Nestled against the sun-drenched slopes of the Veneto region of northern Italy exists a group of small, organic growers committed to preserving groves of ancient Roman olives. While olive oil production is changing to meet a new, industrialized era that dismisses heirloom varieties and favors mechanized harvests, these growers whose land hovers between 2 and 6 acres remain committed to the art and tradition of growing ancient varieties of olive – Favarol, Grignano and Nostrano – varieties that might fall to extinction were it not for their passionate commitment and the support of Jovial Foods, a company committed to reviving near-lost, ancient varieties of whole foods and making them available to the public.
Why Heirloom Olives Deserve Preservation
These ancient varieties, particularly Favarol, typically require more labor-intensive cultivation yet can yield variable production from year to year, and as the worldwide demand for olive oil increases, olive oil producers find themselves cutting down these ancient groves of heirloom varietals for a handful of modern varieties that require less labor, lend themselves more easily to mechanized harvests, and produce prolifically each year. As a result, groves of ancient varieties are slowly disappearing from the Italian landscape.
Like heirloom varieties of vegetables, these ancient olives each carry with them a distinctive value – flavor, resistance to disease. And if they disappear, those attributes will also disappear. In choosing to preserve these foods and make their distinctive olive oil available to the public, the farming and care of these ancient varieties becomes economically sustainable for small growers, and helps to preserve the olives’ distinct culinary and cultural heritage.
Heirloom Olives and Hand Harvesting Make Exquisite Olive Oil
Favarol, Grignano and Nostrano each offer distinct flavors, and, when blended together, create an exceptional olive oil with a flavor that is at once more complex and and yet milder than run-of-the-mill, store-bought oils. The Nostrano olive presents a light, fruity flavor with a faint almond-like finish, while Grignano offers a distinct, but not overpowering, fruitiness with a lemony finish. Together the three olives produce a remarkable blend that is mild, but complex with a distinct finish.
Further, heirloom olives benefit from time-honored production methods: hand selection and true cold-pressing which keep the oil’s acidity low, and its array of phytonutrients and antioxidants high.