TOSCOLANO MADERNO, ITALY - 28 NOVEMBER 2018: Sergio Cozzaglio, founder of La Zadruga, eats a sandwich under a Villa Romana olive tree, grown amidst the first century AD ruins of the residence of the Nonni Arrii (an upper-class Roman family who lived here), in Toscolano Maderno, a northern village on the western shore of Lake Garda, Italy, on November 28th 2018.
Villa Romana became an olive oil produced by La Zadruga (founded by Sergio and his wife Ilaria Galetta). It won the highest possible accolade—three green leaves, denoting absolute excellence—in the prestigious Gambero Rosso guidebook to the best olive oils in Italy. The Villa Romana is pressed from a cultivar, or variety, of olive that was unknown to modern science until 2016
Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, is an odd micro-biome of Mediterranean olive-oil culture in the midst of frost-prone, butter-oriented Lombardy. Though its northern extreme is at the same latitude as Fargo, North Dakota, Garda’s shores are girded by lemon and palm trees, as well as olive orchards, which climb the hillsides that surround the lake to heights of 1,500 feet. Lake Garda, overlooked by the Dolomites, snowcapped in early winter, is the northernmost point in the world where olives can be reliably cultivated. Lake Garda, where there is a record of uninterrupted cultivation since the thirteenth century, has a reputation for producing delicate, mild-flavored oils that has pleased more conservative northern European palates since the Renaissance.
In contrast to Spain, France, and Greece, where a few star cultivars dominate production, Italy, with its multiplicity of soils and microclimates, has always been the Amazonian rainforest of olive biodiversity. Every year, the fruit from 179 million trees—three for every man, woman, and child in the nation—is gathered by 825,000 separate cultivators, to be pressed in 4,900 mills. At last count, there were 530 distinct olive varieties in Italy.
- ©2018 Gianni Cipriano
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