Katia Caracciolo never thought she would be the one to restore her family’s Italian olive grove. She had moved to Milan to pursue a career in PR, but every time she visited home, she kept wondering to herself, why the family was not taking advantage of their land. Oil production had been a family tradition for generations, but it became dormant with her parents.
Together with her younger brother Carlo (26), Katia (29) decided she would not only bring olive farming back to the land, but would also turn those olives into the finest oil the family had seen. Thus, Tenuta Lama dei Fichi was born and the desire to return to something real and essential to her heritage consumed her world.
We caught up with Katia in Milan, Italy to learn more about her story.
What were you doing prior to starting an Olive Oil company?
One year ago we started attending a course on testing olive oil at the University of Agraria in Bari to understand what real extra virgin olive oil tasted like and how you can assess its quality and how to produce a quality extra virgin olive oil. To be classified as extra virgin, it must have certain chemical characteristics such as relatively low acidity and oxidation state parameters, as defined by the European Union.
Next, we worked collaboratively and brainstormed to how to grow and develop this consolidated brand image. From the design of the logo to the packaging of the three collections, the labels highlight our passion and skills that express with few elements the product’s strength and elegance.
What motivated you to turn your family’s olive grove into a functioning producer of olive oil?
Producing extra virgin olive oil is part of our history and what we are: it’s a smell of antiquity and is an act of love for our land and our family. It’s a “hug”, like that of the olive trees, it is sharing, being present and trusting in the future. It is the love for the land made of genuine traditions, quality and respect.
Explain your process of making extra virgin olive oil? Is there anything you do differently than your competitors? How it may be a quality extra virgin olive oil.
High quality extra virgin olive oil is made from traditional cultivars (type of olives) and a lot of passion. The quality of an oil is sensory, nutritional and healthy. The extra virgin olive oil has to have less than 0.8% of acidity by law and no defects, but it is important to know that you cannot assess an olive oil’s acidity with your mouth. It can only be measured in a laboratory.
Assuming that the season gave us healthy olives, the harvest is one of the first and most important moments. Green olives and black olives don’t exist: all olives are green at the beginning and as they ripen they all become black. The right harvesting moment is when they are still green and just beginning to turn black, because they contain the maximum amount of polyphenols.
These substances, which are compounds not found in any other vegetable oil consumed by humans, have a deep connection to the health of consumers as they can have positive effects in reducing the onset of certain diseases. The cold milling method of processing the olives prevents the cultivar’s polyphenolic and vitamin fractions from degrading, a natural health tool: the polyphenols of the extra virgin olive oil have antioxidant effects.
The extraction need to be done immediately after the harvest of the olives and the temperature has to remain between 21° and 23° C to keep their flavor and aroma intact. Extra virgin olive oil must have a scent of fruit; the ‘good’ olive oil must be spicy, because the antioxidants are spicy and bitter. If you bite a raw olive you will taste the bitterness.
Describe some of the challenges and rewards of building this company.
The real challenge now is to push the knowledge of quality extra virgin olive oil, not only in Italy but also throughout the rest of the world. Genuineness doesn’t mean quality: in a lot of case genuine farmer oils are very poor quality and they are all oils with defects like rancid, winey, muddy sediment so they are not extra virgin olive oil.
The best reward for us is to continue and expand the family business that has been rooted in five generations. One of our target goals is to continue distributing our olive oil in all the best restaurants so that consumers can really understand the passion, the love and quality of our product.
Your product is now being used in restaurants by world-renowned chefs. What makes your olive oil different from other producers in Italy?
The composition of the soil is particularly loamy and calcareous; it provides a high content of mineral salts, which ensures a unique and irreproducible sensory perception of our oil.
Productive lands of olives “Coratina”, that is the “queen” in nature for number of polyphenols, in the northern areas of Bari, a zone that is devoted for excellence to the cultivation of olive trees, obtained solely from ultra-secular trees, grown personally by our family, gathered by hand and cold-pressed.
So extra virgin olive oil Tenuta Lama dei Fichi can be considered a unique product because it is made with the right technology, starting from a suitable cultivar and has organoleptic characteristics which make it unique and of great value.
What are your plans for expansion in 2017?
Our target for the next year is based on our ability to expand our production to cover more of the market outside of Italy. We already have a strong partnership in Holland and Germany; our focus, in the first quarter of 2017, is to expand our brand in the rest of Europe and Japan.
Regarding the production our main goal will be planting a new type of cultivar to develop a new product line in 2018.
To learn more about Katia Caracciolo or buy Tenuta Lama Dei Fichi visit her official website and online shop.