Small-Scale, Regenerative Farming Drives Quality for Maraviglia in Tuscany

Since 2019, the producer behind Agricola Maraviglia has found a symbiotic balance between nurturing the landscape and producing award-winning olive oil.

Agricola Maraviglia farmhouse
By Ylenia Granitto
Oct. 11, 2023 15:07 UTC
Agricola Maraviglia farmhouse

The locals in Monte San Savino say that when the pil­grims who trav­eled from France to Rome stopped and admired the land­scape, they said che mar­aviglia, mean­ing, how mar­velous.”

Hence, the name of Agricola Maraviglia and its name­sake organic blend of Moraiolo, Leccino and Frantoio olives pro­duced in the hills sur­round­ing a vil­lage near Arezzo, in Tuscany, was born.

A limit in the size of the com­pany allows us to be truly sus­tain­able, and I believe that this rep­re­sents the only way qual­ity agri­cul­tural work can be car­ried out.- Francesco Piattelli Palmarini, founder, Agricola Maraviglia

I grew up in what today has become the farm­house, that was orig­i­nally my family’s home, sur­rounded by a hun­dred olive trees,” founder Francesco Piattelli Palmarini told Olive Oil Times. As often hap­pens, those born in the coun­try­side want to escape, so I did.”

I left and lived abroad for 15 years, ten of which I was in New York, where I had a job that I really enjoyed in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, brand­ing and design,” he added. Yet at some point, I started real­iz­ing that I needed to redis­cover the con­tact with the land and nature, and I decided to return.”

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Piattelli Palmarini describes him­self as part of the new gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers that entered the world of high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil start­ing from scratch. Established in 2019, the com­pany earned Gold Awards in three con­sec­u­tive NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition edi­tions.

When I started plan­ning this project, every­body said I was crazy because I was quit­ting a secure job to throw myself into agri­cul­ture, tak­ing on a new chal­lenge all by myself,” Piattelli Palmarini said.

My par­ents were not in the olive oil indus­try,” he added. I could just rely on the skills gained from my for­mer work where I pro­moted brands, and I thought I might apply them to a project of my own. The results achieved hith­erto tell me that I made the right deci­sion.”

The estate dates back almost 400 years when a colony of ten­ant farm­ers set­tled it and started cul­ti­vat­ing dif­fer­ent crops.


Francesco Piattelli Palmarini participates in the manual harvest of his groves.

The first set­tlers applied a sys­tem of poly­cul­ture, which was wide­spread in the past,” Piattelli Palmarini said. I am try­ing to rein­tro­duce it since it offers sev­eral advan­tages, start­ing with fos­ter­ing bio­di­ver­sity.”

Preserving the qual­ity of the envi­ron­ment is indeed one of our pri­mary goals, and the first thing I did in this regard was to take care of the ancient olive trees on the prop­erty that con­sti­tute a true her­itage,” he added.

All the trees sur­vived the frost of 1985. Some were heav­ily dam­aged but were regen­er­ated from the stumps and are now rec­og­niz­able, with trunks split into two or more branches; oth­ers came out unscathed and have devel­oped huge, impres­sive struc­tures.

Piattelli Palmarini decided to take care of the neglected orchards nearby as he had noticed that many fam­i­lies who used to pro­duce olive oil for per­sonal con­sump­tion had aban­doned their olive groves due to the ris­ing pro­duc­tion costs and no gen­er­a­tional turnover.

I con­tacted the own­ers of the sur­round­ing aban­doned plots, and we agreed that I would take care of them to make them pro­duc­tive again,” he said. Now I can count on sev­eral orchards, each con­tain­ing 100 or 200 olive trees.”

Every year, accord­ing to the trend of the sea­son, I can choose those with the best out­come and which allows me to stick to the pro­por­tions envis­aged for my blend,” Piattelli Palmarini added.

With his wife, Francesca Gambato, he man­ages 1,300 olive trees. Most of the trees are arranged on steep ter­raced ter­rain sup­ported by ancient dry stone walls, a lay­out that does not per­mit the use of vehi­cles and requires a man­ual har­vest.


Francesca Gambato and Francesco Piattelli Palmarini

Morellino (Tuscan for Moraiolo), a rus­tic vari­ety that finds its ideal habi­tat on these slopes, was the preva­lent vari­ety in the past,” Piattelli Palmarini said. It is resis­tant to dry con­di­tions, while, on the other hand, ben­e­fits from the opti­mal rain­wa­ter drainage pro­vided by the ter­races.”

It is not easy to man­age because its fruit is quite resis­tant. Since we carry out an early har­vest, pick­ing the olives is even more dif­fi­cult,” he added. Nonetheless, I intended to honor the orig­i­nal set­ting cul­ti­vated by the local grow­ers who planted the orchard. I cre­ated a blend of 70 per­cent Moraiolo and the rest of Frantoio and Leccino in equal shares.”


The com­pany relies on a local mill with state-of-the-art machin­ery, updated annu­ally, to make the most of the fruit. A local vari­ety called Biancaccio used as a pol­li­na­tor, is also planted in the orchards, inter­spersed with some plots of wheat and legumes.

Our spe­cial fea­ture is that, besides olive oil, we pro­duce miso, tamari and shoyu (soy sauce), typ­i­cal sea­son­ings of Asian cui­sine, from Tuscan autochtho­nous raw mate­ri­als,” Piattelli Palmarini said. In par­tic­u­lar, we cul­ti­vate an ancient type of bar­ley and chick­pea, grown dur­ing the Renaissance, called Cece fiorentino.”

After being col­lected, they are inoc­u­lated with the spores of a fun­gus known as kōji mold (Aspergillus oryzae) and then left to age in bar­rels for at least one year – the com­pany has a ded­i­cated lab­o­ra­tory that allows for a closed-cycle pro­duc­tion process.

We aim at propos­ing a small, indeed almost micro, pro­duc­tion model that guar­an­tees the qual­ity of the entire sup­ply chain, start­ing with the raw ingre­di­ents,” Piattelli Palmarini said. Moreover, they all come from organic land man­aged accord­ing to regen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture tech­niques.”


Due to the terraced olive groves, a mechnaical harvest is impossible at Agricola Maraviglia.

The com­pany has imple­mented a series of sus­tain­able prac­tices based on the regen­er­a­tive farm­ing method to improve soil qual­ity and enhance the hydro­log­i­cal cycle.

We are focused on total sus­tain­abil­ity not only because this under­pins our life phi­los­o­phy,” Piattelli Palmarini said. Science tells us the impor­tance of keep­ing the soil healthy, espe­cially after decades of irre­spon­si­ble man­age­ment of the agri­cul­tural land, and such aware­ness com­pels us, today’s farm­ers, to take care of the envi­ron­ment, start­ing with the land where we cul­ti­vate our crops.”

With this view, Piattelli Palmarini cul­ti­vates var­i­ous types of plants to enrich bio­di­ver­sity and pro­vide dif­fer­ent nutri­ents to the soil with the prac­tices of cover crop­ping and green manur­ing.

There are plenty of dif­fer­ent types of grass to be sown beside the well-known field bean,” Piattelli Palmarini said. Alfalfa, with its deep roots loos­en­ing the earth, is just an exam­ple among many vari­eties that help the soil to be nat­u­rally soft and more capa­ble of retain­ing mois­ture, aspects that we seek to improve also by apply­ing the no-tillage tech­nique.”

The envi­ron­men­tally aware approach pur­sued by the Tuscan pro­ducer is intrin­si­cally linked to the small num­ber of olive trees man­aged and the lim­ited dimen­sion of the pro­duc­tion lines, which are part of a delib­er­ate choice.

In my opin­ion, a limit in the size of the com­pany allows us to be truly sus­tain­able, and I believe that this rep­re­sents the only way qual­ity agri­cul­tural work can be car­ried out from now on,” he said. Many retail­ers are also going in this direc­tion with an ever-increas­ing num­ber of small inde­pen­dent bou­tique stores look­ing for cre­ative pro­duc­ers who have a story of qual­ity to tell to the con­sumers.”

When those who sell the prod­ucts also acquire con­scious­ness, con­sumers can be bet­ter sup­ported to rec­og­nize and enjoy qual­ity prod­ucts,” Piattelli Palmarini added. And this gen­er­ates a new vir­tu­ous cir­cle, which reduces costs for both sides. With our model, we want to stim­u­late such a trend that improves both the qual­ity of oper­a­tors’ work and the con­sumers’ aware­ness and well­be­ing.”

Along with the com­mit­ment to pre­serve the land­scape while keep­ing the ancient ter­races pro­duc­tive, pro­duc­ing a world-class extra vir­gin olive oil can be highly chal­leng­ing.

All this requires extra work and higher pro­duc­tion costs, espe­cially in cer­tain dif­fi­cult sea­sons,” Piattelli Palmarini said.

However, besides the envi­ron­men­tal value of our activ­ity, the great results and sat­is­fac­tions we have achieved so far tell us that our vision is right and moti­vate us to go even fur­ther in the pur­suit of qual­ity and ded­i­ca­tion to inte­gral sus­tain­abil­ity,” he con­cluded.

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