By Lucy Vivante
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Jesi, Italy
All of Pieralisi’s machines are made in Jesi. The machines are made from scratch, that is, they buy steel and stainless steel and cast and machine the systems. I don’t exactly know why I’m surprised by this, but I am. Just as plausible to me would be their designing machines to their specifications, assembling, marketing and servicing them. Maybe it’s too many years facing a computer screen in New York City, or the idea that Asia is where things are made. But, no they make them here, and there is something weirdly moving and positive about this.
Gennaro Pieralisi on the current economy says “The crisis is felt, and felt a lot. Many companies are in a difficult position. The crisis isn’t felt by what I call the protected: state workers, postal employees, policemen, the military. The brunt of the crisis is felt by workers and manufacturers. Manufacturers who make goods for the global market.” I ask him if he’s reduced employees and Pieralisi says “We haven’t laid anyone off. We’ve had to reduce temporary workers and furlough some people. We try not to lay anyone off, not only for the business, but also for humanitarian reasons. We just can’t send people home. It’s like cutting off a leg, you only do it if you absolutely have to, in order to save the patient.” Jesi is better off than the nearby city of Fabriano, where there are factories producing home appliances and where the economic crisis has seen a lot of people laid off.
I ask him whether private equity has tried to buy his company and whether he’s thought of going public. He says that every once and awhile people come and try to buy the company. He dislikes the mentality of building a company to sell it, explaining that in Italy companies have an “eternal life” in the collective imagination, and are thought of with affection. He says that people go public only if they’re in difficulty. Otherwise, nobody sells. The Ingegnere takes a particularly dim view of what he calls “artisans of stock deals.”
Gruppo Pieralisi’s wine cantina and olive oil frantoio sit on a large hill, the geographic location is called Monte Schiavo. Their brand is called Monte Schiavo, although it’s sometimes written as one word (Monte Schiavo literally means Slave Mountain and one can only imagine the joking that must go on among employees.) It is much more a hill than a mountain and it lies about 5 km. outside of Jesi. After the meeting with the Ingegnere, I’m driven here for a tour of the frantoio and the Monte Schiavo store, where wine, olive oil, and cosmetics made from olive oil are sold. The Gruppo Pieralisi own 42,000 olive trees and vineyards which produce 1,800,000 bottles of wine a year. The Ingegnere says that he doesn’t want to compete with his clients, those who buy olive oil extraction machinery, so the extra-virgin olive oil is low profile. The frantoio is where experiments are conducted, with the idea of improving both the machinery and the qualities of the olive oil.
I’m shown around the frantoio by Arianna Gerini and Paolo Bucci. An image from a Pieralisi brochure, shows the steps involved in olive oil production. We walk from station to station of the extraction system. I am very surprised when Paolo pulls a huge bolt off a windowsill and says that it was caught when the olives were being washed. He says the value of deleafing and washing is not just to clean the olives, but so foreign objects like this bolt are isolated. I guess so. The olives are then crushed with a hammer crusher and kneaded into a warm paste (about 27°centigrade). With the Phase III machines water is introduced into the process. The Monte Schiavo oil is made with the Phase II machines. Paolo explains that the water washes some of the polyphenols away and the taste isn’t as good with Phase III machines. He goes on to say that in Spain they mostly use Phase II machines, but in Italy many people like to use Phase III because it allows them to collect the pomace and then sell it for further refining into pomace oil.
With Phase II machines, like those here at the Monte Schiavo frantoio, you’re left with a wet pomace that can, and is used for a soil amendment. The woody bits left of the pit can be used for combustion, although finding an appropriate stove to burn it, similar to a pellet stove, is not easy. The Phase II system also relieves you of having to deal with the vegetation water, which has to be disposed of in a controlled manner. The first centrifuge, the decanter centrifuge spins at a rate of 3,500 rotations per minute (were it smaller, it would spin more quickly, and if bigger, more slowly) and the second centrifuge spins at 6,200 rotations per minute and refines the oil further. The whole extraction process takes about two hours.
Dott.ssa Gerini manages the Monte Schiavo store. She explains that we’re in the Verdicchio D.O.C. area. The store has a number of red and white wines. The best of the wines here is called Adeodato, it is a Rosso Conero D.O.C., made with 100% Montepulciano grapes, and named after Gennaro Pieralisi’s grandfather, the founder of the business. They make spumante and a whole range of wines. These are also available outside of Italy. The olive oil is essentially only sold here at the store. There are a few enotecas and restaurants that buy the oil, but that’s about it. We’re looking at the shelves with the oils, and they tell me that the Monte Schiavo oil is beyond good, it is excellent.
The key is that it is made quickly, from the picking of the olives to the extraction, takes three to four hours. The brevity of the process is used in the marketing materials. “4 Ore” or “4 Hours” is written in big letters on the frantoio’s label. I’m given a pack of six bottles of the oil, 5 of 6 the bottles are made from single varieties of olives. The olives are: Ascolana Dura, Carboncella, Frantoio Leccino, Rosciola, and Sargano. The blend is called “Blend 39″ for the 39 varieties of olive in the mix. All the bottles have labels stating that it’s extra-virgin olive oil, and “Oil Extracted in Italy/From Olives Grown in Italy,” just to leave no doubt. Each bottle carries an expiration date. Menu suggestions are also on the labels. At home, I don’t have any of the grilled fish or steaks, polenta, or the minestrone that they suggest, but I’ve tried a couple on lettuce and they were excellent.
Photos: Gruppo Pieralisi
The Olive Oil Times wishes to thank Augusta Pasquero, C.P.S., Milan, Gruppo Pieralisi Spokeswoman, for arranging our meeting with Ing. Gennaro Pieralisi.