Passion, Research Inspire the Award-Winning Quality of Cantasole

Arianna De Marco focuses on sustainable farming and high-quality extra virgin olive oil production to overcome the challenges of farming in Puglia.

Arianna De Marco in the olive grove
By Ylenia Granitto
Apr. 11, 2023 00:33 UTC
Arianna De Marco in the olive grove

A few miles from the coast of Puglia, south of Brindisi, cen­turies-old olive trees sur­round the 12th-cen­tury Masseria Flaminio.

This is the heart of the De Marco fam­ily estate, the pro­duc­ers behind Cantasole, a medium Biancolilla which earned a Gold Award at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Working with the olive trees means liv­ing with them over the course of days and sea­sons… when you really live it, it becomes addic­tive.- Arianna De Marco, founder, Cantasole

One day, my grand­fa­ther Nicola told me that, in the past, when these ancient trees were younger, the olive har­vest was car­ried out solely by women,” founder Arianna De Marco said.

While pick­ing the fruits, they sang to cheer up and brighten the olive grove,” she added. This is how the name Cantasole – which joins Italian words mean­ing sing’ (canta) and sun’ (sole) – came to me. It clearly expresses the bliss that we feel in doing our work.”

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The olive grove was estab­lished in 1885 by her great-grand­fa­ther, Vincenzo, who orig­i­nally planned to cre­ate a win­ery.

He was, how­ever, a great lover of olive trees. So, in addi­tion to the vines, he started to plant hun­dreds of Cellina di Nardò olives,” De Marco said. They are still the core of our farm and are invalu­able to me because they were planted by him. Then my grand­fa­ther worked with them, and now my father Fabrizio and I care for them.”


Arianna De Marco with her father Fabrizio and her sister Ludovica.

Today, for me, work­ing with the olive trees means liv­ing with them over the course of days and sea­sons,” she added. It means fig­ur­ing out what they need. Enjoying them in win­ter when they are dor­mant, and in spring, con­tem­plat­ing the veg­e­ta­tive restart with new leaves and flow­ers.”

Then wait­ing for the fruits, and, finally, har­vest­ing,” De Marco con­tin­ued. Then tak­ing charge of prun­ing again, and so on, through­out their whole life cycle that, when you really live it, becomes addic­tive.”

De Marco cre­ated the Cantasole brand in 2016 when she car­ried out her first har­vest. At the time, she had other pro­fes­sional and life plans.

After study­ing eco­nom­ics and busi­ness, she earned a Master’s degree in inno­va­tion and busi­ness strate­gies, mov­ing from Rome to Utrecht in the Netherlands, then to Grenoble, France.

When I fin­ished the Master’s, I had to write my the­sis, and I decided to approach the sub­ject of inno­va­tion in agri­cul­ture because I could eas­ily find all the nec­es­sary infor­ma­tion,” she said.

I returned to the farm to accom­plish the task and planned to go back abroad,” De Marco added. In the end, I stayed because before fin­ish­ing my paper, I had already devel­oped my brand, attended a tast­ing course and started study­ing how to make a qual­ity prod­uct. I imme­di­ately fell in love with high qual­ity, and I focused on it.”

The estate stretches over 180 hectares with about 30,000 trees, of which 120 hectares are cov­ered with ancient olive trees. The remain­ing 60 hectares include a dozen vari­eties such as Coratina, Peranzana, Biancolilla, Cima di Melfi, Leccino, Frantoio, Arbequina, Picholine and Nociara, which were planted over the past 30 years.

The com­pany also has a vine­yard of native Negramaro, Primitivo and Susumaniello vari­eties, man­aged by De Marco’s sis­ter, Ludovica.

We can rely on a wide choice of olive vari­eties, but I have a pref­er­ence for some of them,” she said. For exam­ple, the mild Biancolilla, the Peranzana that is our medium fruity, and the more intense Coratina, which also have given us great sat­is­fac­tion over the years at the NYIOOC.”

I am also fond of our plants of Cellina di Nardò, a vari­ety on the verge of extinc­tion,” De Marco added. To safe­guard it, as soon as I took over the com­pa­ny’s man­age­ment, I threw myself into research.”


The grove is located on a plain halfway between Brindisi and Lecce, an area severely affected by Xylella fas­tidiosa, which threat­ens Cellina, one the most sus­cep­ti­ble vari­eties to this bac­terium strain. De Marco has been involved for sev­eral years in the search for a solu­tion to this issue.

We are col­lab­o­rat­ing with four dif­fer­ent research cen­ters,” she said. Not only do we want to pro­tect our cen­turies-old trees, but we also con­tribute to reach­ing the fastest pos­si­ble solu­tion for what became a major prob­lem for many.”


An olive oil tasting guided by Arianna De Marco

Overall, De Marco is com­mit­ted to pur­su­ing envi­ron­men­tally aware olive farm­ing.

We are car­ry­ing out a pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture project to opti­mize the man­age­ment of treat­ments in the grove, which is now in con­ver­sion to obtain the organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion,” she said.

Moreover, De Marco is ded­i­cated to spread­ing the extra vir­gin olive oil cul­ture – in the warmer months, she orga­nizes guided tast­ings in the estate.

I call them expe­ri­ences,” she said. What I love most is talk­ing about olive oil and spread­ing the knowl­edge of qual­ity. I believe that there is still so much to do in this sense and that edu­ca­tion on qual­ity is fun­da­men­tal to cre­ate aware­ness.”

When she guides a tast­ing with new­com­ers, besides her oils, she always adds another with defects.

The com­par­i­son between a high-qual­ity prod­uct and a poor one is impor­tant,” she said. The par­tic­i­pants per­ceive the dif­fer­ence, mak­ing them more aware of what qual­ity is.”

I also like to see how tastes vary from one per­son to another,” she added. Taste is such a per­sonal thing, and for this rea­son, we pro­duce dif­fer­ent oils.”

I do tast­ings with peo­ple from so many coun­tries and cul­tures, and I note that each of them, also accord­ing to the back­ground, appre­ci­ates dif­fer­ent fla­vors,” De Marco con­tin­ued. No mat­ter what they like, my goal is to guide them towards qual­ity.”

The tast­ing expe­ri­ences con­clude at the end of the sum­mer and the approach of the har­vest, the cul­mi­na­tion of the intense year of work. The fruits of the youngest trees, col­lected using shak­ers with umbrel­las of dif­fer­ent mea­sures, are deliv­ered to the mill within five hours and imme­di­ately pressed.


Arianna De Marco

We rely on the lat­est gen­er­a­tion milling tech­nol­ogy that reuses the byprod­ucts to gen­er­ate energy,” De Marco said. We believe that adopt­ing a sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion method is of fun­da­men­tal impor­tance, espe­cially when tack­ling the cli­mate chal­lenges ahead.”

Last sum­mer, Puglia suf­fered an intense drought that caused a pro­duc­tion decrease, and the com­pany expe­ri­enced dif­fi­cul­ties in man­ag­ing the plant water stress.

I think it will be help­ful to deepen the knowl­edge of the olive vari­eties to under­stand which are the less sen­si­tive to water short­ages,” De Marco said. I believe that there is still much to be done, and we have many projects in the pipeline with a con­stant focus on improv­ing our­selves.”

Despite the chal­lenges posed in recent years by the Covid-19 pan­demic, extreme weather and eco­nomic chal­lenges, De Marco suc­cess­fully con­tin­ues her focus on pro­mot­ing high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.

Our oil gives you emo­tions even just smelling it,” she said. And this is every­thing to us. This is the high­light of a great jour­ney that makes it all worth­while. This pushes me to keep going with this work, to wake up every morn­ing with ded­i­ca­tion and go into the grove among our pre­cious olive trees.”

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