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ORIGINS

OLIVE OIL

Olive oil was a product largely consumed on the tables of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The initiation of olive-growing in the Italian Peninsula was between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, as it is confirmed by the numerous depictions of the plant in the local currency. One of the rules of the Empire includes the administration of a dose of oil to all the legionnaires in the winter time. According to Polybius (BC 203-120), this technique was learned by the Carthaginians during the battle of the River Trebbia (BC 218) where the African applied oil on their body as a protection against the harsh climate of the cold winter day; the Roman army, on the contrary, half paralyzed by the cold had some difficulty even in moving their armaments.

The various chroniclers accounts of the imperial age signal the presence of over 20 different varieties of olives: Pliny (first century AD) mentions licinia, comina and sergia, called Regia by the Sabines which blackened before 8th February; Virgil mentions orchitis, radio and pausia, while Columella (AC 4-70) quotes calabrica, colminia, mirtea, Nevia and palladium.

In the first century A. D. the oil production technology in the Italian peninsula began to be so developed as to become competitive with the Greek or Spanish products. The processing was split in three phases: with the first baling, very light, the press separated the pulp from the core; then the oil mill crumbled the pulp in two steps, at the end of the operations the oil was poured into special recipients, pots or jars, sealed inside with a layer of wax to protect the oil from oxidation and to isolate it from the metal contamination contained in the clay. For marketing purposes three different types of oil were identified: the unripe oil, made in the month of October with white olives; green olives, obtained at the end of October with olives that were beginning to stain dark, the oil flower, extracted during the first pressing of the ripe olives, then there was the waste oil, that is not edible, used for lamps and lighting. Olives, especially those black ripe ones or the green ones prepared in brine, were served as gustatio, the equivalent of our appetizer. Petronio (nk-AD 66) tells us in "Satyricon" of the splendour of the dinners offered by Trimarchio where as an appetizer "rose a Corinthian bronze donkey with two saddlebags filled one with green olives and the other ones with black olives." Cato (BC 234-149) argued that the best relish for slaves were the olives and therefore advised the landowner to keep those that had fallen on the ground from the olives trees to be devoted to the slaves food. Several literary sources, from Cato to Pliny to Colummella, describe us the process of olives pressing, then confirmed by archaeological finds of grinding oil machines. What is surprising is that the mill used in those times was of very similar to our present mills.

However, the Roman production of oil was not enough to feed the demands of the whole empire and for this reason large quantities of product were imported from Spain, Greece, Algeria and Libya: Plutarch wrote that when Julius Caesar returned to Rome after the war in Africa, he was greeted with great celebrations because he had assured the city of three million litres of oil.

Starting from the fifth century A.D. until the early 1500's there was a general decline of agricultural activities, which also included the olive growing of Calabria. This was a period characterized by continuous invasions of foreign peoples and raids of barbarians who created a climate of uncertainty and fear, causing as a consequence the almost complete disappearance of agricultural activities. In such a context, farmers preferred to take refuge in the fortified villages rather than continue to practice agriculture and pastoralism. Particularly affected proved to be the cultivation of olive trees, crops that needed long times to be able to provide significant results, and that survived only in some monasteries or in fortified estates (particularly between the Cistercian and the Benedictine orders).

Starting from 1735 we can notice the first strong signals of the flourishing of the olive growing of Calabria. The responsible of this renewal was King Charles III of Bourbon, who assisted by the Minister Tanucci, carried out a series of reforms that renewed the Reign of Naples. The measures taken, together with optimal climatic and soil characteristics of the land dedicated to olive growing, made it possible for the crop to grow not only in traditional areas but also in the hills and plains, where it had been poorly cultivated for the presence of wide wetlands coastal areas and because of the fear of raids by pirates. The scholar Giuseppe Maria Galanti, in his book "Writings on Calabria, a thorough investigation of the socio - economic conditions of the South of Italy between the last decade of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century", describes the great care that at that time was devoted to the running of olive plantation and to the oil preservation: "Generally, olive plantations are hoed and grow fat, and it is the habit that each owner keeps or employ small flocks of sheep to fertilize them. Where there are no sheep there is the habit to compensate with the fertilizers of the lupines. Catanzaro and his district continue to use the ancient oil mill. The oil is stored either in clay vases or tanks made of Genoa stone."

Evidence of the remarkable diffusion of the olive tree are a number of documents of the time as, in particular, notarial documents about rents or refunds of olive plantations or of olive mills (which are the olives presses) which will be discussed in the next paragraph. Among so many we report the one relating to the holding Cannavà, one of the most fertile and extended of the municipality of Catanzaro, where the Duke of Cardinale, Luciano Serra, had planted an olive plantation of 2000 barrels of oil (10,460 hl.) whose olive trees, of considerable size, had a yield of approximately 14 hectolitres of olives (24 tomoli): "the closed skyline of the dark olive plantation and the gloomily of the immense plain is quite enlivened by the fragrance of a squared garden of about 15 acres .... . The olive mills are in the village, but the residue goes to the old water olive mill, which occupies 72 are of land with 10 mills and 24 presses".

OLIVE OIL