TRADITIONS, FAMILY AND HARD WORK COME TOGETHER TO OBTAIN A PERFECT PRODUCT: THE EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL OF TAGGIASCA TOLD BY DINOABBO
The olive tree is an evergreen, slow-growing tree known for its longevity and known as a symbol of peace. The olive trees in Liguria grow on impervious lands, are challenging to work, and now subject to drastic climate changes that are reducing production. There are, however, realities whose aim at quality and not quantity, thus obtaining products that stand out from the others for its first quality and that should be rewarded for the hard work that lies behind. One of these realities is the Dinoabbo Farm, which is located in Lucinasco, in the west of Liguria, aimed at the production of extra virgin olive oil only of the Taggiasca variety. Danila and Gianni are two brothers who carry on this tradition with a much older history. Roberta, on the other hand, her third sister, manages the adjacent Agriturismo.
Danila, how and when did the history of the Dinoabbo Farm begin?
The company was founded in 1959, but my ancestors have always worked in olive growing even before. Until the end of the ’60s, the product was not made for the final consumer, but directly for the industry. In the first half of the ’70s, my father decided to change because there was no economic return: so we start to show ourselves and get to know how craftsmen who transform olives into oil. My father then decided to work directly for the final consumer, some shops, and restaurants. From there we began to grow: in 1970 the new mill was built, the one we are currently in. It is a traditional oil mill that allows us to make two categories of oil: the outcrop and the centrifuge. The first is the one separated by hand from the vegetation water when we have natural pressure. Still, when the hydraulic press comes into operation, we do the centrifuge one because it is impossible to separate by hand the oil from the vegetation water. This centrifuge does not work with chemical solvents or additives but with a thread of lukewarm water that helps the separation. For the surfacing, you have to do racking for weeks; in this way, you clean slowly, depositing the less useful substances, those waste. The oil, in this case, needs continuous pouring because it is very delicate and with extreme ease, can take a bad taste with its deposits. Then, when the oil is ready, it is placed in underground tanks (built by my grandfather) that maintain a constant temperature between 13° and 16°. The containers are airtight and maintain the temperature. Also in the tanks are made racking, to keep the oil always clean.
How many hectares do you have?
Twenty-five hectares all in the province of Imperia. 90% on the territory of Lucinasco, cultivating the variety of olives 100% Taggiasca.
How would you define your production method?
We don’t do organic farming because I don’t believe in certification, but I like working in the most natural way possible. In our soils, no chemical agents are used except when it is essential. If there are attacks of the oil fly, we try to do the treatments as little as possible because it is crucial to protect the final product. Moreover, we do not use herbicides or pesticides for cleaning: only mowing, pruning, and chopping is done. I want nature to be preserved with its insects, which is why I want to cultivate in the most natural way possible.
In agriculture today, there is a return to production “like in the past.” Have you always produced like this, or has something changed?
We have always produced like this, we have always kept the same line. If we have to treat chemically, respecting the quantities, without exaggeration, gives a better result than oil that is not treated and that in the end has rotten olives. I hope, however, that you find something good to counteract the fly, even an insect, or something natural to counteract the chemicals.
Do you produce other products?
Olives in brine: even for these, no chemical solvents or stabilizers are used, nor accelerators of maturation. The olives arrive at the farm and we only take the first quality. They are then put in water for 20-30 days, changing the water regularly when dyed. Then the first brine is made, and a bunch of fresh thyme is added. An olive is placed in brine in December, then ready for consumption the next September. When the product is put into the jar, it is selected again and re-invented, adding a bay leaf and finally vacuum-packed.
The pitted olives: from the finished product of the vacuum ones are pitted with a puncture machine and then placed directly in oil. This allows the olive to be kept intact (unlike stoning with hot water). The jar is then pasteurized. With the same olives in brine, we also make the olive pate, always using the first quality. When the paste is ready, it is potted, oil added, and finally pasteurized.
Extra virgin olive oil is considered by the average of people to be a quality product but often expensive. How do you explain the price and the work behind it?
It is a job that never ends. Then, here in Liguria, it is a job that can only be done manually. Both harvesting, cleaning and pruning must be done manually, which means that the times are much longer and more expensive. What a company in Liguria collects in a week, large industrial companies collect in a day! Then there are intensive or semi-intensive plants in Spain or Portugal where the harvest we make in a season they do it in a few days: you have to start to understand that the labor gives the cost. An Italian extra virgin olive oil costs much more than what comes from outside.
On the label, the European Community has imposed the wording 100% Italian, then you should enter if there are various mixtures, it is up to the company that produces the seriousness to enter this information or not. So, in fact, in an extra virgin, there could be anything without the consumer being informed
Do you think you’re protected as a producer?
We have the PDO, but it’s badly structured. The fact that it is there does not guarantee protection. As far as Liguria is concerned, there are many registered companies and few certified ones. Those that certify the most are linked to a large industry.
Is climate change affecting oil production on a small scale?
Yes, definitely: climate change has been disastrous. 2019 was a terrible year for all companies. Generally, we have the flowering in May, this year, there was fog and rain, and the flowering was only partial. In short, the climate has changed, and so has the plant’s cycle. To date, we work one day, and you’re not, and you continue to lose the harvest. If it stays in this way, it will be necessary to think of alternative solutions to maintain production.
Best and worst vintage?
The best is the 2018-2019. Everything went well — instead, one of the worst years in 2019.
How much do you produce on average?
Three hundred quintals if that’s okay and other years even 10-20 quintals.
It’s quite large: it goes from Russia to America, from Northern Europe to the Arab Emirates. It is distributed worldwide but in small quantities: it goes to restaurateurs, to individuals, to Eataly (on a large scale). We have a very varied clientele.
What would you recommend your oil for?
It’s a delicate, sweet oil. It is good for raw meat, raw fish, and even desserts (some make ice cream with our oil) because it condenses without covering the flavor. Then the oil, like wine, is very subjective.