Italy has the most important significant variety of olive biodiversity in the world. A FAO study describes 538 different varieties in Italy, representing 42% of the global total. Among these, each variety is the expression of its land, its air, its local culture, and the work of the people who grow it.
Today we present two different producers who, growing different varieties in different regions, are united by the same passion, and by the fact you can meet them for yourself at Terra Madre!
Azienda Agricola Damiano
What ingredient – besides basil! – better represents the gastronomy of Liguria than the taggiasca olive? In the province of Imperia, a few kilometers inland from the coast, the Damiano family – Tiziano Damiano, Stefania Merano and their two children – have been taking care of a grove of 8000 olive trees of the taggiasca variety for over 20 years, using the oil to make a monovarietal oil and other products.
The business started in 2004, when Tiziano and Stefania decided to combine the lands owned by their parents. As Stefania puts it: “We started with a few trees, just over 500. Slowly the demand for oil grew and so did our business, to the point that we began to employ others, though we’re still much more a family than a business.” In recent times, the Damiano family took another step, installing a mill on the grounds. “It was an important decision because it means we can guarantee that our olives are processed in the shortest time possible and that our oil maintains a high level of quality. There’s enormous satisfaction in following every stage of the process.”
A perfect example of regeneration
The effort and care required to grow olives is not to be taken lightly, especially here, where the groves are located in separate plots and at different altitudes over a range of 30 kilometers, and they’re cultivated without the use of herbicides. “Caring for the plants and harvesting is hard work. We can’t just leave sheets on the ground like they do in the lowland plains; our olives need to be beaten with a net under the tree, using long poles. Each tree, one by one.”
Despite these difficulties, or perhaps because of them, their link with the land is strong. “We’ve always tried to protect the taggiasca olive, and we’ve bought land from older people in the area who weren’t able to harvest any more. We couldn’t allow these olive groves to risk abandonment.” It’s a perfect example of territorial regeneration.
At the Market of Terra Madre
The Market at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto is a unique opportunity to discover and compare the gastronomic products of people who put their hearts and souls into their production. The Market is free to enter: no ticket or registration is required. There’s no better occasion to meet the people behind some of the finest culinary offerings in the world, all in one place.
Azienda Agricola Piccolo
The second olive oil producer we feature is from Puglia. Here, over half a century ago, in 1955, Riccardo Piccolo began his first steps as an olive grower in the countryside he grew up in. He learned the trade and just seven years after beginning work he started a business of his own: Agricola Piccolo. Today, at his farmhouse in Torre di Bocca, his sons Giuseppe and Salvatore keep the family tradition going. Curious and enthusiastic, they’ve worked to improve their techniques of harvest and processing over the years, and the result is an exceptional olive oil: The Coratina monocultivar is widespread in the region around Andria. It’s a fruity oil, with an artichoke aftertaste and aromas of the local grasses.
Between tradition and innovation
With respect for the land and the product, the two brothers work to find the right equilibrium between the past and present. They safeguard the precious knowledge handed down to them, using natural fertilizers, ecological practices and cold extraction. But they’re not immune to technological innovation either to help get the best of out of the olives in the process of their transformation into oil, as sales manager Antonella Piccolo tells us. “Andria is the home of the green gold, but there’s lots to learn, lots of little details that, if you pay attention to them, will allow you to produce olive oil worthy of the name.”
There’s no shortage of difficulties here, either. “Drought is a real menace. Without rain the land can’t feed the plants. The risk is that the olives dry out and fall to ground before they’re ripe. And the thermal shocks are another problem: the plants suffer in the tight cold of the winter and the 45°C we see in summer. The work of the farmer becomes ever more a case of reducing damage and caring for the plants and the land itself.”
Stories and links with the land
The Piccolo brothers are closely tied to their land, and besides the perfume of their extra virgin olive oil, this connection can be seen elsewhere too. Because talking about olive oil often means telling related stories too, like the traditional Pugliese ceramic vases, called orci. “Our oil travels around the world. We have clients in Japan, the USA, the Arab world. Thanks to the orci containers we use we can also provide work for the local artisans who make them. We’re proud of that,” Antonella tells us. “But the greatest satisfaction is the knowledge that we’re working well. Our hope is to be able to share the work with the world once more at Terra Madre.”