Having mastered their opening times, we drove down to the Frantoio Brignoni, which is based on a small industrial estate (Zona Artigianale) at the bottom of Corinaldo’s hill, to buy a bottle of their excellent local olive oil. We like to buy local produce wherever we can. We think it’s worth paying a bit extra to help preserve the local way of life. Mind you, when we first came to Corinaldo everyone was growing sugar beet, but somehow we didn’t feel obliged to buy lots of packets of sugar.
While we were there, we were fortunate to meet Alice and Cristian, the proprietors. Alice is the third generation of the Brignoni family. Her husband, Cristian, joined her at the press when they got married.
Spring and summer are the quiet seasons. In April and May Cristian goes to South Africa and trains growers there. From August to September Cristian starts to get busy, he told us, looking for workers and cleaning the equipment.
From October to December it’s time to prune and harvest; this is the really busy time, when Cristian and the team are working 24/7. (In Greece the harvest can take place in January and February.) There are about 1,500 trees to prune, because, although some growers prune their own trees, others are getting on a bit and Cristian organises the pruning for them.
When the olives have been harvested and delivered to the frantoio, they are cleaned, dried, crushed and malaxed (churned) for 20-40 minutes. At this stage the aroma is released. The operator decides by eye when the paste is ready. It’s interesting that even high-tech processes need human judgment. Similarly, in a gin distillery, special employees called “noses” decide by the smell when the gin is ready. (Cristian didn’t tell us that bit!) The oil is extracted from the paste at a low temperature, below 27° Centigrade. This is European Union law. For olive oil to be described as “cold-pressed”, it may not be extracted at a higher temperature. You get double the quantity with hot pressing, but it’s not as good.
Here are a couple of photos of Cristian as he showed us round.
Cristian is very keen on quality. Brignoni olive oil is 100% Italian, extra virgin and cold pressed, and therefore top quality. As for its taste and smell … that makes it special.
He told us that there are three types of olive oil:- extra virgin, virgin and olive oil. The producer decides which is extra virgin and which is just virgin by chemical analysis and tasting.
There is also lampante, or lamp oil, which is inedible without further treatment. That’s what was used as fuel for lamps from classical times until the nineteenth century. It is now sold to big companies and refined, with one per cent of virgin oil added, which enables it to be classified as olive oil. Artificial aromas are added to this olive oil, but the aroma soon vanishes. When you are choosing olive oil, look for a green aroma.
You should also check the label carefully. If you want Italian olive oil, the label should state “100% Italian olives”. Anything else is made with olives from more than one country.
We came away impressed with Cristian’s readiness to reach out to the customer. He speaks English and offered to show us round without being asked, and is ready to show anyone else round who is visiting the area. We promptly recommended the Brignoni press to our neighbours at the Adagio B&B, as somewhere for their guests to visit.
After our fascinating tour, we bought our olive oil and opened it that day to eat with, and enhance, our lunch. We then decanted it into four smaller bottles (to put in our cabin baggage on the plane), and are now enjoying a little taste of Le Marche in England.