LT INT ENG - Associazione Olives Road

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Interview to: Luigi Tega


D1:Can you tell us how was this year's oil campaign in terms of quality and yield? And the peculiarity of your extravergin olive oil ( EVOO)?

The harvest of this season went very well and we hope that we have definitely left behind the difficult experience of last year. I guarantee its quality, although the yeild has not reached as we hoped, we would have had a more abundant season to compensate for the inestimable loss of last year, but It would be acceptable.
Regarding the peculiarities of our oil: personally I prefer oils with high concentrations of polyphenols that I consider the true element of absolute quality, which is why I favor the early harvest and this year, and usually, we have finished the production by 7/10 November. For this reason we have introduced in the extraction cycle a new crushing system and the most innovative vertical kneader in depression, which works without down time for the unit, reducing drastically its oxidation rate. This allows us to preserve these valuable antioxidant molecules.
My regret is that unfortunately a large segment of the market is not yet ready to fully appreciate oils with a distinct personality of vegetable notes and a high level of intense, but balanced and harmonious bitter and peppery (pungent) flavor. I am, therefore, obliged not to exaggerate this concept (and this is my personal regret).

D2:How was used olive oil at your home in your childhood? Do you remember any your favorite traditional recipes based on olive oil?

When talking about olive oil, as our family has been by generations running an oil mill and had a miller (mugnaio) of ancient tradition, olive oil has been always present at home and around this precious food throughout the traditional cuisine of our family has rotated.
A tasteful afternoon snack that I always remember with pleasure was a simple bread on which putting an open tomatoes to moisten with its juice and then poured plenty of olive oil and a pinch of salt ( I invite you to try it in the summer season!). Obviously Umbria is a land known for the culinary culture of legumes and at least twice a week my mother used to serve a plate of beans and toasted bread with plenty of olive oil ( nothing simpler, but more tasty and healthy). As you may have noticed that I indicated two simple recipes even trivial that represent the essence of the Umbrian traditional cuisine which has always been a simple and frugal way of cooking, linked to the peasant tradition that privileges the absolute enhancement of the quality of the raw materials than elaboration or complexity in their preparation.

D3:Have you never thought another job instead of passing down your family run oil mill?

I confess that until about at age 20, I thought I would do the other job and I did not intended to continue with our family run oil mill. The turning point came when I was around 25 years of age, for personal reasons, I prefer not to talk about it. Since then and until today I am delighted to engage in this job and I cannot think of another or I would probably not be able to do anything else...as all my energies have been absorbed fully by this job.

D4:Do you think that the high quality restaurant ( the world of catering) could be fundamental for creating the synergy with the producers of  excellent EVOO in the view to offer consumers opportunities for the discovery of this product rich in fascinating diversities, history and pleasure?

Absolutely yes, the restaurant can and should be an important factor in promoting this product. If this would not be realized today, the responsibilities would be divided between the world of catering and us who work on the olive oil sector. It's too easy to lay all the blame on the world of catering. Probably It lacks a serious project regarding the synergies between these two worlds for which I'm studying for same time and,...probably within this year I will have an interesting project to be presented to the restaurant world..

D5:Given the lower profit margins compared to wine, do you have any suggestions for enhancing the wise use of EVOO in the kitchen and at the table? Do you believe that the EVOO list and/or the EVOO servicing cart  can be effective for the enhancement of its ideal promotion?

I think that it occurs an promotional project that would create an interest and an added value to the catering sector; an EVOO serving cart? I'm not sure that It could work as the effective element.

D6:In Italy for most people it is important in choosing an EVOO at the expense of money. Abroad often the Italian consumer discover Italian excellent EVOOs, which ignores its existence. This is because many industry-related organizations and professionals organize abroad training proposals, aiming at rising awareness of foreign consumers, buyers and those who work in the agri-food sector. What can be, in your opinion, the solution to this obvious contradiction?

I admit that I am often amazed by the level of knowledge on the part of consumers so far from our country and our traditions. We often meet well-informed people on our olive oil production sector from Norway, Netherlands and Japan, for example. Obviously this is positive aspect, otherwise I am surprised by the absolute lack of knowledge on this product on the part of local consumers no other than Umbrians. Unfortunately our personals, farmers and even fellow oil millers do not know absolutely nothing about of the valuable features of this marvelous product. It might be considered as a trivial thing that they have always possessed and have been available, without any effort,  to their doorstep.
It often happens that consumers visit my oil mill who are not able to distinguish a "good" oil from an excellent one consider even  the latter as "defective".
It happens more often that consumers( some of whom are considered experts) are disappointed because my extraction cycle is too modern and too innovative. "
What use this computerized system to manage an oil mill?" " How beautiful the oil mill of the past with millstones and Hydraulic presses" "There is no longer an oil with the flavor of the past!"... It's true that it is very hard today, I answer you, to find an oil which stinks smelling oils of the past...
It is my regret to admit that even though the peasant culture represent its own value, on the other hands, it would also represent its limit and old or folklore customs and traditions cannot always be "synonymous of the quality". It is therefore rather hard to explain to many consumers who cannot comprehend why they should pay more for a product that conceals in it "elements of quality": man's work, commitment, knowledge, professionalism and the innovation that underlies it.

D7: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, even though it does not mention the oil used in the kitchen?

I confess that the legislation has created for all operators some difficulties, including myself. Frankly speaking, I would have done without it. I consider that, furthermore, this device  protects consumers from " possible refills", but it does not protect them at all from the quality point of view. It is obvious that if the restaurant owner storages oils in wrong ways,  letting bottles with a loosely-fitting closure(capsule) or left them close to stoves in the kitchen, for example, oil may undergo alterations, not caused by refilling with low-quality oils, but due to a wrong storage. Final aspect not to be overlooked, it seems that  the application of the refill-proof closure will reduce oil consumption in table of 30/40 % and this, if it can represent a saving to the restaurant owner, is definitely a negative aspect for the olive oil production sector. Honestly I would have done without it.

D8:What results do you expect from strategies that lead consumer to understand and explore the historical and cultural value of the essence of the olive? What considers may be of the tourism initiatives such as olive oil related tourism in your territory ( the so-called oleo-tourism)?

I could not fully answer to this question; in my opinion, it seems that the knowledge on this product has been already, to a certain extent, implemented, but I consider that it's often out of reach of the objective, in other words, this product does not inherently have, will not able to have so attractive charm as other products have (especially wine) that have even had a great success throughout territories. We should, therefore, take note and reminder ourselves if this reality that the quality olive oil will never gain a wide range of social phenomenon, remaining a product intended for a circle of enthusiasts.

D9:Unlike Spain and some emerging non-traditional olive growing countries where a broad range of olive oil-centered training workshops is held in order to make consumers conscious of both its choice and its culinary use, a large part of the people in Italy prefer, on the contrary," turbid/murky" or "curd / grezzo" EVOO, believing that this should be an element of genuineness. Do you consider that this is caused by a lack of  formation and information initiatives?

As for an olive oil "obviously not filtered" I solely think of evil. It is, in general, associated with an image of genuineness and subject to a strong bond to the tradition. We know, in turn, that it is just a spoiled oil with all of the problems that may emerge over the time. It is therefore hard to make people understand a concept of quality based on the absolute scientific evidence, because this product has been extremely tied to the old  peasant tradition.

10:How do you think it is possible to make people understand the difference between an excellent EVOO with high organoleptic, nutritional and culture value and one devoid of any personality and of less value? And how could it make comprehend the real cost of a quality EVOO?

I often use the definition to remark the industrial oils: oils Coca Cola. With the aim of explaining well what is the difference between a standardized product, created by skilled olive oil refining factory (miscelatore) and the essence of terrain and man's hard work, creating all the variables from which derive. Unfortunately, the legislation has not helped  over the years to make this distinction clear and as a matter of fact that there is not appropriate definition of precious oils that could distinguish them from industrial ones in the eyes of the consumer.
The idea was to create a new product category to distinguish these two worlds, and there was talk of "artisanal oils" ( probably following the recent phenomenon of craft beers that have distinct two categories and attracted more and more "craft beer lovers"). I imagine that sooner or later it will come to a new definition legally regulated, but it will have to foreseen what are the chemical, organoleptic and nutritional parameters expected from a hypothetical disciplinary and, in reference to this aspect, I do not feel at all optimistic.

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