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Interview to: Ivano Fojanini

Q1)Do you tell us the peculiarities of your extravergin olive oil (EVOO) and its link to your olive growing territory?
Our Extravergin Olive Oil (EVOO), the Valtellina, I would rather call it a "mountain EVOO" or the "Alpe EVOO", because it is born on terracing steep slopes at the base of the Rhaetian Alps, far beyond the 46th parallel.
It is an EVOO that was born more like our "bet" than the desire to produce olive oil.
The people of Valtellina, even who is not a "peasant", engaging in other sectors, has never cut ties with the territory and with the own land. Just looking what has happened in viticulture where most of the cultivated surfaces is taken care as part-time by the people do anything but work in other sectors and the rest of the time is dedicated to agriculture. The major part of olive groves in  Valtellina is today managed in this way.
Although there are historical sources that testify to the presence of the olive in the Alps, in Valtellina the wine-viticulture value chain has prevailed for centuries and no one spoke of olives, nor olive oil.
The olive tree arrived in the valley as an ornamental plant and since the 80s has spread here, given the positive vegetative and productive outcomes, some pioneers have begun to clean up uncultivated lands with the view to plant this new botanical species.
In 1996, my research institution, http://fondazionefojanini.provincia.so.it/, has realized the first experimental field by planting the main varieties in the north of Italy in order to provide the relative information to those who interested in this new olive growing culture.
Since then, much experimentation has been made and other olive trees have subsequently been planted, estimating today about 15000 plants cultivated in the valley and a recovery of approximately 40 hectares of abandoned terraced lands.
We consider that we won the bet. Why we won the bet? Because the real value for the Valtellina does not reside in the production of those few tens of liters of EVOO a year, which also would worth having it, but in the recovery of a piece of land, otherwise destined to disappear forever in the thick branches of woodlands or of the natural vegetation.

Q2) How was used olive oil and table olives in the daily kitchen in your childhood? Do you remember any your favourite traditional recipes based on olive oil and its derivatives?
Just because we lived in the mountains when I was little, I have no particular memories about olive oil, it served as a mere salad dressing.
Our traditional culinary culture represents the prevalent use of animal fats, my grandfather had the cows, I remember the fresh milk, the cooked butter, lard, the handmade soap as well as deep-frying cooked with the pig fat.
The passion for the olive tree came to me when I started taking care of crops and fallow recovery; I discovered, later on, the olive oil, a particular type of which with the distinct bitter and spicy notes. Since then the olive oil was no longer just a condiment, but a something pleasant to the palate and to the mind, enable to customize from the simplest way of eating like bread or white rice with a drizzle of EVOO on top to the most elaborated recipes, as Carpaccio of Bresaola or Pizzoccheri , although with the EVOO as a main cooking oil these traditional recipes can no longer be called as such.

Q3) Do you think that the high quality restaurant sector could be fundamental for creating the synergy with the producers of excellent EVOO?
For Valtellina agricultural products: wine, apples, olive oil, honey.. it is fundamental to create the relationship between producers and restaurateurs or retailers: the first committed to making quality products the second promotion and development of local products.
Not always, nonetheless, the two actors meet, and in particular on local EVOO despite its highest quality, the divergence remains the price, too low for those who produce it, too high for those who must sell it.
The real problem lies in the lack of knowledge, today many people are willing to spend on a bottle of wine, but not for a quality EVOO. The answer is simple: people should know that the quality EVOO is a product that is good for our health and the palate even in a small quantity.

Q4) Do you have any suggestions and/ or ideas to offer consumers the occasion to discover this precious product rich in culture, story and pleasure: oleo-tourism, EVOO tasting sessions in particular locations, collaboration with the specific eno-gastronomy sectors/ protagonists, for example?
The presence of the olive oil in Valtellina is a contribution to the safeguard of the beauty of the landscape and to the stability of the slopes. It is of fundamental importance for our valley that lives, in part, on tourism.
A tourist, before trying the product, must live the territory, it is important to see where the raw material is born, the kilometres of stone walls, steep stone stairs, the laborious work of past generations and the need to get young people on territory.
No matter whether they are apples, grapes or olives, but what is that the land produces in any corner of the world is something magnificent, unique, unrepeatable: unique as the history and traditions of the given place.
It’s true that the laws of economics/ marketing require us to be competitive, to produce at low prices or to accept the homogenization of products in order to meet increasingly global markets, but there are areas where these laws crashing against a territory does not allow mechanization, where we should bow to the ground to rip grass, where you sweat, getting your hands dirty, where the quality beyond the technical choices depends still on natural and uncontrollable factors.
The Italian EVOO, with great difficulty, is full of such examples, and the mosaic of the Italian EVOOs is complex and unique, my wish is that the Valtellina can, one day, have its stable EVOO production and join as a small piece of this scenario.

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