` On the Ancient Path of Olive Oil in Puglia - Olive Oil Times

On the Ancient Path of Olive Oil in Puglia

Mar. 2, 2011
Laura Rose

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The region of Puglia, the heel” of Italy’s boot, is a land of red earth with twisted olive trees whose lin­eage stretches back cen­turies, in some cases even mil­len­nia, in this tra­di­tional heart­land of olive oil. Providing 40 per­cent of the nation’s prod­uct, with over 60 mil­lion trees in the region (one for every per­son in Italy), olive oil is a tra­di­tion that inspires more Pugliese pride than any other, and with reason.

Known for pro­duc­ing not only great quan­tity but also some of the high­est qual­ity olive oil any­where, its oil-fueled gas­tron­omy has earned a rep­u­ta­tion in recent years as a top con­tender in the con­stant war that rages over which region has the best cui­sine in the country.

Puglia’s sunny cli­mate and dra­matic beaches have been lur­ing more and more vis­i­tors, espe­cially from other parts of Italy, seek­ing not just warmth but an epi­curean expe­ri­ence as well. Visitors have a chance to travel what has been dubbed the Strade dell’olio, or the Olive Oil Roads, the paths con­nect­ing the often ancient farms that still pro­duce oil today. Along the way, some out-of-use farms have been turned into muse­ums where you can learn about the local his­tory of oil and see the tra­di­tional meth­ods of pro­duc­tion. Most muse­ums include a very per­sonal guided tour, where you can be sure to get a spir­ited intro­duc­tion to the area’s cus­toms and oils.

At the Museum of San Vito dei Normans, set in the mag­nif­i­cent rooms of the for­mer Convent of the Dominicans, exhibits tell the story of olive oil and show the art of its age-old pro­duc­tion, empha­siz­ing agrar­ian cul­ture as a pre­cious legacy for the younger gen­er­a­tion. Also wor­thy of a visit is the Squinzano Museum in Lecce, where an ancient and beau­ti­ful mill is kept entirely intact.

The Museum of Olive Oil of Sant’Angelo de Grecis Fasano, per­haps the most impor­tant of the olive oil muse­ums, is sur­rounded by olive groves that pro­duce some of the high­est qual­ity oil in Italy, such as the esteemed Ogliarola Leccino and Frantoio oils. The Grecis Fasano farm­house, orig­i­nally cre­ated in the 11th cen­tury by monks, boasts a col­lec­tion of ancient tools like grind­ing stones, wooden and metal presses, basins, mor­tars, ropes, har­nesses for the mules, jars, bot­tles, and other tools that were col­lected by the Amati Colucci fam­ily, cur­rent own­ers of the farm. Until only a few years ago, pro­duc­tion was also done in the sur­round­ing caves, in order to main­tain a cool tem­per­a­ture for the press­ing of the olives.

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The Strade dell’olio stretches out from Brindisi, with 140 kilo­me­ters of roads, along which you will also find plenty of places to taste and pur­chase the local oils, as well as restau­rants cater­ing to the vis­i­tors search­ing for a taste of Puglia’s riches. It’s a place to expe­ri­ence the ancient his­tory of Italy and to see first­hand how the agrar­ian cul­ture main­tains a vital role in of one of the most promi­nent cuisines in the world.

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