Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Tuscany
People have been farming olives here for a long time
We believe construction began on the first buildings that we see today sometime during the 1300's. But there is every chance that people were living here and farming much further back than that, way back to the pre-Roman Etruscans and beyond. And whilst most of our olive trees are between 150 and 350 years old, we believe there are some trees here that are much older. Olives can live thousands of years (there are olive trees in the Roman Forum in Rome that were alive when Rome was in its prime), so there's every possibility that some of our trees go back to the time of Julius Caesar and beyond. After all, people have been harvesting olives here in Italy for over 4000 years.
One thing we do know for sure is that we have olive varieties that are so old and rare, that they have not been found anywhere else (according to researchers at the University of Pisa). This is reason enough for us to prefer the more difficult and expensive route which is to try and recover some of the many abandoned trees we have here at Patrignone, rather than just plant new ones. We like the fact our oil is unlike any other oil on the planet.
Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 100% organic since 1400's
Right now, we have around 600 productive olive trees, and up to another 400 that need rescuing, when time and money allow. Each year, around half the trees produce good crops, the next year the other half do the honours.
And we don't do anything to our trees except pick them and prune them. No no sprays, so powders, no nothing. And as Patrignone was abandoned before the advent of commercial pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers, we can guarantee there is nothing in our soil except what Nature put there herself.
And it tastes superb! Slightly peppery, nutty, highly aromatic, and with that all-important kick at the back of the throat that tells you our oil is stuffed full of polyphenols (powerful antioxidants), one of the many reasons olive oil is so very good for you. If you have never tasted real olive oil, I can promise you that it is absolutely nothing like anything you will have tasted before.
The truth about Extra Virgin Olive Oil
You would never think that such a harmless looking product could be so riddled with intrigue and rogues. Unfortunately, the olive oil industry is very poorly regulated (if at all, in practice). This means that in the race to get 'extra-virgin' olive oil (EVOO) out to the masses at prices that supermarkets demand, the big producers cut corners and throw out the rule-book, and you are the one that gets short-changed.
Fake oil is a MASSIVE business, worth $billions every year. The factories producing these oils are all over Italy, but there are many here in Tuscany. They are large companies who legally employ workers, pay their taxes, and do not hide what they do in any way whatsoever. Tankers carrying low quality oil from all around the Med arrive all year round in broad daylight. In other words, these companies are not in any way illegal. The government, both local and national, know exactly what these 'respectable' businesses are doing, but they are happy to turn a blind eye because these companies generate tax income and hep the country's balance of payments through exports.
I have been to one of the big local producers of olive oil, seen their facilities, and spoken frankly with one of their senior managers (off the record, of course). The truth is, these big 'producers' (and there are three that I know of within 10km of here) don't produce any oil of their own - they are oil buyers. They buy tiny amounts of old stock from local farmers (so that they can demonstrate purchase invoices for Tuscan oil) but the bulk (over 99%) of their oil comes from Greece, Morocco and Ethiopia, Tunisia, etc. It arrives in poor condition, usually with high levels of rancidity. It is column filtered to remove all odours, and this also removes all taste. It is then flavoured, coloured, packaged nicely, labelled, shipped and sold as 'Tuscan Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, Made in Italy'. Shocking, but true.
Fact: Italy is the world's largest exporter of EVOO. But it exports many times more oil than it could ever possibly produce.
Fact: Italy is the world's largest importer of olive oil, importing many times more than it could ever possibly consume.
These two facts tell you everything you need to know about the EVOO you've being buying until now. In recent studies of commonly available oils, the vast majority failed all taste & smell tests, and over 2/3rds of the samples were found to be blended with cheaper canola, seed or nut oils. In one study of oils stocked in supermarkets, every sample failed the tests.
The taste test...and the price test
Once you've tasted the real thing you'll never go back. Real EVOO is just juiced olives, nothing else. You can pour it onto a table-spoon and eat it, neat. It tastes magnificent, big, full of fruit. Try that with supermarket oils and your stomach will turn.
But also look at the price you pay for your oil, and you will see another problem. To grow, maintain, harvest, and press olives to make Extra Virgin olive oil costs around €10/litre, conservatively speaking. If you add a bottle, a label, a small growers' profit, the distributor margin, shipping, duty, and the supermarket's margin, that means you could not possibly buy a litre of good oil for less than €20. And if you are buying from a delicatessen, that means you should be paying €30 or more in Europe, $45+ in the USA.
So if you are paying less than this, either someone is losing money (hardly likely), or you are not getting what you think you are getting.
The proof is in the taste
Put any good oil side by side with the best you can buy at home and you will see the difference (the colour of a good oil is a deep emerald green), smell the difference, and taste the difference.
So whatever you do, leave room in your baggage for some oil to take home. And for goodness sake don't ever buy your oil from a supermarket, even in Italy (same problems I'm afraid).
Buy it from a good local Agriturismo (we can recommend several) or buy some of ours.
EVOO from Podere Patrignone
Our oil is 100% organic. We don't do anything to our trees except prune them and pick them. The olives are hand-picked and pressed at a local frantoio, and the oil temperature never gets above 24°C (hence the 'cold-pressed' part, though this term is no longer used). The oil is then micro-filtered to remove any water and surplus biological material which helps give the oil a longer life. Then we bottle it. That's all.
And it is fantastic. Ask us for a taste when you arrive.
Unfortunately, last year (2014) was a terrible year across Italy, and we didn't pick a single olive. An Olive Fly invasion ruined most of the olives in Italy, so we weren't alone in having no crop to pick. We have some 2013 oil left, which we are hoping will last until the next crop in November 2015.
Prices vary from year to year but we are selling the 2013 oil (while stocks last) at:
- €15 for a 500ml tin
- €25 for a 1 litre tin
- €60 for a compact 3 litre tin
- Or you can buy a 5 litre tin (isn't too bulky and will fit in your luggage easily) for €80.
And if you would like us to send oil on to you, let us know and we will sort that out for you. See the next page for more info.
Frequently asked questions about olives
Q: What's the difference between green olives and black?
A: All olives start out green, and darken when ripening. A black olive is slightly over-ripe when it comes to making olive oil. The oil yield is higher but the oil is "fatty" and contains fewer anti-oxidants. We pick our olives when they are in between green and rose coloured. We make less oil this way, but the oil contains more polyphenols (antioxidants) and is more nutty and fresh.
Q: What is the difference between table olives and olive oil olives...or are they the same?
A: No, they're not the same. Table olive varieties actually contain very little oil, so they are completely different species. We do have a couple of trees that produce table olives, but it's a tricky process (commercial table olives are made using caustic soda, or lye!) and we haven't tried this ourselves yet.
Some of the lingo
"extra virgin" - the highest possible quality oil, with acidity below 0.3 (ours is usually way less than 0.1)
"cold pressed" - an old term that refers to the days when oil was 'pressed' from the fruit 'pasta' using a large mechanical press. These presses are still around, but not used much because they expose the oil to too much air. This oxidises those amazing polyphenols (anti-oxidants) that make olive oil so good for you.
"first press" - again, an old term used to describe the oil produced by the first pressing using the mechanical presses. The pasta was then pressed again to produce a poorer quality oil for non-food use.
"frantoio" - a facility for pressing olives to make olive oil
Gary & Helen - USA 2014