Anyone who has been to Puglia will recall the beautiful landscape of crystalline blue sea, giant wild fennel by the roadsides, white-washed villas and of course the unmistakable trulli scattering the countryside. And everywhere you look you see olive trees, it is therefore no surprise that around 40% of Italy’s Olive Oil is produced here. This region has an incredible history of cultivating olives and those who are not shy of manual work (it takes around 6 times the labour to tend a century old tree than a young one) have kept their old trees in production. Of the 50 million trees planted in the region, 4 million are over 300 years old and some of these appear to have 2,500-3,000 years of history. There is a massive range of quality coming out of Puglia and we therefore felt it was our duty to go and seek out the very best EVOO we could find.
The De Carlo family has been making Olive Oil since 1600. That is quite some legacy. Based in Bitritto within the golden triangle for olives near to Bari, the De Carlo family grows the Coratina and Ogliarola cultivars between 3 distinct sites that all yield particular characteristics. They are a truly honourable, hard working and committed family deserving of some attention from people who are passionate about ingredients. Marina De Carlo was immediately warm when we met and I could feel her enthusiasm for our project – De Carlo is a beacon of quality and their story really deserves to be told.
Having purchased the land in 1600 the De Carlo family established their first frantoio in 1668 and within a hundred years, they were the most important oil producing family in the region. They own 100ha of olive groves and farm entirely organically (although you won’t see this on the label). They are completely faithful amid the chaos of the industry in Puglia. Absolutely nothing gets bottled if it is not of the highest quality. They are extremely sensitive to their environment and sustaining it for the next generation, as you would be if your family had over 400 years of experience.
Puglia’s southerly location ensures plenty of sunshine and you can taste this in the olive oil – there is a richness and fruitiness that you don’t get further north. What struck us during our visit was that we ate more vegetables in Puglia than we ever usually do when travelling (something we usually miss!) – Puglia really is the ‘orto’ of Italy: fresh, seasonal, ripe. The texture of De Carlo oils is luxurious, almost buttery yet with a complexity and spice that truly enhances a broad range of vegetables. They also benefit from exceptionally high polyphenolic content – these oils are packed full of antioxidants and truly enhance your cooking.