BEHIND GROVE DOORS - NATALI
There are still many people who don’t know the difference between a good and a bad olive oil. They are all the people who have never tasted a good one! Because once you have tried a good olive oil, there is simply never again the chance of mistaking that bland mass produced greasey liquid in the supermarket for the real thing. So says Nina, who runs the Natali grove and olive press. She keeps a bottle of supermarket olive oil at the press so that she can use it to demonstrate the world of difference between it and the heavenly liquid pouring off her olive press.
In the latest of our series of producer interviews, Nina tells us about the history of her olive oil business, her thoughts on the Italian olive oil industry – and shares a favourite family recipe.
Tell us about your olive press and how it started up?
Right after the World War II my husband Ivano’s great-grandfather had some savings from selling eggs. He used this money to purchase the premises of the olive press. He slowly built up the business. In the 1952 due to a terrible winter and the freezing of the olive trees the olive press went out of work for 4 years. But they didn’t give up. The business continued. In the 80s Ivano’s father took over the business.
How do you make your oil and how many people are involved?
Today’s Natali olive press is a proper family business: Me, my husband Ivano, our daughter, Ivano’s brother and his son all work in the olive press. In addition there are normally three more workers and a lot of extra staff during the harvest period, from the end of September to December, when the olive press is open 24/7.
We harvest our own olives very early in October, when the olives are not too ripe. The oil produced with these olives is a better quality. We always harvest and press the olive on the same day, and separate the paste, the water and the oil within the hour.
What is special about your olive oil?
Our oil has all the characteristics of the oil from le Marche, very articulate in the flavours but not aggressive on the palate, delicate and versatile.
What do you think about olive oil fraud and the reputation of Italian olive oil around the world?
In recent years the demand for Italian olive oil has increased. This has attracted the interest of large manufacturers who see the potential profit. Many Italian companies have been bought by big food groups (Bertolli for example is now owned by a Spanish food group), and what’s left of Italian olive oil is just the name on the label. While the interest in the oil and the production quanitity have increased, I am sure the quality of the oil is getting worse. I would advise the consumer to distrust all the cheap oil (making good oil is expensive and any cheap oil is just not a good one) and avoid anything that comes in a clear bottle.
Do you think it is hard for small producers to compete with larger olive oil producers?
In small companies controls and bureaucracy related to oil production are very strict and everything has to be meticulously recorded. But while all these controls can guarantee the quality for small producers, for big manufacturer with massive sales and production it is impossible to check if what they declare is true. The market is very competitive and for a small producer it is essential to keep quality high – but it is difficult since the costs are always increasing and we often have to cut our profit margin to be competitive.
What did you think when you first heard of the adopt an olive tree idea?
I first heard about the Nudo ‘adopt an olive tree’ program through a friend who sent me a link to the Nudo website. I thought it was a wonderful idea to give people the possibility to adopt an olive tree, but at first I put it to the side, as I have plenty of trees myself and didn’t need to adopt more. Later on, I realised that my friend wasn’t suggesting me to adopt a tree, but get in touch with Nudo and have my trees adopted!
The adoption program gives anybody in the world the possibility to taste a great, authentic, artisanal Italian product.
What do you think about the idea that people have adopted your trees?
Being part of the adoption program give us the opportunity to have people from all around the world tasting our oil; we would never be able to export by ourselves because of the high costs and the labour involved
Have you had people visit your trees? If so what was the experience like?
Since we started our collaboration years ago we receive quite a few visits from our adoptive parents, which is always a pleasure. All the people who came visiting their tree so far have been very interested in the olive oil production process and so enthusiastic!
What dishes do you like cooking with your oil?
I cook pretty much everything with extra virgin olive oil, including ice-cream (I’m still working to create the perfect recipe for that and hopefully I’ll share it with you this summer).
Nina's pumpkin & potato soup
- Pumpkin – 800g
- Onion - 1
- Potatoes – 2 medium
- Vegetable stock - 1L
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Pine nuts
- Peel the pumpkin and potatoes and then roughly chop them into pieces. Finely chop the onion and fry it in a pan with extra virgin olive oil. Add the pumpkin , potatoes and rosemary then , stirring constantly , sauté gently. Remove the rosemary sprig after a few minutes, before it loses its needles.
- Pour in about half of the stock, add salt and let it simmer, partially covered, over very low heat for half an hour. Occasionally, add more hot stock and continue cooking until the squash and potatoes are completely soft.
- When the vegetables are cooked use an immersion blender to obtain a smooth texture. Add Parmesan cheese and black pepper to taste .
- Mix well and serve with toasted bread cubes, toasted pine nuts and a nice drizzle of raw extra virgin olive oil.