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.