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Interview to: Alessandra Paolini

Q1) How was this year’s oil campaign in terms of quality and yield?

For our family-run olive oil mill 2015/2016 harvesting year has confirmed our standard level in terms of quality and quantity.

Q2) Do you tell us the peculiarities of your EVOOs and its link to your olive growing territory?

Our Extravergin Olive Oils ( EVOOs): producing on average 6 to 8 EVOO labels and two flavoured, have a strong bond with our territory.
We mill exclusively olives cultivated in our olive orchards, most of which are varietals native to our region and others which belong to the varieties of the south of Italy adapted to a suitable microclimate equivalent to ours and implanted in our olive gloves for many years.

Q3) Can you talk about your dedications to the Grossa di Cassano variety and its story?

"Grossa di Cassano" cultivar on which we intrinsically believe,  is one of the indigenous varieties in our olive growing district, since our company locates in the city of Cassano.
Some witnesses say that, as most probably as I know, it was present in our holding until the early 900,  and, in time,  has been eradicated to proceed to other cash-crops.
In 2007 I decided to devote myself in implanting it again in order  to produce an EVOO that would gather all the peculiarities of our territory and could transmit and develop its own identity.
Actually my idea did not meet with the approval of the most part of the fellow colleagues, since this variety characterized as a dual aptitude cultivar: processed either for olive oil or table olives , mainly destined to the latter, as a matter of the fact that it yields very little quantity of the olive oil.
The desire, in spite of all difficulties, to express the most authentic feature of our land, took me to experience the milling of this Grossa di Cassano cultivar. Although its nature of extremely low yield in oil processing, we proceed its harvesting in the right period of veraison of the fruits.
The negative aspect of low yield is offset, in any case, compensated with an extreme generosity from the olfactory and gustatory point of view. Right after pressing their fruits for the first time, we recognized that its distinctive organoleptic profile would be one of the most significant single cultivar for our company.

Q4) How was used olive oil at your home in your childhood? Do you remember any your favourite traditional recipes based on olive oil and table olives?

Being born and grown up in Calabria, with direct link to the earth: our family-own oil mill is now in its fourth generation, the use of EVOO and table olives, from my childhood, has taken on a primary importance for my daily life.
The EVOO was used in each preparation both row and in cooking, even for deep-frying dishes recurring in the traditional gastronomy of each season.
The use of olive oil as a basic ingredient in the so-called " bruschetta" ( toasted bread poured/brushed with EVOO) used to often appear in our day-by-day dish, which in my region and in my childhood was replaced by "fresine". Fresine poured with olive oil on top was one of the finest and most beautiful moments of my childhood. For a snack break we children were called to taste a delightful " fresine snack with olive oil ".
Even the table olives were very present in my childhood as a basic nutritional source, following our culinary tradition in the kitchen of my family. Olives were declined in many ways, taking into account the attitudes and peculiarities of each variety: salted; green or black olives in olive oil; whole or spilt; seasoned with red pepper, fennel, garlic, citrus peels, anise; baked or dried in the sun...The world of table olives is literally rich and luscious to which I drew with extreme greed and pleasure.
Another splendid and beautiful snack that I discovered later on its extreme health-promoting properties and complete nutritional value was represented by a " pane e cocci olive" ( " bread and olives shards") or bread and olives. They could also be sautéed in a pan with red chilli peppers and olive oil, a really poor dish, but greedy and rich of health values.
Many are the recipes of my childhood than anything else that I also want to propose to my children, sharing the EVOO and table olives.
From the fennel salad with orange and black table olives seasoned with EVOO to the potatoes salad with sliced onion, black olives and capers...
Regarding pasta dishes, among others, the pasta with bread crumbs and sautéed green and black olives in a pan; the pasta with garlic, red chilli peppers and EVOO, a simple and typical recipe of my land, another symbol of our territory : red chilli peppers; the pasta with swordfish/ tuna with olives.  It’s rather difficult to find some preparations without than with.

Q5) Do you think that high quality restaurant ( the world of catering) could be fundamental for creating the synergy with the producers of excellent EVOO?

I consider that the world of  catering/restaurant could do much more to create an interactive relationship with the producers of high quality EVOOs, with utmost sincerity, hoping not to offend "isole felici": privileged and favourable olivicultural areas where the inter-professional collaboration is fortunately working very well, in Italy, however, still very little has been realized and I would not even know whether there is a will or not regarding this relationship.
I am born and will remain a producer, I do not feel like, therefore,  expressing myself to who belongs to a different world, even though complementary to mine, I wonder how should be realized this collaboration between two sectors and what strategies should be followed. The quality restaurant sector has done a lot to raise awareness and promote many gastronomic heritage of our country, with passion, determination, inventiveness and, let’s say, happiness.
We are now, naturally, talking about a fantastic and unique product: EVOO, of sporadic use and to which a particular respect, I would dare say the undisputed pillar of the Mediterranean Diet.
Why, then, when it comes to study a "common strategy" to recognize and highlight the role and dignity that this ingredient competes and belongs to, the restaurant sector seemed to be eclipsed, or worse, have rowed against, using lower category olive oils with acceptable organoleptic profile, mistreating the good oil that was to be used: scarce precautions in  conservation, for example, without any notions regarding the correct preservation practice, I don’t know why...
I have had the fortune to meet devotees and EVOO enthusiasts, chefs, in a specific case, have even created a recipe precisely from one of our range of EVOOs "Lei" ( She): our Monovarietale Grossa di Cassano, but the cases are very " isolated".
The thing that is very inexplicable for me is that there are excellent "trattorie" ( small locale restaurants) have particular attention, I would say  sometimes obsessive cult, to use and select EVOOs, presenting and explaining them to their clients. I encountered, on the other hands, starred renowned restaurants where the EVOO was not accurately selected and there was a tendency to make the choice based on price, or worse, in the hands of a supplier who has not an adequate knowledge on its value, but dictated by several "other reasons".
A strategy, perhaps the most banal, the most simple and the most immediate would be, for example, to insert the type of the EVOO with the name of the company on the menù together with other ingredients.
You can do more. You can begin to understand that the EVOO is a great wealth and can be a huge potential and a source of inspiration.
It would be enough to have "will to make it happen", based on culture, patient, exercise and passion.

Q6) The entry into force of the law of the "refilling proof closure" which requires restaurant owners to adopt bottles equipped with this device for table service. Do you consider that this legislation is effective and that protects the consumer?

Regarding the legislation on the refill-proving closure, I consider it undoubtedly useful. I believe that it would suddenly worth while, as far as I’m concerned, the quality of the EVOO would never be protected with legislations.
Through this legislation and  lots of lows and sneaky ones with which lawmakers cheat honest EVOO producers and consumers.
The Extravergin Olive Oil is CULTURE.
If our country was to be conscience of the  real value of this product, focusing on the dissemination of this culture from primary school, we would not need anything else. It will not be the refill-prove closure to save us EVOO producers, will be, instead, the consumer who will send back the bottle containing defective olive oil or the dish with an altered olive oil. If the restaurant offer us a defective wine or cheese, we rightly refer them in the kitchen, why not for the defective EVOO? The customers, unfortunately, do not know how recognize the defects of an EVOO, because they are, indeed, so ancestrally accustomed to the defective mass-use olive oils, considering unusual the quality organoleptic profile.
Our company, we are pleased to adequate legislation on this refill-prove capsule and we have no difficulty in complying with this norm: if we were not only e first manufacture that use the unique type of bottles for which it wasn’t the adequate refill-prove capsule on the market...we had to research to find one could adapt to best through painstaking tests.

Q7) Do you have any suggestions and/or ideas to offer "motivated and evolved" consumers the discovery of these products rich in culture, story and pleasure?

One thing that I would recommend to the EVOO lovers: let’s taste, taste and taste.
Have fun tasting it, especially, experiencing the different combinations of EVOOs and foods. We possess, as I already said, so many EVOOs from the various sensory profiles, each of which has its own characteristics and peculiarities.
Our clients, they usually contact us to try one or two of our EVOOs, after having been satisfied of them, they tend to want to try and use all range, at least four or five, of our products. This is one of the greatest satisfactions of my job. It’s so splendid to make the people discover the world of the EVOO, varied, delicious and, why not, so fun!
I love receiving a message from a client, while preparing dinner, for example, who asks my suggestions on the choice of EVOO to use for her/his original recipe, even more fascinating when a client sends me a particular recipe that she/he has discovered with our EVOOs. The EVOO is, like other products of the essence of the earth, is life, vitality and passion. We should learn to understand this meaning and convey it. The message should, for me, emerge from this concept. I might add that visiting the places and companies where these products are born, understanding and comprehending their territory, contributes to the sensory experience, cultural experience, human, social and emotional impact that can only enrich this product.
An experience not to be missed? Eating a slice of bread and EVOO in the midst of olive trees. An emotion that conveys, much more than laws and words, the value of what we are eating

Q8) Regarding the term of EVOO conservation, if you could choice between the " best before day" of 18 months after bottling and " harvesting date", which could you choose?

I don’t want to repeat the discussion over the statements and disclosures required by law. I dare to say that the only real protection for the final consumer arises from his ability to discern and comprehend. The legislation on the "best before day" of 18 months after bottling or harvesting is deterrent, but an excellent EVOO from a variety which is, of its nature, rich in polyphenols and has been accurately processed could be better than that of lower category at the moment of milling. I would like to say the phrase, even for the EVOO, "knowledge makes us free".

Q9) Italy is a major producer of table olives and in our country there are excellences: Bella di Cerignola, Nocellara del Belice, Taggiasca etc.). In Italy there is not a great knowledge/ culture of these excellences, whereas table olives are much used and appreciated in the kitchen. In your opinion should they be valued as the dishes using the table olive in the enhancement of the quality cuisine?

As I’ve already said that in Calabria the use of table olives is still very common.
Although they represent, among others, a great opportunity for the wellness, a cheap information has, unfortunately, focused on the feature of a high caloric intake of this product rather than on all the considerable benefits on our health.  In my family we use them in the kitchen not say daily, but almost everyday. Giving the opportunity that we have for drawing, with a great pleasure, to all the excellences, from Nocellara del Belice, Nocellara Messinese, Nocellara Etnea, Ascolana Tenera, the Olive of Gaeta, Taggiasca and so on...
I don’t feel like giving quality catering sector any suggestions. I would, however, rather express them an exhortation: return to the earth with a bit of " humility".
Back to the roots, not fossilize but for recreation. It is often evident that one wants to feel the need to impress and amaze by own hands, but I believe that those who work with raw materials should let them talk by themselves, acknowledging that you can impress public thanks to the ingredients that are difficult to find, rare and mostly unknown.
All the great creatives, eventually, need little and often, the little by which to draw it in their daily lives, their magnitude is to live it and offer it in an unknown sphere.
Here this is the hope that I hope.

Alessandra Paolini "is" the Società Agricola Doria, a company that has its roots on the respect of the traditions, the ecosystem and the customer, continuing to work with love, humility, enthusiasm and curiosity.  www.agricoladoriasrl.it     

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