Sergio Cozzaglio

“Our goal is to pro­tect olive bio­di­ver­sity and res­cue for­got­ten vari­eties,” said Sergio Cozzaglio, owner with his wife, Ilaria Galetti, of La Zadruga, a farm located in Toscolano Maderno, on the west bank of Lake Garda. “At some point, I noticed plants with par­tic­u­lar traits, which made them dif­fer­ent from all the renowned vari­eties spread in the area and widely reported,” he explained. “Therefore, I focused on a mono­va­ri­etal approach and I began to test the dif­fer­ent vari­eties.”

Cozzaglio, thanks to his remark­able knowl­edge of any­thing that con­cerns the olive tree (he is also a for­mer win­ner of the national cham­pi­onship of olive tree prun­ing), started research work by con­sult­ing local elders which had mem­ory of names and use of cul­ti­vars that in the last decades have been set aside, and found con­crete evi­dence of the pres­ence of plants that still have not been offi­cially rec­og­nized. The con­sis­tent pres­ence of ‘Negrel’ in the ter­ri­tory was con­firmed by experts at the Interprovincial Association of Olive Producers of Lombardy Aipol, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with aca­d­e­mic spe­cial­ists.

Negrel is now wait­ing for DNA map­ping and the offi­cial clas­si­fi­ca­tion. “I dis­cov­ered that it was col­lected in sin­gle vari­ety har­vests, with a very high yield, from the 1930s to the 1950s and the ety­mol­ogy of the name is uncer­tain since doc­u­ments are miss­ing, but prob­a­bly it comes from the dark color of the fruits.”

Sergio Cozzaglio at Villa Roman

La Zadruga were the first to pro­duce a mono­va­ri­etal EVOO from another rare vari­ety, Miniol, whose name prob­a­bly derives from Latin ‘minus,’ due to its small size. Some unof­fi­cial sources said it is cul­ti­vated only on Lake Garda and in small areas in Argentina. The most likely sce­nario is that it was prob­a­bly brought over­seas at the end of 19th cen­tury by an immi­grant farmer.

“Harvest of uncom­mon vari­eties can be com­plex since olive groves reg­is­ter only a small num­ber of these plants among the most com­mon ones, and this forces us to carry out itin­er­ant har­vests.” Therefore, a tour of olive groves or an exchange of vari­eties with other farm­ers is needed to reach the amount requested by clients. A very well orga­nized har­vest is essen­tial to bring olives from dif­fer­ent plots to the mill strictly within 10 – 12 hours.

The archae­o­log­i­cal site ‘Roman Villa’ (Villa Romana) is a first-cen­tury build­ing belonged to the ancient fam­ily of Nonii Arrii. Enriched by exquis­ite mosaic floors and painted plas­ters, it is located on a beau­ti­ful ter­race over­look­ing the lake and includes an olive grove that has been entrusted by the munic­i­pal­ity to local farm­ers with the aim to exalt the local olive oil pro­duc­tion.

From this olive grove, Cozzaglio pro­duces an award-win­ning blend con­sist­ing of Casaliva, Grignan, Leccino, and a brand new vari­ety that he dis­cov­ered four years ago. “I noticed these plants with an erect growth habit and their own agro­nomic char­ac­ter­is­tics,” Cozzaglio revealed. Now, with the experts at Aipol, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the University of Milan, he is try­ing to clas­sify the uncharted vari­ety which, for the moment, is called ‘Villa Romana.’

“While Mother Nature pro­vides us with unique vari­eties thanks to which we can pro­duce our green gold, our paper­mak­ers offer us a spe­cial mate­r­ial made with knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence, accord­ing to tech­niques from the four­teenth cen­tury,” said Ilaria Galetti, who takes care of sales and gives her per­sonal touch to the pack­ag­ing, reaf­firm­ing the impor­tance of iden­tity and con­nec­tion with the ter­ri­tory that has a long tra­di­tion in paper pro­duc­tion. “It was a great oppor­tu­nity to com­bine these two local excel­lences. Our pack­ag­ing is enriched by hand-made paper which shows fea­tures of each cul­ti­var: the inno­va­tion and tra­di­tions of ‘Made in Italy’ in one prod­uct.”

Our inter­view fin­ished when it was time to go back to work in the olive grove. “For me tak­ing care of olive trees is not only a work, it is a real pas­sion,” our farmer revealed.



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