As always in Italy, relationships, not email lists, form theÂ connections between businesses, especially among small artisanalÂ producers.Â Â We visited Marta Lisi’s family olive tree farm onÂ Saturday, and two days later she introduced us to her good friendÂ Silvia Cavalli (pictured on the right).Â They met as partÂ of their involvement with a professional olive growers association andÂ are now fast friends, not competitors.
Silvia’s story sounds familiar to Americans; born into a family ofÂ prestigious lawyers, she learned the trade, but left after a few yearsÂ to follow her passion to her grandfather’s farm.Â (Azienda AgricolaÂ Silvia Cavalli iContrada Calcara – 75016 Pomarico email: email@example.comÂ )Â She is hard at work building a new facility not only for storingÂ and bottling the oil, but also for producing cheese in the spring.Â WeÂ took a quick tour and it became immediately clear that this was noÂ backwoods operation.Â For starters, she is installing solar panelsÂ that will generate energy not only for her farm but enough to sell toÂ the local power grid.Â Her farm rests high on the hillside inÂ Basilicata with no water, but Silvia is using her solar energy to pumpÂ water up from the river in the valley below into two man-made lakesÂ that step up the hillside to provide a water source.
Her olive trees are interesting in themselves.Â As part of anÂ experiment, her grandfather grafted three types of olive branches ontoÂ the root stock:Â coratino, leccino, and frantoio.Â
Today,Â naturalÂ selection seems to be at work as one or another of the species hasÂ taken over the tree, but the resulting oil we tasted—although lastÂ year’s harvest—was robust, strong, and good, with the sharp green ofÂ the local coratino olive mellowed somewhat by the other two types.
Silvia, her mother, and a childhood friend fixed us lunch after theÂ tour.Â We sat in the dining room where the family crest carved inÂ relief on the stone chimney featured a horse (playing on the familyÂ name which means horse in Italian), and was dated 1865, a year inÂ which my Texan ancestors were all busy dealing with our Civil War inÂ one way or another.
We loved the simple, yet elegant, tasty meal.Â I loved my first go atÂ a raw fennel bulb sliced thin, and each course that we tried showcasedÂ a different nuance of the flavor of the Cavalli oil.Â One of theÂ recipes I will definitely be making at home:Â it is a fava bean pasteÂ made by soaking beans overnight, then boiling them for an hour or soÂ in just enough water to cook the beans until they soften andÂ disintegrate,Â I would have cooked the beans in tons of water andÂ stock, then drained and mashed them, but it makes so much sense toÂ cook them down in their own juice, intensifying that full bean taste.Â Â A drizzle of Silvia’s oil, some sea salt, maybe a little bread andÂ tomatoes, andÂ you’re done – in a good way.
We finished the meal with local fried donuts called Pettole, dark andÂ rich with fairy-like powdered sugar sprinkled on top.Â As we droveÂ away, I was glad to have been with this circle of friends,Â this mixÂ of olives grafted together, this intermingling of lives past, present,Â and future.