Italy’s culinary attractions are many – the pasta, the cheese, the prosciutto di parma… but the greatest lure for foodies just might be olive oil.
In Search of Italy’s Green Gold
Italy’s culinary attractions are many – the pasta, the cheese, the prosciutto di parma (not to mention the wine) … but the greatest lure for foodies just might be olive oil. An Italian obsession for millennia – the pressing of olives to make delicious olive oil in the country is thought to date back to about 1200 B.C. Explorers can take to the road to discover this so-called “green gold” on a road trip through some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes. It’s a truly sensational trip, full of incomparable sights, smells, and tastes.
The Puglia region (in the southern “heel” of Italy’s boot) has earned the reputation as the “world capital of olive oil.” The 60 million olive trees here produce nearly 40 percent of the olive oil in Italy. And as would be expected, olive oil is sewn into the very fabric of life here.
So why not start your olive oil quest at the beginning? A 5,000-acre nature preserve in the Puglia region, Torre Guaceto is home to Italy’s oldest olive trees – some have been standing for well over 2,000 years now. The ancient groves here have long been a source for olive oil producers, and wandering amidst these wonderfully gnarled trees will give you a sense of awe, as well as a new appreciation for the age-old, organic process for extracting “the gold of the park” – the extra-virgin olive oil that is Torre Guaceto’s trademark.
Pay a visit to Masseria Il Frantoio, a 500-year-old country farm located in the countryside near Ostuni. It’s been converted into lovely boutique hotel, but still produces olive oil, and you can take an informative tour/tasting of the grounds. It’s a perfect homebase for your explorations in the area.
Don’t get too comfortable, though. The road beckons – Puglia’s Olive Oil Road (Strada dell’Olio di Puglia), that is. This 87-mile (140km) route through gorgeous countryside is highlighted by an array of stop-off points at local farms where you can taste oils (and buy some to bring home). Start your trip at Museo dell’Olio in San Vito dei Normanni, a museum dedicated to the history of olive oil.
For dinner, don’t miss the chance to visit one of Puglia’s signature restaurants – the charming Osteria A ‘Cr’ Janz in Putignano. Here, master chef Stefano D’Onghia uses the bounty of the region in both classic and innovative ways. Locally made olive oil is, of course, a primary ingredient in his culinary wizardry.
On to Tuscany! A must-visit spot set amidst central Italy’s legendary landscapes is Fattoria di Fubbiano, a farm known for producing some of the world’s finest extra-virgin olive oils. Located near Lucca, this amazing farm and 17th-century villa offers tours of its impossibly beautiful grounds so that you can learn about their process – and maybe learn a few secrets as well. Tip: they also make award-winning wine here, too. In case you fall in love with this place (and who wouldn’t?), you can book your own luxurious room at Fattoria di Fubbiano.
It’s far from the only game in town, though; say hello to Il Palagio, a sprawling estate in Chianti, owned by none other than international pop star Sting and his wife Trudie Styler. It’s a dream come true: Il Palagio harvests, ferments and bottles its own wines; collects a wide variety of delectable honeys; and of course, cold presses pure, delicious olive oil. The on-site farm shop sells everything made or grown on the estate, including fresh vegetables and fruits, and the local salami.
Next, drive out to I Greppi di Silli, located amidst rolling hills in between Florence and Siena. Since 1934, this family-owned and operated agritourism destination boasts nearly 1,500 olive trees, from which the high-quality, extra-virgin “monocultivar” olive oil is made. Take a tour of the grove and vineyards – don’t miss the chance to take a dip in the lovely pool, surrounded by olive trees and featuring panoramic views of the Tuscan countryside.
For a romantic Tuscan night out, head to Ristorante Walter Redaelli, located in the (former) stables of an 18th-century villa in Bettolle. The menu is focused on local ingredients (homemade pasta and bread, Chianina beef and extra-virgin olive oil), and the open-air setting is ideal for a summer evening.