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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”