Buoyed by Awards, the Pope’s Official EVOO Producer Looks Ahead to Harvest

Pontiffs have traditionally favored extra virgin olive oils of Lazio. Domenico Sperlonga is following in the footsteps of his forefathers to serve Pope Francis.
Technicians examining olive oil at Casa Olio Sperlonga
By Lisa Anderson
Jan. 5, 2024 20:44 UTC

Seventy-five kilo­me­ters south­east of Saint Peter’s Basilica, the fam­ily behind Casa Oilio Sperlonga has spent a cen­tury devoted to olive farm­ing and olive oil pro­duc­tion.

In a coun­try where this story of long fam­ily his­to­ries in the olive oil busi­ness is typ­i­cal, Casa Olio Sperlonga stands out as one of the offi­cial sup­pli­ers of extra vir­gin olive oil to the Vatican.

A dis­tinc­tive asset in our final prod­uct is that we are sim­ply dif­fer­ent. We are a group, we are a team, we are a fam­ily.- Domenico Sperlonga, CEO, Casa Olio Sperlonga

The pro­ducer, located in the south of the papal state of Lazio, reg­u­larly crafts award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oil, and the 2022/23 crop year was no excep­tion. Company chief exec­u­tive Domenico Sperlonga described it as aver­age in quan­tity but good in qual­ity.

The 2023/24 har­vest will be a big chal­lenge as it looks scarce and more dif­fi­cult to find the right qual­ity, but I am con­fi­dent we will suc­ceed,” he told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Producer Profiles

Earlier this year, Sperlonga said that based on his olive trees’ flow­er­ing and fruit set, he was expect­ing to reach 80 per­cent of pro­duc­tion com­pared to his best har­vest.

This was despite pro­duc­ers in Lazio expect­ing an off-year’ in the nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle of the region’s olive trees. Extreme weather con­di­tions across Italy and pests, such as olive fruit fruit, were noted as hin­drances.

Furthermore, once Casa Oilio Sperlonga and other Italian pro­duc­ers side­step these obsta­cles and wrap up har­vest­ing soon, a new set of chal­lenges awaits them.

A closer look revealed that across the indus­try, an increase in pro­duc­tion costs is trans­lat­ing into an increase in olive oil prices, and Casa Oilio Sperlonga is no dif­fer­ent. We are already record­ing an over­all demand decrease,” Sperlonga said.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-buoyed-by-awards-the-popes-official-evoo-producer-looks-ahead-to-harvest-olive-oil-times

Domenico Sperlonga, Carlo Gallozzi and Pope Francis (Photo: Vatican Media)

He said it requires con­stant focus from Italian pro­duc­ers to pre­serve the dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of all the 500 olive vari­eties grown across the coun­try while focus­ing on improve­ments in qual­ity and quan­tity.

Sperlonga – whose father, Alessandro, founded the fam­ily com­pany in 1953, which was named Casa Oilio Sperlonga in 1992 – and his team rose to the occa­sion by doing daily research on how to improve the qual­ity of their prod­uct.

Sperlonga’s fam­ily also researched the area’s his­tory. His grand­fa­ther, also named Domenico, was an olive grower who recorded their fam­ily his­tory dat­ing back to 1863.

The Sperlonga fam­ily also paid for a his­tor­i­cal study to ver­ify a leg­end regard­ing popes that his­tor­i­cally favored the oils of Lazio, for­merly known as Latium.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-buoyed-by-awards-the-popes-official-evoo-producer-looks-ahead-to-harvest-olive-oil-times

Olive farming dramatically increased in Lazio in the late 1700s after a legal reform led by Pope Pius VI encouraged their cultivation. (Photo: Casa Olio Sperlonga)

The research con­firmed this was true. It fur­ther revealed that Pope Pius VI was instru­men­tal in mak­ing legal reforms in 1778 to drive the cul­ti­va­tion of olive trees and to reg­u­late the qual­ity of the region’s olive oil.

The Sperlongas hon­ored the tra­di­tions of Lazio’s olive oil pro­duc­ers, and they now have a buyer who inspired the name of their award-win­ning oil.

In June 2022, Sperlonga pre­sented the find­ings of his family’s research, together with L’Olio dei Papi, mean­ing the Pope’s olive oil’ in Italian, to Pope Francis at an event on Saint Peter’s Square in Rome.

Sperlonga entered Olio dei Papi, a medium-inten­sity Itrana oil blended with Carboncella, Frantoio and Leccino, for the first time at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition and achieved a Silver Award.

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We just sub­mit­ted our stan­dard prod­uct, which we are proud to be rec­og­nized amongst the best,” Sperlonga said. The award is the right­ful recog­ni­tion of our work and pro­fes­sion­al­ity.”

Winning awards at the NYIOOC is surely a glob­ally rec­og­nized sign of dis­tinc­tion and can proudly be shown all around,” he added. To achieve these results is not easy work. In addi­tion, our high-end L’Olio dei Papi under­goes a strict self-assess­ment pro­to­col.”

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L’Olio dei Papi comes from a modern mill in the picturesque hills of Lazio. (Photo: Casa Olio Sperlonga)

Along with its famous patron, Sperlonga told Olive Oil Times in an April 2023 inter­view that the spe­cial fla­vor pro­file of the endemic Carboncella olive helped bal­ance the fla­vor and increased the phe­no­lic con­tent of the blend.

Sperlonga said one of the chal­lenges for pro­duc­ers is nav­i­gat­ing the plethora of award con­tests held each year in every cor­ner of the globe.

Due to the cost and logis­tics asso­ci­ated with send­ing sam­ples to these con­tests, he said the com­pany focuses on the ones that pro­vide the high­est return on the invest­ment.

We decided to con­cen­trate on those that are really valu­able and pro­fes­sional,” he said. We esteem the NYIOOC con­test as valu­able and pro­fes­sional.”

Since 2018, the com­pany has won two Gold Awards along with this Silver Award. Sperlonga attrib­uted the famil­ial nature of the busi­ness to the company’s sus­tained suc­cess.

A dis­tinc­tive asset in our final prod­uct is that we are sim­ply dif­fer­ent,” he con­cluded. We are a group, we are a team, we are a fam­ily.”


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