Olive oil producers, farms and tourist entities in the provinces of Latina and Frosinone, just south of Rome, are teaming up to promote the region’s olive oil culture and history , closely linked to the former Papal States.
At a public event in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Pope Francis introduced Olio dei Papi (Olive Oil of the Popes, in Italian), an extra virgin olive oil from trees grown on land supervised and financed by the Vatican.
Producers here have been making world-class extra virgin olive oil for generations, but they have never found a good way to connect their product to their history and tell their traditions.
Several meeting attendees told Olive Oil Times that Pope Francis thanked his guests for the gift and the historic work behind the Olio dei Papi initiative.
“It allows us to rediscover the history of the Church,” he said. The Vatican has officially recognized Olio dei Papi as an official supplier to the Vatican State.
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Ongoing research sent to the Vatican and seen by Olive Oil Times has confirmed the important role olive oil played in Roman culture. The Romans used olive oil as food, lubricant, lamp fuel and cosmetics.
However, trees and fruits were neglected after the collapse of the Roman Empire and during the Middle Ages. During this period, groves were cultivated only near abbeys, monasteries and other ecclesiastical lands.
This changed during the 18e Century due to a series of reforms that created incentives for olive growers in central Italy, which the church ruled. The goal was to greatly increase the local production of olive oil, as Rome was often forced to import it from abroad.
“In the year 1778, Pope Pio VI introduced a substantial agricultural reform focused on the development of olive growing,” said Martina Bocconi, municipal councilor of Boville Ernica and co-author of the study project. Olive Oil Times.
“A high volume of notes from the Apostolic Chamber of this region show how the chamber strictly monitored the expansion of the olive tree, providing a Paolo [the currency of the time] as a reward to all the olive growers who have planted new trees,” she added. “It also provided even more funds if new olive groves were planted through land reclamation of unproductive areas. »
Thanks to funding from the organization and the Papal State, hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted over time in the region historically known as Lazio.
According to the draft document, at least 27,000 hectares of Lazio were devoted to olive growing in 1813, producing almost three million kilograms of olives. More than 100 olive oil mills were active in the area.
It is believed that 200,000 new olive trees were planted in the Church State in 1830. By 1877, the olive-growing area of the Lazio region had been extended to 41,600 hectares.
Considering the close relationship between the history of the Papal States and the development of olive growing in the region, the Municipality of Boville Ernica has started the Olio dei Papi development project which will extend to other towns.
“Our idea is to create a campino (“path,” in Italian) that begins with the history of olive growing in the Papal States and extends to modern olive oil making,” Bocconi said. “This is an idea that attracts many, so we are actively working for an agreement between all the municipalities involved in this campino.”
“It links extra virgin olive oil production and agricultural development to tourism opportunities,” she added. “Regional authorities in Lazio have taken note of this and we hope it will reach a growing number of olive oil producers and other stakeholders over time.
The campino will include important historical sites, such as the abbeys of Fossanova, Trisulti, Montecassino and Casamari, and will involve food producers, farms, restaurants and artisans.
The first Olio dei Papi branded extra virgin olive oil is now produced and marketed by the joint venture within a local cooperative with over 5,000 small olive oil producers and a local mill.
The Olio dei Papi production protocol defines the territory considered part of the initiative and the varieties of olives that contribute to its production.
While some of the varieties involved are widely distributed in Italy such as Frantoio, Moraiolo, Leccino and Itrana, others are considered indigenous, such as Carboncella, famous for its high polyphenol content. Indigenous varieties make up at least 30 percent of Olio dei Papi.
“Our initiative is based on three main pillars,” said Domenico Sperlonga, miller and co-director of the Olio dei Papi project. Olive Oil Times. “The first is the product chain agreement with the cooperative, which guarantees the origin of the olives and the approach to harvesting the olives that we have to process.
“The second is a very strict production protocol focusing on quality, and the third is the ethical pillar,” he added. “Within the sector, producers have established a minimum price reserved for their olives. The aim is to reward more those who aim for sustainability and better quality, which has already happened under church state rule.
According to its promoters, the Olio dei Papi initiative is intended to benefit the region and revive the production of olives, even in areas where this activity has slowed down over time.
“This is also why we have added to the project the objective of recovering abandoned olive groves,” Sperlonga said. “We hope that Olio dei Papi will stimulate the production of olive oil in our region and throughout the Lazio region. »
In the first phase of the project, the regions envisaged are located in southern Lazio and northern Campania.
However, the Papal States extended far beyond these areas, and Sperlonga hopes the project will benefit more growers in other regions. “This is also why we organize seminars and workshops, to inform people about this project and its implications,” he said.
One of the key elements of the project is the development of a blockchain process to guarantee the origin of the product on the national and international market.
“We are working on it. In the meantime, we already have a form of full traceability,” Sperlonga said. “Customers can use the number on our labels to check directly on our website where their bottle came from.
“The system is so precise that they can not only know the complete data on the producers of these specific olives, but, thanks to Google Earth, they can even pinpoint the exact grove,” he added.
According to Sperlonga, the historical research and increased business that stems from the initiative could finally bring proper recognition to the quality of local extra virgin olive oil.
“Producers here have been making world-class extra virgin olive oil for generations, but they have never found a good way to connect their product to their history and tell their traditions,” he concluded. . “With such a unique historical background, all of that is destined to change.