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Seasons change, but the olives grown on this farm seem almost timeless

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Pierluigi Pace and his wife Gianna sort the olives by hand, removing as many of the leaves as possible before the crop reaches the mill.

LORETO APRUTINO, Abruzzo – I met Pierluigi Pace and his wife Gianna of Olio Pretole Olive Grove ushering in the 2023 New Year in my grandparents’ village of Loreto Aprutino. They were among the guests invited to a sit-down dinner celebration ending with an explosion of fireworks from surrounding mountain towns seen from the balcony of the home of my grandmother’s niece Antonietta Buffetto (who was once Miss Loreto 1936) located in this historic medieval hilltop village in Abruzzo.

I am honored to write about Pierluigi Pace through the 2023 harvest season. I have learned so much from this distinguished gentleman farmer, one of the region’s national and international  award-winning premiere olive growers, experts, innovators and one of the founders of the Olive Growers Mill Cooperative Association of Loreto with 205 members combining centuries of learning with modern technology and transport.

Pierluigi knows from years of experience which of his trees produce specific types of olives and olive oil.

Known throughout Italy for the rare olives grown only in this region, Olio Pretole is one of three farms with fields of these rare olive trees. His farmland dates back to Roman times. Remnants of earthen houses centuries old have been unearthed on neighboring fields.

Among 500 varieties of olives worldwide and over 30 varieties of olives in Abruzzo, Pierluigi’s grove is located within the “golden triangle of oil” where there is a special variety of only three olives farmed among a  group of growers from Pianella, Loreto Aprutino and Moscufo.

With a personal goal of 24 hours from harvest to milling, Pierluigi can identify which olive trees are taken to the mills and what product bottles are associated with that batch delivered to his warehouse. His olive oil has been shipping worldwide since expanding his production in 1987.

His knowledge fascinated me. I mistakenly thought I understood the “olive oil from Italy’’ my uncle would “share” with my mother sparingly and also the supermarket brands. With all due respect to the brands, I didn’t. They are olive oil, yes, but all contain a blend of olives from many regional groves including Greece, Spain and Tunisia shipped days for milling.

In a typical harvest, Pierluigi’s trees produce more than 30,000 pounds of olives.

The Olio Pretole Tasting Room is nestled among the historic regale district.  I asked for a countryside visit to the farm during the sleeping month of winter, February 2023. So began my adventure with driver, interpreter, Loreto Aprutino-born cousin Simona Nobilio and I driving vertically downhill dirt paths to the valley surrounded by fields and estates of olive trees farmed since Roman times.

Pierluigi prefers to limit his grass cutting to three or four times a year working with a high cut and utilizing the techniques that countrymen have used for centuries combined with modern technology.

Olive trees are ancient. Pierluigi’s trees are old, some over 400. His theory, organic in nature, takes the birds, insects, hawks, snakes, hedgehogs, foxes and nature into consideration.

A green net is spread under the trees before a powerful machine comes along and shakes the tree trunk, sending the olives to the ground.

In Abruzzo there are no “water”machines, only tractors. In 2023 the European Union started certifying the land was not treated with chemicals. However, these countrymen have never treated the trees, olives or grounds with chemicals. Old limbs that break off, or old tree roots, are left where they drop because they are natural nourishment for the soil.

Through the winter, November 2022 to March 2023, the olive trees sleep. In March and April the branches get cut and the limbs are dropped nearby. Everything is recycled by mother nature. On this farm, trees 500 years old have rows of their offspring. The trees need the winter cold, even the snow, little as it is, when it lands on the trees, the snow helps expand the branches making for more and better fruit. Then balanced with the summer heat to be strong tree trunks and branches. This dance among the olive trees every year determines the size of the olives, large or small.

In April and May, my visit includes the growth of the precious fruit.  An olive is a fruit. The beautiful white buds that sprout in April then become tiny olives in May.  In the hot summer months, grass is cut for fear of fires.  Mother nature has to be respected. There are no fire houses nearby. And the grounds become shaded animal refuges. Spring brings babies from farm animals and wild hedgehogs. August through September the roots for trimming start to be identified.

My final visit during the fall harvest October 2023 was amazing.  Walking through the fields during harvesting, the excitement and sexiness of what the movies are made of, think “Under the Tuscan Sun,” among hundreds of olive trees with massive centuries-old trunks, finding random trees of pomegranates from handsome farm hands. Processing and milling is again done with 100 percent recycling of all waste and even selling back energy during the Cooperative’s off months.

Pierluigi and Gianna have become dear friends this past year during my Adventures in Abruzzo and perhaps you can add their Olive Oil Tasting Room to your travel itinerary. Now I know why it’s called “Liquid Gold.”

To see an expanded photo gallery and video shot at Olio Pretole Olive Grove, visit www.italianamericanherald.com

Barbara Ann Zippi

Associate Publisher

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