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Country Roads: Ragani Olive Groves
Country Roads:
Picking out a Virgin
In the Olive Groves

Story and photos by Tom Weber


eople pay good money to do what I'm doing right now: motoring around central Italy as a guest of Insight Vacations to sample a portion of one of its premier-escorted journeys into the sights, sounds and, most importantly, tastes of the Bel Paese.

La cucina Italiana, if not at the top, is pretty near numero uno status as the preferred style of cooking worldwide.

When you reduce it down to its core, the art of cooking Italian is simple, as many dishes only involve a handful of ingredients, like tomatoes, garlic, onion, sea salt, pasta, cheese, parsley, rosemary, white wine and olive oil. With these essentials always at the ready, you can work miracles in the galley and feel like you're in Bella Italia without ever leaving the barcalounger, although Insight would prefer that you tagged along with them.

olive grove at the Ragani Olive Mill

Comfortably nestled in my reclined, business class legroom seat, along with the rest of my traveling group of international media, I'm just seconds away from one of the aforementioned ingredients.

signboard at the Ragani Olive Mill

Carlo, the skipper of our ship, maneuvers the motorcoach to an all-stop alongside the olive groves of the Frantoio Oleario Ragani (Ragani Olive Mill) that blanket the slopes of Mount Subasio between Assisi and Spello in the Umbria region of central Italy.

Our band of merry media is here to find out firsthand what the "virgin" is in the prima spremitura a freddo (cold pressed) extra virgin olive oil, and we'll get the answer straight from the "olive man" himself, Emanuele Ragani, a third generation grove-and-press specialist who manages all stages of the family business, from the tree to the table.

We've come at an ideal time, as the annual olive harvest is well underway with plenty of picking days left on the calendar.

Ragani Olive Mill owner Emanuele Ragani with 3 varietals of olives

With an outstretched open hand, Emanuele displays the three varietals of olives that go into Ragani's Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin, or DOP) oil: Moraiolo, Leccino e Frantoiano.

The olives are all grown and handpicked right here on the farm and at nearby affiliated groves, then processed inside the mill adjacent to all those crooked trees.

Emanuele Ragani demonstrates processing of olive oil

The process seems pretty simple to this novice, but there's a lot of love and expertise that goes into the Ragani brand. As Emanuele explains, it's passion and the family rep that brings the end product to market.

the finished procduct: extra virgin oilive oil

There's the care of the over 5,000 olive trees, the harvesting by hand of the fruit, the separation and selection of only the very best from the varietals, the cleaning of the stock, the crushing (only once for the cold method), the pressing, removal of the pulp and pits, filtration, storage, bottling, labeling and shipping.

I'll remember all of this hard work the next time I reach for the dark green bottle and pour.

rustic bread grilling in a wood burning hearth

Although the demonstration was very informative, the highlight of our visit to Frantoio Oleario Ragani was the sampling of this mouthwatering liquid gold. Never did a slice of rustic bread, slightly browned in a wood burning hearth then drizzled with the greenest-of-green olive oil and topped with a dash of salt, taste sooo good.

It was bruschetta time at the mill, and we all went at it like it was a feeding frenzy around the Serengeti Plain.

On our way out the door, we were each gifted a real virgin from the olive groves – a half-liter of Ragani's finest, cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil. It's just another one of those "signature" moments on this Insight journey.

Insight Vacations bus

Back on board the motorcoach, Belinda, our tour director-slash storyteller, announces our new GPS coordinates: We're now off for a late, lazy and long lunch at Ristorante Il Molino in Spello. Can I get a BUON APETITO?

By now, you should know our collective reply, but it's worth repeating: SI!

Insight Vacations' Country Roads of Italy tour guide

To learn more about traveling in style on one of Insight Vacations' 12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted itineraries – where you'll definitely savor la cucina Italiana – or one of its 100 other journeys around Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

See you soon around la tavola in Spello.

Related Articles:
Take Me Home Country Roads; Saintly Assisi; Orvieto's Historic Center; Orvieto and the Etruscan Chef; Underground in Perugia; Sipping Vino and Savoring Vistas in Tuscany

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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