the best restaurants in Italy with native wild plants, which she has helped recuperate and propagate. She helps run her partner’s lovely restaurant La Buca Vecchia  and supplies wild herbs, salads, greens and flowers to the kitchen. She also runs courses and tastings for anyone who wants to learn more about wild foraging in the Val D’Orcia.

 

How did you get into foraging in the first place?

My grandmother was a forager and as a little girl I used to follow her as she went to pick mushrooms and herbs. As I was growing up in my teens I started suffering from anorexia and was really only eating vegetables and fruit: I wanted to loose weight, so I kept it to a minimum. A paediatrician helped me by suggesting I take an interest in the little I was eating and where it was coming from. This sparked my curiosity and also a sense of autonomy, which as teen I was seeking. Eventually I started buying books, learning, and making my first own salads and discoveries, which allowed me to go further than the 15 or so salad leaves my grandmother had been picking, and discover tastes and combinations. In time I wondered what this could become and eventually I asked a herbalist to teach me systemic botany which opened this whole world to me.

 

Your next step brought you to Florence…

Yes, with a bunch of friends we started living in the countryside near Florence and I was taking care of the vegetable garden and doing my usual foraging. I wasn’t managing to find a job so one day I decided to try to take my foraged salads to one of the chefs in Florence who most famously work with hyper seasonal food, Fabio Picchi of Cibreo – I literary knocked on his door with my basket of herbs, and next thing I knew he gave me my own work salad work station. Each morning I went picking and then prepared all the wild salads for the restaurant, for the next 4 years.

 

Since you moved back to Southern Tuscany, you have developed your business supplying many restaurants around Italy, what do you feel has changed from the early years?

First of all perceptions: 10 years ago when I started working with Picchi, people thought I was a crazy woman, now if I say I run a wild herb farm people know exactly what I do.

The oddity really is that this is a farm – we seed, turn crops etc, so we can have a supply for most of the year. It has become increasingly difficult to find clean and wild spots to forage. I live in the Val d’Orcia, which is a place of outstanding natural beauty, but has only a few untouched spots: the agriculture here is mostly grains, which kills any wild herbs, and vines, which have a similar effect. So the only places really where wild herbs remain are through the olive groves – it really is the only symbiosis left.

I have foraged these lands since I was a little girl and I know the signs and how to find wild herbs, but the spaces where I can do this are getting progressively smaller.

 

Are there any herbs that you can’t find anymore – perhaps they have disappeared?

Yes, loads. For example one of the basis of salads when I was young was what we call gallinella, but it is a wild valerian (Valerianella locusta), and it’s now impossible to find near by, but it used to be our Easter morning breakfast: an egg, bread with a type of bacon and gallinella salad. This was a tradition for a long long time, which has now sadly gone.

One of the things that really have fascinated me in this field is these plants grow in synergy with their origin. We tend to import and plant all sorts of things, but if you look you can find plants that have similar properties – as if nature gives you what you need. For example the Aloe, which is a wonderful plant with great properties and is being planted more and more.  It behaves as local succulents do and people has been used as an emollient forever.

 

I find some similarities with the importance of New Nordic Cuisine these last 10 years, in foraging and preserving flavours. Do you find more and more people are looking at what you are doing with interests?

Yes, very much, and constantly growing, also for the courses I do. It is also linked to the changing climate and realisation that if are buying a tomato even just from a near by country like Spain, something is seriously wrong. Of even if you think you should have a tomato when it is not season. People are realising that the industrial food model after WWII has brought a miseducation of diets and food stuff. People are not approaching me because what I do is reminiscent of a world that doesn’t exist anymore, people are approaching me to learn about health and nutrition. People who take supplements are looking for alternative foods that can help with achieving health.

 

Did you ever have a mishap?

Yes, once many years ago. I was looking for a particular plant, but one that was very similar got me and it made me ill for a short while. It really takes years of experience in an area to have the confidence that I have now. But I constantly learn and progress my knowledge both through books and by interacting with experts, botanists and chefs. It’s a synergy really, just like the plants I forage.

The Modern Italian Cook: Joe Trivelli

Joe Trivelli is co-head chef at London’s iconic River Café, where he has worked since 2001. Southern Italian on his father’s side but born and raised in Kent, Joe’s first book, The Modern Italian Cook was released last year and has been talked about non-stop since.

 

The last couple of years have been pretty epic for you…. The Modern Italian Cook, OFM Book of the Year, Fortnum & Mason Awards Debut Cookbook of the Year… mamma mia.  What is the moment you look back on with most happiness?

The moment I look back on with most fondness, escaping to Italy to finish writing the book whilst dad was in the midst of his olive harvest. He would help me in the evenings and I him picking during the days.

 

I won’t ever forget you cooking lunch for me whilst you were recipe writing for The Modern Italian Cook – I felt the most incredible gratitude.  Do you have a recipe you keep going back to or one you’re most pleased with?

I’ve had the most positive feedback about a pasta with peppers, it was one of the first recipes and did kind of define the book. It maybe my favourite too.

 

Who do you most admire in the kitchen? 

Outside River Cafe circles the chef I most admire Stephen Harris from the Sportsman. Just brilliant.

 

In your mind, what is it that makes The River Cafe such a great place to be?

It’s the people that make the River Café great, be they colleagues or customers.

 

You use extra virgin olive oil somewhat liberally let’s say at The River Cafe.  Do you also use monocultivar oils in the kitchen or are you mostly using blends of different olives?

We use both. The monocultivars are usually from Felsina wine estate on the borders of colli senesi and Chianti Classico. We buy from them, destoned, a leccino, pendolino or ragiolo depending on the season as well as more traditional blend.

 

What’s your favourite thing about Italians?

Appreciation of what the important things in life are.

The Landkeeper: Luca Gregori

Brothers Stefano and Luca Gregori share the joy of running Frantoio Gregori with the support and guidance of their wider family, following in the footsteps of their father and his father before him.  We were invited to their annual summer family and friends gathering, where we sampled their mother’s utterly delicious Olive Ascolane – a local traditional delicacy, made with their own Ascolane Tenera olives – honestly this celebration was beyond a feast, so many incredible flavours each speaking of their territory.

Younger brother Luca is completing his studies in agronomy and looks after their olive trees.  We caught up with him for a chat about organic agriculture, tradition and where to eat well in Le Marche (named recently as the top 10 regions to visit in 2020 by Lonely Planet).

You are completing your studies in Agronomy. What are the most important lessons that you can apply to the succssful running of Frantoio Gregori?

The most crucial lessons which can help us develop the company are around the so called circular economy – a new approach to production and consumption, trying to offer new solutions that help the different demands of consumers. To do this we need to move beyond what we are doing in terms of company planning, sustainability of the land and of society around us. We are fully convinced of the fact that the quality of what we do is necessarily linked to the quality of the soil and environment around it (soil, water, organisms and animals which inhabit it)

Your family has shown a passion for authentic local ingredients for many generations. What do you feel you have learned from them?

We bring with us the flavours, aromas and colours of Le Marche’s culinary tradition as indelible images in our “sensory” memory. We will try to bring with us the values handed down from our grandparents to our parents, hoping to be able to pass them on to our children and grandchildren with the same pride and the same passion of our ancestors in a sort of circular economy of food and wine traditions.

How has the cuisine in Le Marche changed over the years? What do you consider to be the most representative dish today?

Over the years, the cuisine of Le Marche has changed hugely, passing from a “poor” kitchen in which the dishes had relatively low nutritional values, to a richer and at times more calorific cuisine.  The dishes that tend to live on are the most flavoursome, those that were once the dishes of feast days. I think that the vincisgrassi and the ascolana olives are the most representative historical dishes of the region – they are very different from each other but both are incredibly laborious and complex to make, in both cases it is the details that make the difference starting from the raw material to the hands of the cook who makes them.

Your university research has focused on the cultivar Ascolana Tenera. Can you summarise your findings?

This is a 2-year research carried out in parallel also by Spanish colleagues on the Manzanilla de Sevilla cultivar. We have tried to observe how the Ascolana Tenera responds to certain foliar treatments throughout the fruit development phase. Our goal was to observe how these treatments influenced the qualitative parameters of the table olive and to highlight the most appropriate periods to carry out the treatments. We still have to work out the statistics of the second year but already in the first we had positive feedback.

You are fully committed to organic agriculture. How come you chose this and why is it so important for you?

We have chosen to farm our groves organically because we believe that preserving the environment and the health of the place where we live is very important, more than obtaining greater yields from the field.  Obviously this choice involves a bigger effort in terms of time dedicated to the olive trees and the costs, especially during the summer months can be higher. Working the land organically requires technical know how to select the best interventions. We consider this to be a year round approach, as for other fruit cultivation such as apples and apricots, which is one of the most technologically advanced sectors of agriculture.

Our experience tells us that the best place to eat in Le Marche is your family’s house. Can you point us in the direction of some other favourite places to eat?

In Le Marche it is true, we eat very well within the families that carry on their gastronomic traditions, but there are many restaurants worth seeking out, places where traditional cuisine is made but also with a modern interpretation.

From north to south I would mention Nostrano in Pesaro where the raw materials of the Marche region from the sea and the land take on new and fascinating forms.

In Senigallia the tradtional Uliassi e Cedroni is always good – here you begin your meal with bread and oil of Raggia or Ascolana Tenera.  Also worth a mention is the authentic trattoria Vino e Cibo.

In the Ancona area we are very attached to the restaurant Dal Mago in Morro d’Alba, also specialised in game.  In Filottrano the Gallo Rosso is a guardian of the most traditional Val Gardena cuisine where the choice of raw materials is rigorous.

In the Macerata area the restaurant I Due Cigni of Montecosaro makes vincisgrassi that recall the past and on the sea in Civitanova da Galileo the fish is always centre stage and fabulous.

At Porto San Giorgio a refined cuisine is shown by two exceptionally talented young guys at L’Arcade and by Retroscena, on the seashore Stella Adriatica is a very nice place that satisfies both visitors and locals.

In Lapedona Didacus a restaurant famous for being a gourmet pizzeria but where the raw materials are second to none, in Ortezzano and Offida we love Piceni and Ophis, where the traditional cuisine that the two cooks know very well is combined with innovation.

In Grottammare, L’Attico sul Mare serves top quality seafood and reinterpretations of tradition such as the brodetto alla sambenedettese, inside the old embankment perched on the hill with a breathtaking view of the Borgo Antico, we love this place.

In Ascoli Piceno the Piccolo Teatro, a stone’s throw from Piazza del Popolo, is a quiet place, great for a romantic dinner where you can taste olive all’ascolana and other local specialties and Villa Cicchi, an ancient farmhouse in the countryside in Rosara just outside Ascoli where the Piceno traditions are preserved.

The Organic Agronomist: Angelo Bo

Angelo Bo is an Agronomist specialised in organic Olive farming and based in Tuscany.  He talks to us about why organic farming has a higher gear.
 www.angelobo.it  @agrispes_angelobo

 

You’ve been an agronomist, specialised in Olive groves throughout your career.  Can you talk me through how you arrived at this – what inspired you to work with olive trees?

Born in Liguria, I was brought up amongst the olive groves.  Olive trees have always fascinated me.  They are both rustic and complex, evergreen and faced with new challenges every year.  In territories where olive trees are at the limits of their possibilities, such as central Italy, it’s hugely complex to achieve success, but that also gives great satisfaction when you arrive at a product that so strongly speaks of its origin, the biodiversity and the microclimate in which it was born.

Then after a year of work, being able to harvest the olives and pass them through to the mill to press in to olive oil creates a wave of strong emotions for me, connecting the earth to an ancient plant that recalls rural ancient history.  Helping olive growers to paint this landscape that the world admires fills me with pride.

 

You specialise in organic olive cultivation.  For people that might not know much about this, what are the main benefits you can visibly see farming organically?

Since establishing my business, organic agriculture fascinated me and I’ve deepened my knowledge through studies since university.  Organic agriculture has a higher gear, for us technicians and olive growers it is more stimulations as it poses very interesting challenges, you don’t just work with prescribed recipes, you have to interpret the signs that the plant and environment shows us.

I would like to clarify something here: many argue that organic farming is a return to the past where starvation was caused by famine, but there is no truth in this.  Organic agriculture shouldn’t be confused with natural agriculture where you just harvest what nature gives you, it’s a technique that uses ancient knowledge and modern tools to produce with the lightest possible imprint on the environment.  To get an understanding of this, we only have to think of the extracts of plants and algae that have a biostimulating, anti-stress function and in some cases they can offer disease resistance.

The benefits of organic olive growing are many, and yet not all of them are so obvious.

A decidedly less heavy production footprint on the environment is a key benefit.  To get this right, you begin with a philosophical approach to study the interaction of plant, soil and environment.  Not everything natural is ‘good’ however, nature produces very powerful toxins, and certain useful substances in excessive quantities can become harmful.  So we know we need to use fewer products, introduce less into the environment and lessen our impact on the ecosystem.

Using fewer chemicals creates a safer environment for people who work the olive groves.

Using fewer products means lower levels of ‘residues’ in olives and therefore in their oil.

Olive growing and in particular organic olive growing fixes CO2 by reducing its presence in the air.

The search for biodiversity leads to a more complex and beautiful landscape.  Take for example industrialized olive farming where, to reduce costs, huge olive tree plantations are planted with nothing else in site for miles.  Compare this to less forced groves where there are blooms of grasses and wild flowers – this helps us a lot by hosting useful insects.  Having greater respect for the environment, protecting bees and insects is useful not only for olive growers, but for all of us.

Being able to build a working system for organically farmed olives has enormous advantages for each of us, given that the world is the same for everyone.

 

What is your view of organic olive farming with respect to the changing climate?

Organic olive growing has a double interface with climate change.

–        It suffers from it, in fact it has become more complicated to study the cultivation of olive trees, to understand what is happening to the plant, because climatic conditions change so drastically from one moment ot the next that we are faced with completely new situations as in late March / early April 2020 which was extremely dry inhibiting germination and flowering.  In recent years, we have had more noticeable attacks from insects such as the olive fly that survive milder winters and bounce back in greater numbers during the spring/summer.

–        But olive growing can make a huge contribution, because the complex ecosystem of the olive grove (if managed organically) is more stable, more responsive.  If for example your soil is rich in organic matter, with high organic fertility, it drains water better when it rains a lot and retains water for the roots during dry patches.  Having greater biodiversity in the olive grove, with an array of grasses and plants brings huge advantages because antagonistic insects live on wild plants (they eat insects that are harmful to olive trees) so we can see that a broader biodiversity helps to reduce the necessity for insecticides and fungicides.

 

Are some olive cultivars better suited to organic farming than others?

In Italy alone, we have over 400 classified olive cultivars, which have been selected over the centuries by parents, grandparents and ancestors in search of the plants that are best suited to specific territories, soils, microclimates.  In organic olive growing, when we design a new grove, the cultivar helps us a lot because choosing the most suitable one for that location gives us many advantages over the years to come.  So in response, there isn’t a cultivar that is best suited to organic farming but respecting organic farming allows me to choose the best cultivar to fit the specific soil and microclimate.

 

What are the major risks for organic olive farming in Italy at the moment?

Well, Italy has a huge bureaucratic problem, weighing it down and slowing down many initiatives.  It robs us all of time that we could be dedicating to studying, bettering ourselves and focusing on the production of organic olive growing; the organic certification is very rigorous and has improved hugely, but this mania for bureaucratizing everything risks shifting our focus away from the real problems.

From a cultivation point of view, the continuous arrival of ‘alien’ insects and pathogens certainly requires us to pay greater attention to the importation of materials that can function as vectors.  Xylella, an Asian bug is an example of this making it much harder to manage olive groves in general, especially organically.

We also have to solve various issues regarding production numbers – the costs of production are very high for tiny organic olive growers and so they may need to collaborate with others to share various overheads.  And certainly the coronavirus will present challenges for us to open and maintain export markets.  We have to see this as a chance to change and live the future in a different way.  To do this, however, we must think about the price of food without the distortion of the neo-liberal economic system where money is king and take a more sustainable view of the economy.  This would allow us to revalue all of the numbers throughout the supply chain considering environmental, ethical and social aspects.  For example, low pricing policies have a tendency to lead to under-remuneration, which we have repeatedly seen encourages fraudulent or illegal activities.  There is a distortion in perception of low prices that the consumer has become accustomed to perceive as ‘normal’, devaluing the real work behind a product.  We need a greater pact of trust and mutual satisfaction with consumers, with buyers and with our way of producing to help build a better world.