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extra virgin olive oil

  • Catching up with the Girolomoni brothers

    The only thing that momentarily drew our attention away from the demands of the bumpy, winding road leading towards the crest of a hill (we would call it a mountain) in Isola del Piano, in the Marches, was the appearance of busy local bee keepers, as we headed up the slopes, to visit Girolomoni. They are our organic supplier of pasta, farro, mountain lentils, extra virgin olive oil and a few other very interesting grains.

    The Girolomoni entrance sign. The Girolomoni entrance sign.

    We were particularly intrigued to return to the 14th century Montebello monastery that the late Gino Girolomoni was making his life's work to restore, complete with a small museum, when we first visited some years ago.

    Entrance Arriving at Girolomoni.

    A pioneer of the organic movement in Italy, Gino is renowned throughout the region as the man who brought it back to life again through the introduction of organic farming. At one point he had also been a very innovative and progressive mayor. These days, both his sons and daughter are involved in the co-operative which now includes 200 farmers spread through this, and other regions, in Italy.

    Seven years ago, Gianluca, the General Manager, had told us how lucky he was to work in this company and this environment, a comment he reiterated this visit. Everything in this unique area is farmed organically and the movement has grown considerably over the last few years. Girolomoni grow organic ancient varieties of wheat and grains onsite, and make pasta from these. We heard of plans to build their own flour mill next year on the side of the 'hill'. This will close the circle. Durum wheat is quite difficult to grind compared to normal flour, as it is more like sand in texture. If environment can be seen to directly influence the end product then this mill will produce truly wonderful flour as the views are serene, and the air has a crisp freshness, even on a sunny afternoon. Their power sources are mainly supplied by solar and wind turbine.

    View View from Girolomoni farm.

    The farro used for Girolomoni’s farro pasta is from the father of all modern wheat: triticum monococum. It is characterised by a very appealing natural sweetness. We tried it simply dressed with their extra virgin olive oil. Often people who are sensitive to gluten find they can tolerate this pasta, and the pearled farro they also supply us with. We have recently added their semi-integrale pasta to our Sabato range, which has part of the husk left on, ensuring it is higher in fibre than normal pasta but is still delicious to eat.

    The businessman and the farmer. The businessman and the farmer.

    Gino’s son, Giovanni, is involved on the business side and his brother Samuele, on the farming side. There is a small restaurant onsite, where the chef, Andrea, was mowing the lawn as we arrived. Andrea's previous employment had been at a two-starred Michelin restaurant and he had been interviewed and employed by Maria, their sister, who later became his partner. Andrea cooked us a really delicious lunch and his talents extended to an interesting crispy cracker made from leftover pasta.

    The Montebello monastery chapel. The Montebello monastery chapel.

    All three of Gino’s children now have children of their own, with Giovanni having married in the chapel of the ancient Montebello monastery, lovingly restored by his father from the roofless ruin we had last seen. In the last few years the children have managed to get through the red tape of Italian administration to have the remains, of both their mother and father, laid to rest in the simple, beautiful chapel.

    Here, there is a strong focus on educating the next generation to ensure the survival of the organic movement and Girolomoni frequently invest in this by conducting visits to the property for school groups. The students are shown first hand the passage of the wheat from farm to grain or pasta. Everyone at Girolomoni is very passionate about organic being the sustainable way of the future, and in that environment you can understand the appeal.

  • A visit to Marina Colonna's olive grove

    Marina Colonna's quality extra virgin olive oil has been a prominent hero in our range from the day we started Sabato.

    The sign welcoming us to Marina Colonna's Estate The sign welcoming us to Marina Colonna's Estate

    Her excellent quality oil - and the distinctive anfora bottle bearing the Colonna family's ancient noble crest - are personified by the woman herself.

    A very resilient woman, of resourceful character, she became involved in the family farm in the 1980s as she tired of a career in documentary-making. The final straw was a trip to the Amazon where she was the only woman on a dark and threatening jungle journey. Hot, sunny deserts she could handle deftly, but that jungle trip was mainly pitch black and "you never knew what might slither down your neck". She decided to focus on the potential of producing quality extra virgin olive oil instead.

    Marina cooking us lunch Marina cooking us lunch.

    This is also not for the faint-hearted, to which those involved in our local industry can attest.  Consistently achieving the high quality Marina has maintained for decades and remaining in business, is a feat accomplished only by very few. Marina Colonna may be the only woman to have achieved this status.

    A' Principessa' from a lineage based in Rome with a long and noble history, her estate in Molise has been in the family since the 1800s. It is now 180 hectares with 55 hectares devoted to the many varieties of olives she nurtures like children. About half of these are certified organic, which comes with a lot of extra cost.

    The driveway leading us up to the Colonna estate. The driveway leading us up to the Colonna estate.

    Marina is a fearless innovator and her infused oils - which were first in the market in New Zealand, and often the inspiration for copies - have always matched the superb quality of her classic oil. The Granverde (lemon-infused) in particular has been a staple we have enjoyed supplying to many restaurants and domestic kitchens. It is pressed from the skins of hand peeled organic Calabrian and Sicilian lemons along with the olives. She loves it as a finishing oil or with balsamic vinegar. We really must take her a bottle of the Forvm Chardonnay vinegar, as that has long been a favourite combination in New Zealand.

    Jacqui, Marina and Phil by the tanks. Jacqui, Marina and Phil by the tanks.

    We enjoyed visiting her again. Like a proud parent she showed us around her groves pointing out varieties and individual trees of which she is particularly fond. She noted that the flowering this year is excellent which, barring natural disasters, should mean a good harvest. The necessary water comes from three natural lakes on the property. Nothing is wasted.  The olives provide fertiliser and power as well. She turns the pomace (the waste of the paste after crushing for her extra virgin olive oil, often turned into pomace oil by other companies) into compost. This is then used as fertiliser, while the olive stone part of the pomace is separated out and used as fuel for the boilers, which heat the buildings and the water.

    A view of olive groves and one of the lakes on the estate. A view of olive groves and one of the lakes on the estate.

    I thought to ask what had inspired her unique anfora-shaped bottle, and she laughed and waggled a wooden curtain tassel of the same shape at us.

    Marina with her curtain tassel! Marina with her curtain tassel!

    Simple, pure genius - befitting of the lady herself.

     

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