`A Merry 'Tonda Iblea' Harvest in Sicily - Olive Oil Times

A Merry 'Tonda Iblea' Harvest in Sicily

By Luciana Squadrilli
Dec. 1, 2014 11:57 UTC
Azienda Agricola Miccione part­ner Dario Calogero (left) and agron­o­mist Luigi Larocca

While many pro­duc­ers in Italy and other European coun­tries rue­fully sum up the small, if any, out­put of their har­vest and are faced with a poor income, some oth­ers are sat­is­fied with their results and proudly show the work in progress of olive pick­ing and press­ing on social net­works.

That is the case of Miccione farm in Buccheri, a small vil­lage in the remote area of the Monti Iblei, in south-east­ern Sicily, well-known for the very good qual­ity of its tomato-scented extra vir­gin olive oils.

Probably due to alti­tude (Buccheri is at 820 m, or 2,690 ft above sea level) and the good weather that blessed the Sicilian sum­mer, the olive trees were not attacked by olive fly or other par­a­sites and were in excel­lent con­di­tion at the moment of har­vest­ing.

The great atten­tion paid by the own­ers to qual­ity is a con­tribut­ing fac­tor, and it explains how Miccione was able to gain impres­sive recog­ni­tion for the first release of its epony­mous prod­uct last year, includ­ing a Gold Award at NYIOOC 2014.

The farm is not a stan­dard one in any respect: no inher­ited land, no old fam­ily tra­di­tion to pre­serve, just a great pas­sion and a strong willpower that brought together two fam­i­lies.

One of its founders is Daniele Miccione, a jour­nal­ist who writes about food and sport and cur­rently edi­tor-in-chief at Italy’s main sports daily news­pa­per. Born in Catania not far from Buccheri, he lived in Milan for a long time before he dis­cov­ered the remote vil­lage when his brother moved to Buccheri. I went to visit him,” Daniele said, and so I dis­cov­ered this enchant­ing vil­lage and its old tra­di­tions, includ­ing the olive oil pro­duc­tion.”

The deci­sion to buy an old olive grove in 2011 was more an emo­tional one than an inten­tion to go into the olive oil busi­ness: We bought the land from an old man who was no longer able to look after it. It is located in a hardly acces­si­ble area out of the vil­lage, called a stritta’ (the nar­row), in a sort of canyon where the ancient cities of the for­mer inhab­i­tants of this part of Sicily once stood,” said Miccione.

This was a place of a stun­ning, heart-break­ing beauty. (The old man) told us the story of the place: these were the poor­est lands that were given to World War I vet­er­ans as com­pen­sa­tion. His father, who was a shep­herd, herded his sheep there and, at night, he built the dry stone wall to mark his land. The old man was still able to describe every sin­gle tree his father planted. We real­ized we needed to pre­serve that tra­di­tion but work in a more mod­ern, effec­tive and qual­ity con­scious way.”

In a short time, things got seri­ous; he involved a friend as a part­ner of the new com­pany, and their fam­i­lies includ­ing their daugh­ters and son, became part of the team. They bought more olive groves and asked an expe­ri­enced agron­o­mist, Luigi la Rocca, to help them pro­duce a great oil.

Here there is a fan­tas­tic raw mate­r­ial, Tonda Iblea which is a great vari­ety and Buccheri is the top loca­tion of the area,” Daniele said. We knew we could do very high qual­ity, but this required a lot of atten­tion and care and we had to bal­ance the books, too.”

Wild Olivastro olives used to make the TondaPiù Blend at the Miccione Farm

Olive pick­ing can’t be done with machines here, due to the steep, ter­raced land. Early har­vest­ing and imme­di­ate press­ing at a near, mod­ern olive mill promise high­est qual­ity, but a low yield. The results were reas­sur­ing though, and this year they crafted four dif­fer­ent extra vir­gin olive oils — all made with Tonda Iblea olives.

Beside the Tuttotonda oil, they make two crus” named after the sin­gle estates where the olive trees grow: Pietrenere, where the olive groves face the Etna vol­cano and the ground is made of black stones giv­ing the oil a strong and spicy char­ac­ter; and Terrealte, from the cen­tury-old trees grow­ing on the area above the vil­lage, almost on the top of the moun­tain.

They also decided to exper­i­ment with a blend between Tonda Iblea and wild olives grow­ing on a friend’s land. While the wild olives are small and very hard to har­vest. they might give an unex­pected twist to the oil that will be named TondaPiù.

As the har­vest­ing and press­ing is done and the oil is rest­ing in the stain­less steel vats, Daniele and his part­ners are work­ing at the design of labels and a web­site with the help of German designer Laura Buddensieg and pho­tog­ra­pher Diana Thorimbert. Involving friends and cus­tomers in the life of the farm is part of the phi­los­o­phy here.

For us this is an enjoy­able fam­ily adven­ture,” Miccione explains, but we are deeply involved in it and we per­son­ally fol­low the har­vest­ing and milling pro­ce­dures. We really want to show local peo­ple that it is pos­si­ble to make great oil here, and sell it for the right price; many pro­duc­ers are aban­don­ing the groves because they are old and tired, and their chil­dren don’t want to take care of them.”

They can have a fan­tas­tic prod­uct but they don’t know how to make it prof­itable,” he con­tin­ued. We deeply believe in sin­gle-vari­ety oils to enhance the Tonda Iblea fea­tures.” Miccione hopes to open a show­room in the vil­lage and a tast­ing room, hop­ing to share notes with other pro­duc­ers.

We know that we can’t make big quan­ti­ties here, so we have to work on qual­ity, on pack­ag­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. We have to find the bal­ance between qual­ity and prof­itabil­ity. But I have to say that look­ing at the Etna from the olive groves at dawn, rewards every effort made.”

Mt. Etna from Miccione Farm

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