I recently visited the southern Italian region Puglia with a handful of others to discover its wine, food, and cultural offerings. Based in the port town Bari, we set off each of five mornings with a packed agenda. This article focuses on Olio De Carlo, an organic Olive Oil producer just outside Bari.
Wondering where Puglia is? This narrow and long strip runs 425 km from its northern border with Molise to the bottom of the Italian peninsula. Puglia is known as the heal of Italy collared by the gleaming Adriatic sea to the east. The coastline boasts town after picturesque town, Bari is one of them with about 327,000 people.
If you’ve been to Puglia I’ll bet you recall the whitewashed buildings, beautiful Mediterranean landscape and trulli scattering the countryside. Everywhere you look you see olive trees thus it’s not surprising Puglia produces upwards of 40% of Italy’s olive oil. Interesting to note the region is also the largest producer of Durum wheat in Italy from which a multitude of pasta, breads, and bread products are made including Orecchiette. Visiting old town Bari we observed village ladies making this famous pasta which An American In Rome wrote about here.
Olio De Carlo
After sufficiently caffeinated with espresso, macchiato, and/or cappuccino… they so hit the spot several of us had more than one ? … we set off to discover Apulian olive oil.
Olio De Carlo sits in Bitritto, the village where it all started in 1598. Land acquisition for olive trees began in 1611. And following suit after years of processing olives off-site they built their first on-site oil mill in 1668. Experts?!? I think so!
A Country Farm
Today a total of 120 hectares with 25,000 olive trees are farmed organically at De Carlo. The two primary varieties, Ogliarola Barese and Coratina grow under the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) “Terra di Bari – Bitonto”, a now historic zone. This guarantees the oil is obtained from the processing of these two varieties only in Bari in Puglia.
Under the trees and in various spots on the property they cultivate vegetables- eggplant, artichokes, cherry tomatoes, Lampascioni, and turnips tops- for preservation with their organic olive oil. Note while they eat the turnips, the greens are prized in Puglia! Lampascioni are small onions similar in size to Cipollini but they’re the bulbs of a wild hyacinth flower.
Irrigation You Say?!?
The company has always been managed by the De Carlo family with Saverio De Carlo at the helm since 1980. After years of harvest, tasting and observation he installed irrigation systems in their groves believing trees need water in order to make the finest quality oil. They irrigate only when needed during summer months when temperatures frequently reach 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit). Quite the pioneers they were the first to do so!
At 76, Saverio is still quite active. His wife Grazia, daughter Marina and son Francesco are prominent in day-to-day activities and overall management of the company. It’s about tradition and innovation for this hard working family committed to producing the highest quality product possible.
Hot, Hot, Hot!
During our tour of the olive grove we passed a hot pepper garden where Saverio proudly picked several. After a few of us touched them Saverio cautioned us sharing the outside of this particular pepper is very hot and to wash our hands before touching anything. I processed a fair amount of hot peppers in the past but never felt the sting from the outside before! Ouuuch!
We started our visit smack in the middle of harvest. When I say in the middle, we literally were in the middle.
Harvest runs October through December. As olives are harvested, they immediately process them believing time is of the essence for top quality oil.
The Freshest Oil You’ve Tasted
Felice Garibaldi – A medium bodied oil with a buttery texture, green herbs and a light peppery finish. A perfect start for anyone new to olive oil. It’s rich yet has a soft bitter finish. While you could cook with it that’d be a waste. I’d rather pull up a chair, grab my favorite baguette and dip, dip, dip!
Tenuta Terre di Mossa – 100% Coratina this oil is a green tour-de-force, potent with spicy pepper and a bitter almond finish. Not an oil for cooking but a finishing oil that melts into dishes- think drizzle on, over or around for added flavor and dimension. In fact this oil, Torre di Mossa is the gold standard for intense fruity olive oil from Italy.
Our third oil was a surprise: a blend of both olives harvested and pressed that morning no more than two hours old! All oils are stone crushed and cold extracted. Talk about a rich and creamy mouth feel with a potent bitter finish! I was definitely wowed.
While their entire operation is organic, just two levels of oil and two vegetable products are certified. The cost of certifying and the required organic packaging seal is expensive thus they chose to certify only a few products for exportation markets.
A Little of This and That
Our visit concluded with a little of this and that- Marina shared a sampling of their tapenades and vegetable products served with locally made bread, Taralli and Buratta cheese. I think I’m in love with turnip tops and Burrata drizzled with olive oil!
The De Carlo family and their extra virgin olive oils will make you fall in love with Puglia.
You can find De Carlo oils in the US through Olive Oil Lovers and other stores. But I recommend making a trip to Bari to experience this in person! It’s a quick flight from Rome via AlItalia and RyanAir will start flying non-stop from Bordeaux to Bari April 2019.
A huge thank you to the De Carlo family, Radici del Sud and Nicola Campanile for their hospitality!