Quality of Central Italian Producers Shines Through After Difficult Harvest

The climate did not make it easy for olive growers in Lazio, Umbria or Abruzzo. Still, producers crafted award-winning extra virgin olive oils emphasizing local varieties.

Night harvest at Domenica Fiore
By Paolo DeAndreis
Apr. 27, 2023 18:50 UTC
Night harvest at Domenica Fiore

Part of our con­tin­u­ing spe­cial cov­er­age of the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Despite one of the most chal­leng­ing sea­sons in recent his­tory, olive oil pro­duc­ers in Italy won 174 awards at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, the coun­try’s sec­ond-high­est total.

The drought that enveloped most of the Western Mediterranean basin and repeated heat­waves and other extreme weather events impacted farm­ers across Italy.

As a result, the 134 Gold and 40 Silver Awards earned by Italian pro­duc­ers were hailed as evi­dence of their resilience.

This was espe­cially true in the cen­tral Italian regions of Umbria, Lazio and Abruzzo, where olive grow­ing has been part of the cul­ture for gen­er­a­tions.

See Also:The Best Olive Oils from Italy

Extra vir­gin olive oil is a sym­bol of the iden­tity of our region, a prod­uct that stands out for its taste and qual­ity,” Roberto Morroni, deputy pres­i­dent of the Umbria regional gov­ern­ment and regional sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture, told Olive Oil Times.

Morroni said olive oil’s qual­ity helps to com­mu­ni­cate the brand of a land which is unique both on the national and the inter­na­tional scene, and not only in the agri-food sec­tor.”

Umbria is a pre­cious trea­sure chest of var­i­ous and excel­lent typ­i­cal prod­ucts, nat­ural beauty and holder of an ines­timable his­tor­i­cal, artis­tic and cul­tural her­itage,” he added.

The suc­cess of Umbrian pro­duc­ers, some of whom have repeat­edly won awards at the NYIOOC, did not sur­prise Morroni.

The regional gov­ern­ment has invested sig­nif­i­cantly to enable olive mills to stay on the cut­ting edge while pro­mot­ing syn­er­gies among pro­duc­ers and the devel­op­ment of the local olive oil sup­ply chain,” Morroni said.

Among Umbria’s award-win­ning pro­duc­ers is Domenica Fiore, which earned three more Gold Awards.


The Novello di Notte harvest team at Domenica Fiore

We have won awards every year since the begin­ning of the com­pe­ti­tion,” mas­ter miller and blender Cesare Bianchini told Olive Oil Times. Every year, we try to fine-tune our work and fur­ther enhance our olive oils.”

Bianchini cited the sep­a­rate har­vest for each cul­ti­var, includ­ing Moraiolo, Leccino and Frantoio, as one of the keys to the company’s suc­cess over the years. Separate har­vests allow each cul­ti­var to be milled inde­pen­dently within three hours.

On top of that, you can have the same cul­ti­var grown at dif­fer­ent alti­tudes on our hills, which means that the per­fect ripen­ing stage comes at dif­fer­ent times,” Bianchini said. That also is con­sid­ered when har­vest­ing is exe­cuted.”

Among Domenica Fiore’s win­ning brands is Novello di Notte (new olive oil, by night), the olives for which are har­vested after dark.

We started pro­duc­ing it a few years ago as Leccino olives and some Moraiolo in the lower por­tions of our farm tend to ripen early, in the sec­ond half of September,” Bianchini said. Those are very hot days, you can­not safely har­vest olives dur­ing the day as they would dete­ri­o­rate quickly, and one could not do cold press­ing under those con­di­tions.”


So we started har­vest­ing with cooler tem­per­a­tures a few hours into the night, pick­ing small batches and trans­form­ing the olives imme­di­ately after,” he added. That is how Novello di Notte was born.”

South of Umbria, in the neigh­bor­ing region of Lazio, pro­duc­ers focused on the local Itrana cul­ti­var were among the win­ners at the NYIOOC. The vari­ety thrives in south­ern Lazio and fea­tures a high phe­no­lic con­tent.

We had already won a Gold Award with our Itrana olive oil in the pre­vi­ous edi­tion, so we hoped that in 2023 we could win a Gold Award at the NYIOOC again,” Francesco Paolo Agresti, founder and gen­eral direc­tor of Agresti 1902, told Olive Oil Times.


Agresti’s Colline Pontine PDO olive grove

Agresti’s Colline Pontine PDO won a Gold Award for its Itrana mono­va­ri­etal. Itrana is one of the most appre­ci­ated cul­ti­vars in the world; it is our duty to take care of this her­itage,” Agresti said. It’s an organolep­tic trea­sure, and that truly helps us in our mis­sion.”

According to Agresti, Colline Pontine’s unique ter­roir is part of why his PDO brand con­sis­tently wins awards at the NYIOOC.

We grow olive trees on ter­raced hills exposed to south­west and char­ac­ter­ized by cal­care­ous soil,” he said. They fur­ther boost the olive tree cultivar’s sen­so­r­ial expres­sions.”

An early har­vest might reduce over­all yields, but it enhances fla­vor and nutri­tional con­tents of the prod­uct, and it makes it eas­ier to avoid the poten­tial attack of the olive fruit fly,” Agresti added.

Olio dei Papi, mean­ing Pope’s olive oil’ in Italian, was also awarded at the NYIOOC for an Itrana extra vir­gin olive oil, earn­ing a Silver Award.


Domenico Sperlonga, Carlo Gallozzi and Pope Francis (Image courtesy of Vatican Media)

Thousands of olive trees were planted in the region dur­ing the Pope’s agrar­ian reforms in the 18th Century CE.

We are very happy with the result, con­sid­er­ing that it is the first year Olio dei Papi takes part in the com­pe­ti­tion,” co-direc­tor Domenico Sperlonga told Olive Oil Times. In 2018 and 2019, Sperlonga won Gold Awards at the NYIOOC with his fam­ily farm.

The pro­duc­tion pro­to­cols bind us to only use olives from the cul­ti­vars grown in the for­mer Papal State,” Carlo Gallozzi, pres­i­dent of the Le Badie coop­er­a­tive, told Olive Oil Times. Gallozzi’s coop­er­a­tive con­tributes to the Popes’ olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Itrana olives con­sti­tute by far the major­ity of the Olio dei Papi olive oil,” Sperlonga added. It is blended with Leccino, Frantoio and a spe­cial cul­ti­var known as Carboncella, whose extremely high phe­no­lic con­tent is com­pa­ra­ble to Coratina.”

In Abruzzo, the cen­tral Italian region stretch­ing from Lazio’s east­ern bor­der to the Adriatic Sea, Tenuta Masciangelo won a Gold Award for its medium Linea Maria blend.


Ruggero Masciangelo

It is our flag­ship extra vir­gin olive oil, whose name is ded­i­cated to my mother, Maria, who is not with us any­more,” owner Ruggero Masciangelo told Olive Oil Times. She was the one tak­ing care of our farm­lands.”

Masciangelo has expanded pro­duc­tion in the last decade, adding new cul­ti­vars. We explored the pos­si­bil­ity of pro­duc­ing olive oil from vari­eties typ­i­cally used as table olives,” he said. Their yield is lower than other cul­ti­vars, but the fla­vors they express are unique.”

One of these cul­ti­vars, Bella di Cerignola, con­tributed to the award-win­ning olive oil.

This has an impact on cost,” Masciangelo said. Since some of these cul­ti­vars are very frag­ile, the olives have to be har­vested one by one by hand, as our ances­tors did before us. In addi­tion, the mod­ern tools, com­monly used in the field, would dam­age the olives and hurt the final qual­ity of the prod­uct.”

Producers from all regions in cen­tral Italy said it was still too early to pre­dict the out­come of the upcom­ing 2023/24 har­vest. However, they said every­thing is going as well as pos­si­ble ahead of flow­er­ing, with nec­es­sary rain­fall and aver­age tem­per­a­tures.

This is good news for grow­ers and for the regional gov­ern­ments. Morroni high­lighted the sig­nif­i­cance of olive oil and said it rep­re­sents a dri­ving force for the entire econ­omy of the ter­ri­tory.”

In Umbria, olive oil rep­re­sents the ideal trait d’union between tra­di­tion and inno­va­tion,” he con­cluded. The deep roots of the olive tree fully express the Umbrian people’s strength and pas­sion for their work. And that is con­firmed by the awards won in com­pe­ti­tions where Umbrian olive oil shines as the pro­tag­o­nist.”

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