‘Open House’ at Umbria’s Olive Oil Mills
Umbria, called “Italy’s green heart”, is green all year thanks to the non-deciduous live oaks blanketing the mountains of our region and the silver-green of the olive trees which cover our hills. The superb olive oils of Umbria (and particulary those of the Assisi/Spello area) – considered the best in the world by Alain Ducasse, famed French chef – are celebrated in the Frantoi Aperti (best translated “Open House at the Olive Oil Mills”) festival from the end of October to early December.
On the outskirts of tiny hamlets – such as Gualdo Cattaneo, Giano dell’Umbria, Castel Ritaldi. Montecchio, Campello – and near the more famed Umbrian hilltowns – such as Assisi, Spello, Spoleto – olive oil mills welcome visitors for tastings of the new olive oil on hot bruschetta. Tractors and trucks loaded with just-picked olives rumble in and the huge stone olive mill wheels churn as the miller explains to visitors the milling process. The villages and towns come alive in the evenings with cultural events of all kinds.
And why not celebrate the noble olive tree, the perfect representative of our region? After all, the olive tree is a symbol of peace and this land of St. Francis is often called “The Holy Land of Italy”. Of long lifespan and slow growth, the olive tree synthesizes Umbria’s loving preservation of century-old traditions handed down from generation to generation. And naturalmente, the exquisite Umbrian extra virgin olive oil is key element of the region’s cuisine, characterized by the simple, seasonal ingredients of our cucina genuina.
The climatic conditions of Umbria are perfect, enabling the slow ripening of the olives, so necessary for the production of an olive oil with an extremely low acidity level. The soil of our hilly land is a key factor as well: permeable rich earth that allows the roots of the trees to penetrate easily. The timing of the olive harvest is crucial: the harvest must start early in the olive’s natural maturation process. Olives are picked just as ripening starts (generally in early November), when the olives are only partially dark and the fruity flavor is at its peak. This assures lowest acidity.
Experiments are underway now for a mechanical technique for picking olives without damaging them but hand-harvesting still reigns. We all try to get our burlap sacks full of olives to the mill as soon as they are picked – to avoid “heating up” of the olives and to insure best flavor of our oil. The ideal position of Umbria’s olive groves (90 percent are on the hillsides and 10 percent in mountain areas), favorable conditions of the terrain and our idyllic olive-growing climate ensure “liquid gold” for our region: approximately 90 percent of our entire production (an average of 8 million kg per year) is extra-virgin.
Best way to savor the new olive oil?
On bruschetta , of course! We toast our bread on the top of our wood-burning stove (and yes, the flavor IS different if toasted in a gas oven!). Rub toasted bread slice with a garlic clove. Drizzle on (ideally) newly-pressed extra-virgin olive oil. Here in Umbria, we have to sprinkle salt on our bread: there is no salt in our bread, thanks to the Pope Paul III’s tax on salt in his Papal states (what is now Umbria, Marches, Latium, Abruzzo) in 1540. Can we buy bread with salt in our local bakeries? Of couse ..but..why eat “foreign” foods!?!
Click here to read about our olive oil harvest
Click here to read about Spello’s olive oil celebrations
Click here to read about Trevi’s olive oil celebrations
Read about the “Open Wine Cellars” festival