Picking out a Virgin
In the Olive Groves
Story and photos by Tom Weber
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
Me Home Country Roads; Saintly
Historic Center; Orvieto
and the Etruscan Chef; Underground
in Perugia; Sipping
Vino and Savoring Vistas in Tuscany