A 2000 year old olive tree in the Sabina Valley outside Rome
By Riccardo Longo
• 800 B.C. Sabina olive oil production has begun
• 19 B.C. Roman poet Virgil features Sabina olive oil in his epic The Aeneid
• 198 A.D. “The Olive Oil of Sabina is the Best in the world” – Claudio Galeno (Philosopher & physician who was one of the first to document the health benefits of E.V.O.O.)
• 1996 A.D. Sabina olive oil becomes the first ever Italian olive oil to receive DOP status
THE GRANDEUR OF “ROME”
Before the rise of the Roman Empire there was an Italic tribe called the Sabines who date back to the 9th century B.C. within the modern-day Lazio region. To the Sabines, power and longevity was defined by their beautiful fertile land featuring its characteristic olive trees. This land was called Sabina and its fruits brought the tribe centuries of prosperity. The Sabina civilization is older than the city of Rome and their land now has close to 3,000 years of documented olive oil production. As an example of the territory’s endurance, the olive tree I am standing in front of in the photo is over 2000 years old and is situated in a Sabina olive grove full of ancient olive trees that still bear fruit today.
RICH TERROIR CREATES RICH OLIVE OIL
The Sabina territory runs from Rome to the Monti Sabini branch of the Apennines in the Rieti sub-region of Lazio (near Abruzzo & Umbria). The Sabines realized that this terroir was perfect for olives. It features a mild Mediterranean climate with millions of olive trees predominantly on hills with southern exposure protecting cultivation from cool northerly winds, while embracing the warm sun-kissed winds of the south. Concurrently, Roman sunshine gifts beautiful ripeness. The soil of sand, clay and limestone combined with little rain in the summer, but plenty of water from natural sources such as the Tiber River, creates great structure in the fruit. This mosaic of ideal climatic & agricultural conditions lays the foundation for an expressive and complex olive oil.
THE FALL & LEGACY OF THE SABINES
After centuries of peaceful & prosperous living in their territory a new neighbor emerged with the forming of the Roman Republic in 509 B.C. After losing the area of the city of Rome, the resilient Sabines would fight the Romans for centuries until finally succumbing to the growing empire in 290 B.C. after a valiant defense of their land. Along with their territory, the Sabine culture, including their native Osco language, were also absorbed into the empire after over 500 years of living free. The legacy that the Sabines left the world is the olive grove rich territory which defined their people & traditions. It is arguably the most historic olive oil in human history. This is due to how long it has been continually produced, the fact that it was the olive oil of the Roman empire and because of its long-standing reputation of excellence through millennia. The Romans would eventually leverage olive oil as a foundation for their empire with uses ranging from fuel, lamp oil, solvent for perfumes, skin lotion, detergent, religious ointment, fabric softener, medicine & cuisine.
THE SABINA IN MORE RECENT HISTORY:
The landscape and positioning of the Sabina olive groves has not changed for over 2000 years. The territory is a magical and peaceful haven where one can escape the chaos of Rome for the tranquility of a picturesque & olive grove-rich countryside. When one drives through this region and admires this olive-clad forested landscape, with its hilltop castles, and medieval villages, its more recent history comes into focus. The beautiful medieval castles and towns were developed to protect the inhabitants of the territory. These villages were ruled by feudal lords who could offer military defense. The result was that
the populace moved out of the valley and into these hilltop towns leaving the area below the villages as a fertile land for the cultivation of olives & other fruits. Flash forward to the 1800s and not much had changed in the territory, as Italy began its transition from city-states to a nation. The locals would work the fields during the day and then as the sun set would make their way back to the walled hilltop villages. Change did begin to happen throughout the 1900s as these villages were subject to depopulation as economic realities of industrialization set in. As better work opportunities in Rome presented themselves the locals began to move out. Fortunately, as the 20th century closed a new generation began to understand the great asset that previous generations had abandoned. The tipping point came when Sabina was granted the first ever olive oil D.O.P. in Italian history in 1996, which ensured the blend is made with historic olives of the territory following a strict discipline & consortium rules to ensure consistency, traditional flavor profile & the highest quality.
ENJOYING SABINA DOP TODAY
The rich & balanced flavor of Sabina olive oil is beloved because it hits the sweet spot between fruity, bitter & pungent. Your senses will indulge in notes of ripe orchard fruit, wildflowers, walnut husk, almond, oregano & tarragon, balanced with a black pepper finish. Its balanced nature allows it to be versatile in food pairing. It is fantastic on salads and drizzled on meats and fish. It also makes for an amazing spaghetti aglio e olio. That being said, It may be at its best simply drizzled on a piece of fire-grilled casereccio bread. Rub some garlic on the grilled bread, sprinkle a few grains of coarse Mediterranean sea salt, pair with your favorite salumi, formaggi & vino and you will be enjoying the “Dolce Vita” as it was in Sabine & Ancient Roman times, and as it still is today. Buon Appetito!