Questo articolo è il risultato della collaborazione tra SapereFood e Umbra Institute, filiale italiana di alcuni college e università statunitensi con sede a Perugia. Dopo un approfondimento sul settore agroalimentare e sullle tecniche di scrittura giornalistica, gli studenti di Umbra Institute hanno visitato alcune importanti aziende della regione, raccontando la loro esperienza sul campo e contribuendo a diffondere la qualità alimentare dell’Umbria all’estero.
by Alice Douglas
Frantoio Marfuga is doing something unique to the olive oil business in Campello sul Clitunno. Francesco Gradassi has taken on the production of quality olive oil, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather before him. Nestled in the rolling hills of Umbria, the Marfuga olive groves enjoy a rocky terrain and a relatively temperate climate that allows them to prosper for centuries and produce a truly superior product, or as Francesco calls it, “extreme olive oil”. Ancient documents show that this particular landscape has long been a center for olive cultivation, and that olive oil has played a central role in Italian culture and cuisine for generations.
Marfuga is superbly decorated, featuring white walls, clean lines, an inviting fireplace, red leather couches and splashes of modern art. It is reminiscent of a plush winery, as the tour of the facilities includes a peak at the groves where the olives are grown and carefully harvested by hand, an up close view of the entire production process and a sumptuous tasting at the end. Interestingly, wine and olive oil production have followed a similar trajectory over the past half century in Italian culture.
In the mid twentieth century, the focus of both of these industries was on quantity, and less so on quality, as these products were staples for Italian families who had less disposable income than today. As a result, the growers used to wait until the olives or grapes were fully mature to harvest, ensuring a large haul and abundant product. In recent times, however, the focus has shifted to ensuring a greater quality product, which has meant harvesting the fruits earlier. As a result, the nutrient content of the products has also improved. In the case of olive oil, polyphenols, a natural substance that is found in plants as a means of self-preservation, is higher in less mature fruit, and is preserved when the fruits are harvested at this earlier state.
Olive oil has therefore become more than just a cooking fat, but has developed into a fully fledged industry with internal standards, and a cult-like following of connoisseurs. Francesco is dedicated to and passionate about creating a quality product that valorizes and respects the traditional landscape. The olives are difficult to harvest, as they are delicate and grow on steep terraced terrain. This means that they are largely picked by hand, by a few dedicated workers that Francesco greeted warmly upon entering the groves. Community members are also welcome to bring their olives to the Marfuga processing plant and make their own oil for a reduced rate. It is truly incredible to see how Marfuga is able to produce such a high-quality, traditional product, while giving value to the landscape and providing economic support to the surrounding community. The simple bruschetta, topped with the finest buttery-smooth, slightly bitter Marfuga olive oil and a pinch of salt, offered with a glass of good Grechetto wine and picturesque mountain views perfectly encapsulated this passion, and will fill you with a warm, tingly, joyous sensation. Everyone should get a chance to experience this special place. The memory of a day at Fratoio Marfuga will last you for a lifetime.