I’ve given some challenging speeches in front of experts in the field of olive oil, but last Wednesday afternoon at a new olive oil shop, Oliocentrica I found myself facing the most demanding audience of all: Thirteen-year-old kids accompanied by even younger siblings and buddies.
I could not say no to an invitation from Gisa Di Nicola, who opened Oliocentrica last June with her husband Fabrizio Gargano (who is an illustrator), with an aim to offer high-quality extra virgin olive oils and spread olive oil culture through courses and meetings.
“I was thinking about how to bring children closer to olive oil,” Gisa told me. “I realized that middle school kids in Italy, besides being at a difficult age, must also choose which type of senior high school to attend and this may partly affect their future work path. So, why not try an olive oil experience to stimulate their thinking?” Which meant that extra virgin olive oil should be at the center of my talk as an inspirational subject for children more familiar than most with EVOO since they live in a production area — an audience whose attention can be difficult to hold.
I started talking about my childhood among olive trees in Tuscany, the university, and work. At that time, I was an olive oil taster for passion, then, going back to my roots, a professional evolution led me to go deeper into the world of extra virgin olive oil and I started to work as a consultant and writer.
“Why is this oil called extra virgin?” Alfredo asked. “This means that it is very good, that it has been made correctly, and actually the farmer has given the very best of himself in making it,” I replied. “In this sense, you can see that an olive tree and its oil are always associated with good and beautiful things,” I added.
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It takes dedication and passion in making a healthy and tasty product, which is even better when nature is respected, as a producer recently told me. “You can feel the extraordinary energy coming from good things when you walk through olive groves,” I said, describing the beauty of olive trees and the magnificence of monumental ones, which are a precious treasure to be preserved.
Playing upon their status of digital natives, I outlined the new impetus introduced in recent years by research and new technologies. “Facilitated by technical advances and motivated by the growing interest of people in good and healthy food, producers have started to exploit the many varieties of olive trees growing in our country, which are almost six hundred, not to mention all those undisclosed,” I pointed out, illustrating widespread and rare cultivars which give us delicious extra virgin olive oils. “Biodiversity is a resource, just as your own diversity is,” I invited them to consider this, which got their attention.
“You and your friends, with so different characters and attitudes, enjoy each other’s company and look good together, and the same thing happens with different varieties, which can be used both alone and together with other varieties to create yummy blends,” I suggested simply.
I encouraged them to think about how different aromas and flavors are important in olive oils like the color shades are fundamental to Fabrizio’s sketches of this scene, which he worked on in a corner of the room. “In making extra virgin olive oil, care of the details is fundamental from the olive grove to the mill, as care for details is important in making all the significant things in life,” I said.
“Furthermore, let us think about how extra virgin olive oil, in its several and different expressions depending on the territory of origin, is at the heart of so different cultures,” I considered, explaining how international events bring together oils and tasters from different countries and backgrounds and showing how these differences enrich our lives.
So, I introduce them to Xie Na, a taster an exporter who organizes events to show how Italian extra virgin olive oil can be paired with Chinese cuisine. “I use monovarietals and blends which admirably join traditional food of my country of origin,” she explained. “Just to give you one example, I recently prepared an egg and tomato dish with a monovarietal Nocellara del Belice from Sicily.” This shows that EVOO can be used not only in the context of the Mediterranean diet but also in other dietary patterns, thanks to its attractive flavors and healthy properties.
“My mother who is a medical doctor told me that,” Alessandro agreed, and then some kids started asking questions: Luca, like a real expert, asked me what stage has Italian olive growing reached. Andrea revealed that he will go to scientific high school, while Matteo will attend agricultural classes. In any case, I called on them to always follow their hearts, because “if one advances confidently in the direction of his (or her) dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours,” as one of my favorite writers, Henry David Thoreau, said.
This means that if you do your work with passion you will get great results, like the Villa Pontina by Francesco Le Donne who brought to our gathering the very first bottles of his new Itrana harvest.
We enjoyed the first expression of a great extra virgin olive oil fresh out of the mill and bottled a few hours earlier while showing kids how to taste it. Some of them, like Serena and Arianna, already knew how to do it and did it pretty well, showing off the typical strippagio noise of slurping, and trying to detect flavors and aromas before we enjoyed a snack of bruschetta together.