Part of our continuing special coverage of the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
It is one of the most important olive oil-producing regions in the world and Puglia is once again one of the regions where producers have seen their brands win the top awards at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
Puglian producers had to overcome challenges, including the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on labor and the market, the unpredictable climate with its extraordinary weather events such as drought, heatwaves and hailstorms, and the continued spread of the deadly Xylella fastidiosa pathogen.
Puglia has the best geo-climate for olives: karst terrain, two seas, the Ionian and Adriatic, flat iron-rich land, no rain during summer.
Those events coupled with the alternate bearing season for the olive trees decreased the overall Puglian olive yield in 2020, with the harvest falling 31.7 percent.
“During the pandemic period, we have been forced to work even more, because of the inevitable lack of workforce and because nature does not wait,” Antonella Rosati, the owner of Tenuta Foggiali, told Olive Oil Times. “Even more, because we had to face and prevent the further spread of the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria.”
Tenuta Foggiali is a 12-hectare, 3,000-tree farm founded in 1895, with an established tradition of excellence in organic growing.
“Organic farming and sustainability are our lifestyle,” Rosati said. “The location of our estate is in the middle of the homeland of millennial olive trees, which should soon be included among the UNESCO World Heritage sites. We are proud to take care of and preserve trees that are up to 2,000 years old.”See Also: The Best Olive Oils from Italy
“To fight Xylella fastidiosa, protect the trees and preserve the environment, we adopted means of precision farming, which allow us to apply relevant actions such as watering or sanitary treatments only when needed,” she added. “Although these devices cannot detect the Xylella bacteria in a tree, they are part of several implementation projects.”
Despite these challenges, Tenuta Foggiali earned a Gold Award for its Rosati Fruttato, an organic medium blend.
“At the end of the season, we handpick each cultivar’s olives separately and decide which ones have the characteristics to be included in our two blends,” Rosati said. “Rosati Fruttato is a blend from different varieties with their own intense tasting notes.”
“It is the result of our efforts to balance the strong herbaceous Pecholine aroma with the robust but appealing Coratina artichoke aftertaste and the interesting peppery note of the Cima di Melfi olives,” she added.
“We manage to reach this result because, as approved tasters who need to keep the palate sharp, we had the chance to sample and appreciate some of the best Italian olive oils, thus striving to fine-tune our blending as a unique product,” Rosati continued.
Meanwhile, the company’s Rosati Monocultivar Bio won a Silver Award, overcoming specific challenges in its production to triumph at the NYIOOC.
“We do usually harvest our Leccino trees at the beginning of October, a very sensitive period of the year when temperatures stay high, which has happened in recent years, and combine with some nighttime humidity to nurture the olive fruit fly,” Rosati said.
“That means more work for us: the intense monitoring of the fruits, the deployment of hormone-based traps and, in the end, the rush to harvest as soon as the olives turn purple and keep drupes safe from eventual attacks of the fly,” she added.
“The olive oil that comes out of this activity fills us with pride as it offers a unique creamy, full-body character with an almond aftertaste, very typical of the Leccino grown in our area,” Rosati concluded.
“We are proud for the care we dedicate to our trees,” Paolo Milicic, co-owner of De Robertis Chiaroscuro, told Olive Oil Times. “We have a team of local third and fourth-generation arborists, specialists who deeply understand the needs of our Coratina trees and help us ensure that every tree gets precisely the right amount of love and nutrients, such as water at the appropriate time and in the correct volumes.”
“We are very honored and humbled by the recognition we have received,” Milicic added. “It is very satisfying to see our hard work receive such an award year after year from the panel of international experts.”
Milicic explained how in the face of the pandemic, his company turned to digital marketing channels.
“The biggest challenge we faced came from the travel restrictions that limited our ability to explore new markets and meet with clients,” he said. “It is hard to have an electronic olive tasting at the distance.”
“Still, our team managed to overcome those hurdles, developed our online activities and managed to use technology to stay in contact with our clients and even forge some new exciting partnerships overseas,” Milicic added.
Terradiva Organic Farm was also among the award-winning producers at the 2021 NYIOOC, earning Gold for its Allegro con Brio brand, an organic Coratina monovarietal.
“It is a special extra virgin olive oil that comes from a very specific territory, with its own identity, herbal scents and a complex flavor with balanced bitter and piquant notes,” owner Angela Lobascio told Olive Oil Times. “It is an extra virgin olive oil that tells the story of a whole family and its quest for quality.”
Terradiva has ancient roots in its territory, with the company’s choice to follow organic farming protocols dating back to 1998.
Lobascio said that the work on the olive trees and the approach to marketing their extra virgin olive oils had to be completely re-organized in the wake of the pandemic.
“We had to face the suspension of shipments to restaurants and those small high-quality gastronomic food shops which did not have organized home delivery services,” she said.
“We have seen growing demand from families, cooperative buying groups and private customers mostly located in central and northern Italy,” Lobascio added, also referencing the high number of sales from the company’s online shop with its European customers.
She explained how during the pandemic the “direct contact and human interaction between our family-owned business and our clients have become even more relevant. We have seen people considering quality, safety and origin of the food ingredients they were buying more.”
Meanwhile, near Salento, on Puglia’s eastern coast with the Ionian Sea, the producers behind Olivottoil Cellino celebrated their Silver Award for a blend that comes from about 900 trees, most of which are about 50 years old.
“Olivottoil Cellino comes from Cellina and Cima di Melfi olives,” Pier Sante Olivotto, the company’s president, told Olive Oil Times. “They have been selected to produce a uniquely healthy and tasty extra virgin olive oil: Cellina olives for their vitamin E and the yellow color, Pecholine-Cima di Melfi olives for their polyphenols and green color.”
Sante Olivotto emphasized that Olivottoil focuses on the healthy qualities of extra virgin olive oil.
“We think of extra virgin olive oil as the best superfood ever,” he said. “Most micronutrients must be fat-soluble to become bioavailable and olive oil is the perfect vehicle to bring them to all the cells in our body after ingestion.”
“Micronutrients come into olives to defend them from insect attacks during the dry season,” Sante Olivotto said. “Polyphenols are in the olives skin to bring the defensive bitterness and tocopherols into the nuts, which gives life to a new tree.”
Despite the olive trees; natural defenses and healthful properties, Sante Olivotto also emphasized the urgency required to stop the spread of Xylella fastidiosa.
“We ask for a call to arms to the worldwide research centers to collaborate in helping Italy fighting the disease that is progressively killing the 60 million olive trees in this region,” he said.
“Puglia has the best geo-climate for olives: karst terrain, two seas, the Ionian and Adriatic, flat iron-rich land, no rain during summer. It is located on the 40th parallel, and has 3,000 milling machines,” Sante Olivotto added.
Giovanni Simeone, the owner of the ancient Masseria Fortificata Pavoni, has expanded the traditional farm founded in the 18th century.
His extra virgin olive oils have repeatedly confirmed their quality, winning top accolades at the NYIOOC. In the 2021 edition, the company earned one Gold Award and one Silver Award for a pair of monovarietal oils.
“My memories as a kid are connected to the olive trees my grandfather used to grow, the joyful harvesting season, unforgettable memories for me,” Simeone told Olive Oil Times.
When the Pavoni farm became part of his Masseria, Simeone worked hard to re-connect it with the territory.
“It has olive trees spread over 20 hectares. The first thing I did was to restore its dignity by transforming the entire operation to organic farming,” he said “Once we obtained the organic farming certifications, I became a certified olive oil taster in Rome.”
“Since 2016, we have won Gold Awards at the NYIOOC,” Simeone added. “Our olive oils are examined every year by Accredia, which certifies their organoleptic and chemical qualities. It is a true passion I hope to communicate to all my clients.”