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Interview to: Marco Antonucci

D1:How was used olive oil at your home in your childhood? Do you remember any your favorite traditional recipes based on olive oil?

I was born and live in the city on the shore of the Iseo Lake, in the Vallecamonica Valley, a region well  known for a culinary culture with butter and cheese than extra-virgin oil. In my childhood our  "everyday-cooking" was characterized by olive oil, which was also used for preserving sardines, typical lake fish. I discovered extra-virgin when I started to take care of the agri-food  sector, when I was 17, because I was conductor of a groumet program for a local radio station. particular I don't remember, perhaps there were not anything special. But I remember that we used to use the seed oil for deep-frying ( my mother used to buy "Zenit" in the white color tin with green stripes, because it was cheap and tasteless). The extravergin have led me to get in touch with many people outside of my "normal" work (I am an architect in my "normal" life) and share life experiences that have often been transformed in long and intense friendships.

D2:What were the recipes that have surprised you regarding the EVOO pairing either raw or cooked in the places where you have visited in Italy and abroad?

The extravergin is a base ingredients, among a few others, that can be employed both as a condiment (over salad, on raw and cooked meat, soups,...), as a complement (pasta with garlic, oil and hot chili pepper, beef marinated in oil, olive oil ice cream,...), as moreover a final product (pinzimonio, fett'unta, ghiacciolo or gocce di olio,...). This means that it's functionality has virtually "infinite" and often " undefined" possibilities. I' have surely been amazed by a flavor enhancement of "sferizzare" olive oil (paring a bite/small seize ingredient with an optimal dose of extravergin) in order to make it explode in the mouth, after eating, for example, a small piece of toasted garlic bread, licking an ice cream Nocellara del Belice flavor (a Sicilian native variety of olive), a gelled cube made of olive oil to lay it on a buffalo mozzarella, the Sicilian oranges covered with olive oil and sugar,...I could even tell many memories, which ways of use of the EVOO that often surprised me for its simplicity and for the end result: I think, without doubt, the absolute value of extra-virgin.

D3: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?

I think it might be a way, but not the only or the most important.

D4: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?

Oil list, thematic oil-centered restaurants, oil serving carts,... All good ideas, good solutions, (it happened, however, to see oil service carts with expired bottles, containing rancid oils. Sometimes I find "perfect/complete" oil lists, but I cannot find the oils in the restaurant, "because at the end no one ask them"), but as long as the oil will be considered a "cost" for catering, the situation will remain the same. For a salad we use 8/9 grams of oil: if you are using a product from € 15.00/liter, you will spend about € 0.13 for the condiment; if you use a product from € 3.00 per liter, you will spend about € 0.03 for dressing. 10 cents, therefore, will not make a difference from the economic point of view, but will make a considerable difference in quality (and also in cultural value) for "seasoning a salad". It's necessary, in this sense, to change the vision towards the EVOO, as was the case with wine decades ago: only in this way the product will able to be enhanced, without further difficulties.

D5: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?

We Italians often believe that we know everything about "Italian food" and we tend to act accordingly. I would like a little bit to joke, for example. Like most people who care of the sensory analysis, I have stopped by the time to taste the oils of my friends in order to not lose the friendships...! Every Italian guys has a friend, a brother in law, a colleague who provides the oil from Tuscany, the tomatoes from Calabria, the wine from Veneto... And of course they are - without any criticizes and undoubtedly - the best in Italy! I believe that the gap is here: abroad foreign people know little about Italian food and listen carefully to what they have learned from professionals; in Italy people, for this belief of "supposed to know" tend to distrust suggestions from professionals. As long as this cultural situation will not be changed, this gap will prevail: for this reason we are engaged in sensory educational activities with kids in school, just to make them comprehend this concept.

D6: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?

Any rule that protects the consumer is always welcome: I suppose that it happened to everyone to find on the table bottles refilled several times or containing oils different than those indicated on the label; a friend bottler tells me that he still receives requests by some restaurateurs for empty labeled bottles. The law is useful, although not always being properly implemented and applied to (as is the case with traditional cruets in  restaurants!).
I think that producers have not had major difficulties: many have been already using this type of device. What is certain is that if a foreign "observer" consults this law system, he will get an idea that throughout the olive oil production value chain the only ones who defraude would be the restaurant owners when they serve the oil on the table: Is it really true?

D7: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) ?

Purchasing an Italian extravergin means purchasing a piece of Italy. When purchasing an extravergin of Como Lake, Brisighella, Chieti, Trapani, are acquiring a piece of their territory, the work and dedications of each farmer and their story behind it. These elements are added values and have great importance for some Italian artisanal products (Culatello di Zibello, Bresaola della Valtellina, Brunello di Montalcino, Robiola di Roccaverano: only a few examples of products that are inextricably linked to the territory) but when we talk about the extra-virgin each of them has still to find its own identity. Some initiatives such as guided tours at oil mills offering oil tasting experience of both "good" and  "defective" oils, sensory tasting and training sessions (for many years we promote these activities with Slow Food), are excellent promotional vehicles. The intrinsic bond to the territory, without doubt, remains the most important and interesting key element on which to focus and therefore any strategy should be aimed to be positively enhanced.

D8: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?

In the alpine valleys their is a culture of an artisan cheese with the "tare": the "worm"; in France people appreciate and acquire a unique virgin olive oil obtained from olives left to dry on the olive plant before and  then on the nets (graticci).... In this contest we could do a thousands examples of the dietary habits of the people, from fermented soybeans in Japan to roasted grasshoppers in Colombia. What is fundamental here is the awareness. If the consumer likes the "tare" cheese or oil made with olives shriveled, there is nothing wrong:  it would be more important to be aware of ingesting a worm cheese and an obviously defective oil.
The consumer must be conscious to make an "informed choice": consumers should know that the unfiltered oil is fine if consumed within 6-7 months from the day of production and not over, because all of the suspended particles are the residue of minced olives that will ferment and spoil oil in time, giving  the flavor of dregs and muddy. Consumers should be informed that the sediment on the bottom of the bottle is not an index of genuineness, as is often "publicize" on the label as a valuable "unfiltered EVOO", but it is a deposit at the phase of decomposition of micro-organisms which emerge the spoilage of oil (nobody would like to buy milk or mineral water with a dark sediment).
The consumers could be aware that the unfiltered EVOO should be consumed quickly, so they can take control of what they are to choosing and acquiring. And as is the case with the acidity of an oil, even though it is a chemical parameter, it should not be perceived in the mouth: the consumer often confuses the acidity with the sensation of pungency in the back of the throat, without being properly informed of one of the most precious positive attributes of the EVOO, wealth index of polyphenols.

D9: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?

Abroad often people asked this kind of question, when we taste EVOO with a lower organoleptic profile and sometimes with higher price range. I do not respond with words. When I've got a chance, on the other hands, I prepare boiled potatoes and I give two warm slices of them: on one slice, first of all, I put a drop of the EVOO which "they asked to taste ", on the another I put a drop of EVOO with a pleasant level of fruitiness and a harmonious notes of bitterness and spicy (if the potatoes are not available, we can use the glasses to compare them). I believe that this way would be the best and simple method which allows indelibly each people to keep the emotional experience in their sensory memory, by comparison of the EVOO from different organoleptic features.

Marco Antonucci : Born in  Lovere (BG) in Italy in 1967, architect, journalist, professional taster of vergin olive oil with Panel Leader qualification of COI. For many years he is engaged in either in Italy or abroad in spreading the culture of extravergin olive oil through seminars, olive oil tasting courses, meetings, guides, publications of the articles on the world of extravergin olive oil.

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