When it comes to olives, I will always remember the story of an old woman, probably the grandmother of a friend of the family, who had a sacred relationship with oil. Having survived two world wars, hunger and the loss of loved ones, she was forced to redefine with decision and a little irrationality, the domestic priorities to ensure her family’s existence. Everyone faces adversity in their own unique way: my grandfather for example, in a bid to avoid being sent to the frontline, spent months hiding at the villa of Enrico Mattei in Matelica (my great-grandparents, the parents of his future wife, rented the house to various families escaping the bombings in Ancona). Even in old age, he flinched whenever someone knocked at the door, scarred by the fear of being discovered.
The old lady in question, on the other hand, for reasons that unfortunately we can only imagine, after the war, decided that there would always be a bottle of oil in the pantry. In fact, she set aside twelve bottles, one for each month of the year, replacing them whenever she happened to use one. Evidently, during the years of conflict, our most precious and respected oil, had too often been missing from the family table.
You may well wonder: what is the point of keeping twelve bottles of oil if you don’t have an ounce of food to accompany it? And you’d be quite right, there is no point, but then I did warn you our story has nothing to do with rationality. Of course, the old lady knew more than anyone that to enjoy a good olive oil, it needs to be accompanied by its soul mate, good old fashioned bread, but the way in which our emotions are intertwined with the events of life is so complex and unexpected that for her, putting away those twelve bottles wasn’t just an act of caution but a sacred and ancestral gesture, she was protecting her soul.
It’s important to know that the olives, which differ in shape and flavour according to their source, are one of the most precious gifts that the Marche soil offers its visitors. For example in the provinces of Macerata and Ascoli Piceno, the Leccino and Frantoio Olive varieties thrive, particularly suitable for pressing. The Tenera Ascolana, is the star of the delicious Olive “all’Ascolana” recipe (stuffed olives). The tasty Raggiolo is grown on the hills around Pesaro, whilst around Ancona can be found the excellent varieties Raggia, Pendolino, Carboncella, Maurino and Rosciola. In fact the protagonist of our blog this week is the countryside of Ancona, where the Petrini di Monte San Vito farm is noted for its extremely high quality products (which can be found in our online shop).
The culture of oil in Le Marche is very old, dating back to 600 a.d. when Greek colonists cultivated the land in the area, and it was the Benedictine monks at the time of the barbarian invasions, who protected our precious trees so that their fruit would remain intact for generations to come. The olive tree generously offers its fruit to the appearance of winter, its curved trunk forever entwined with spirituality: with this in mind, don’t be surprised that the old lady who survived the war, needed those twelve bottles in order to feel protected. Then it all makes sense, what better antidote than the olive - religious symbol of peace, to overcome the fear of war? Believe me, the old lady was perfectly coherent in her actions.
And if this tale isn’t enough to arouse your curiosity enough to sample our oil, perhaps you need a more contemporary witness in order to appreciate the extent to which the oil culture permeates the soul of the Marche region. You need look no further than our English friend, Maggie Brew (whose remarkable story you can read about on our blog Properties (under the Real lives section), who a few days ago excitedly showed us the first of her delicious oil bottles, the fruit of a most beautiful olive tree, clinging to the land of a mountain that Maggie herself defined as being "full of spirituality."
The Paradise Trotter