`A Centrifugal Force: Gennaro Pieralisi - Olive Oil Times

A Centrifugal Force: Gennaro Pieralisi

Jun. 6, 2010
Lucy Vivante

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Gennaro Pieralisi is con­cerned about the low prices for olive oil. There’s too much extra-vir­gin olive oil and too lit­tle demand. The finan­cial cri­sis has con­sumers all over the world cut­ting back on their expenses. He is in com­mand of the break-even prices on olives, reel­ing off the num­bers: for Spain it’s 2.70 – 2.80€ per kilo; for the other EU coun­tries it’s 3.60 – 3.70€ per kilo; and 2.50 € per kilo for coun­tries like Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Turkey and for the South American coun­tries. The vari­ance is due to labor costs. Pieralisi does­n’t say this, but I infer that the depressed price for olive oil must impact the abil­ity of grow­ers’ to buy or upgrade machin­ery.

I ask him about the recent drop in the value of the euro and he says this will help him, and adds that it will ben­e­fit all European man­u­fac­tur­ers. Pieralisi does pro­vide some financ­ing to enable pur­chase of his equip­ment. He’ll allow Italian buy­ers to stretch pay­ments over five years. He won’t do that out­side of Italy because it would be too dif­fi­cult to sue buy­ers who default on their pay­ments. He says he wants to be paid upfront for the machines. The com­pany refur­bishes used machines and, typ­i­cally, these cost a third less than new ones.
See Also: A Conversation with Gennaro Pieralisi
The sea­son for olive oil is rel­a­tively short and this is one of the rea­sons the com­pany has diver­si­fied. These sub­sidiary ven­tures involve cen­trifuge tech­nol­ogy, but for other appli­ca­tions. Pieralisi makes cen­trifuges for the cheese indus­try. They sell cen­trifuges to mak­ers of Parmigiano Reggiano, for exam­ple, who use them to spin the cream away from the milk. For moz­zarella, the Group pro­duces an entire sys­tem. Centrifuges are sold to fruit juice mak­ers, vint­ners, and tomato proces­sors in the food space. Then there’s the indus­trial divi­sion, sep­a­rat­ing sludge, fuel oil purifi­ca­tion, waste waters etc. I ask him if it’s dif­fi­cult to mar­ket machines for things that taste so good along­side these other areas and he acknowl­edges that it is a chal­lenge. The diver­si­fi­ca­tion, how­ever, keeps every­one work­ing steadily – the Ingegnere seems par­tic­u­larly con­cerned that the ser­vice groups have enough to do.

Pitted olive oil has recently been in the news and asked about it he says, It’s dead on arrival. Dead on arrival because it’s invented and moti­vated by mar­ket­ing. For every 100 kilos of olives, there’s 750 grams of oil from the almond in the pit, it’s a very char­ac­ter­is­tic and rich oil, rich in polyphe­nols and topophe­nols. Without the oil of the pit, the olive oil lasts only six months. And beyond this, the pit­ted oil is very insipid. It was sim­ply a way of launch­ing a mar­ket­ing mes­sage.” I ask him if he has any new break­throughs he wants to share, and he says he’ll have some­thing in a cou­ple of years. Pieralisi explains that the olive oil sea­son is so short, a max­i­mum of 100 days, and so the exper­i­men­ta­tion period is lim­ited. He also says that November 2nd, the day the extrac­tion sea­son starts and the ten days that fol­low is an inferno – with every cus­tomer start­ing the extrac­tion of oil. It can’t be that bad since he says the word inferno with a smile.

On ques­tions of taste in olive oil he says that it is a mat­ter of one’s own per­sonal taste and tra­di­tion. He says that to some­one from Bari, the per­fect oil might be from the Coratina olive tree, but to some­one from Lake Garda that oil is bit­ter like poi­son.” And the Milanese and other North Italians, who are used to the taste of but­ter, pre­fer an insipid oil.” He per­son­ally favors Greek olive oil. (The Gruppo Pieralisi make extra-vir­gin olive oil, and more about this later, but at this moment he’s too proud a char­ac­ter to say it’s his favorite.) He talks a bit about large com­pa­nies like Unilever, who sell to super­mar­kets world­wide, and says that they buy mixes of olive oils in order to keep the taste con­sis­tent, they’re look­ing for a uni­form taste. With those oils there isn’t a good year and then a bad year.

Because he’s talk­ing about mix­tures, I inquire about adul­ter­ated olive oil. The clas­sic mix­ture is olive oil and high oleic saf­flower oil. Up to 7% saf­flower oil is unde­tectable in olive oil and that’s one way peo­ple lower their costs.” We talk about the olive oil exported to America, he says it’s always been the low­est qual­ity, often mixed with pomace oil, and he says it’s the fault of the American leg­is­la­ture, since they don’t rec­og­nize extra-vir­gin olive oil. He thinks that this will change because of California’s increas­ing olive oil pro­duc­tion [ Editor’s Note: The USDA recently recently revised stan­dards to be con­sis­tent with those of the International Olive Council ]. The Made in Italy” and an Italian flag on a bot­tle of oil car­ries a pre­mium, and much of the oil that is sold as Italian, is not made in Italy. Pieralisi says that before it was only Italians who would import the oil, bot­tle it and sell it as Italian. Now, the Spanish have got­ten wise to this, have bought Italian com­pa­nies, and fun­nel their own oil this way. He does­n’t seem par­tic­u­larly fazed by any of this. He’s focused on his machines mak­ing the best pos­si­ble oil, not polic­ing the olive oil mar­ket.

I ask Gennaro Pieralisi what is the most sat­is­fy­ing thing about his job and he answers that It isn’t this job in par­tic­u­lar, but work, sim­ply work that gives sat­is­fac­tion. If I weren’t doing this, I’d be doing some­thing else and it would give sat­is­fac­tion because work­ing gives sat­is­fac­tion.” At this point I’m won­der­ing what it would be like to be the next gen­er­a­tion of Pieralisis or an employee of the com­pany. Measuring up to this very obvi­ously dri­ven man, who was knighted, for what else but work (his title is Cavaliere del Lavoro or Knight of Work) must be tough. And in fact, when you say l’Ingegnere” to Pieralisi’s peo­ple, there is a phys­i­cal reac­tion – their spines stiffen and they quickly ani­mate.

Jesi is a city of about 40,500 peo­ple. The walls and many of the city’s build­ings, among them renais­sance palaces, are a beau­ti­ful pale brick. The his­toric cen­ter is intact, unlike nearby Ancona that was bombed dur­ing WWII. Two impor­tant cul­tural attrac­tions are the Pinacoteca, which has an extra­or­di­nary group of five paint­ings by Lorenzo Lotto, the Venetian con­tem­po­rary of Titian, who spent his later years in the Marche and the Teatro Pergolesi, named for the 18th cen­tury com­poser of opera buffa, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. The day I visit Jesi, the Enoteca della Regione Marche is closed because of struc­tural issues that will take awhile to resolve. It is in a 15th palace and a show­case for the region’s wines and every­one tells me it’s worth a visit. Every region of Italy is try­ing to catch up to the mir­a­cle of mar­ket­ing that is Tuscany.

The Marche region is mostly rural and agri­cul­tural, and it is well known in Italy for being the region with the great­est longevity. Jesi has a strong indus­trial base, besides Pieralisi, there is a Caterpillar plant, and a New Holland plant, which is Fiat’s trac­tor mak­ing divi­sion. These are the biggest non-gov­ern­ment employ­ers in Jesi. Pieralisi has about 400, out of 650, employ­ees here. If they’re not work­ing at the plant, they’re work­ing at the Group’s hotel called the Hotel Federico II, after the Holy Roman Emperor, who was born in Jesi; or on the wom­en’s vol­ley­ball team, the Monte Schiavo team; or the gym Palestra Pieralisi, or the Monte Schiavo Vineyards and Frantoio.

Gennaro Pieralisi has many cousins. One of them owns a big Citroën deal­er­ship in Jesi, but it is another cousin, the actress Virna Lisi, who is the best known. She had a nice career in Hollywood in the 1960s, act­ing in come­dies, but her bet­ter roles have come from European cin­ema and tele­vi­sion. She lives in Rome and con­tin­ues act­ing.

In the final seg­ment of our exclu­sive inter­view with Gennaro Pieralisi, thoughts on going pub­lic and a visit to Monte Schiavo.
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