On an early, cold Sunday morning I decide to leave behind the laziness of my bed and the never-ending spell of Rome (though I’ve been living here for more than 12 years I never stop discovering new, fascinating corners in this stunning city) to join an olive oil tour in Sabina, an ancient territory of Latium famous since the Roman age for its excellent olive oils.
At Fara in Sabina train station I meet a small group of tourists from the U.S. – they bravely decided to abandon Rome for one day, too – and Johnny Madge.
An olive oil expert and taster – he is the only foreign member of the Slow Food panel for the annual Guide to Extra Virgin Olive Oils – Johnny has been living in Italy for about 30 years.
He first came here in 1982 to study architecture and to learn to carve marble in Carrara (he is a gifted carver and sculptor). Later on, he fell in love with the Sabina region, with the olive groves and with an Italian woman with whom he is now married.
When he bought a rural house nearby Casperia (a small, tiny medieval village perched on a hilltop whose origins date back to the ancient Sabini’s population) he didn’t know much about olive oil. Having some olive trees in his land as everybody here does, he just followed the local men’s advice to leave the olives dry for some days before taking them to the mill. The result was obviously terrible, and since then he studied and tasted a lot to learn what really is – and how to make – a good olive oil.
Today, Johnny is a most passionate expert and promoter of Latium extra virgin olive oil. Despite some of the best Italian extra virgins are born here, the region hasn’t had a solid reputation compared to others like Tuscany and Liguria. And even the most curious tourist visiting Rome can hardly imagine what he could find just out of the city’s border.
That’s why Johnny decided to propose his olive oil tours, which are highly valued on TripAdvisor as one of the best excapes from Rome. In just one day – approximately 6 hours – one can discover the beautiful Sabina countryside, learn how to taste olive oil, sample some of the best regional oils, enjoy a simple yet lavish lunch with typical recipes and meet people who think that visiting a place does not really mean only taking pictures and going shopping: you have to also taste the local lifestyle.