The wisdom of a wild land: Basilicata

By Fausto Borella

Magna Graecia is not just Calabria and Sicily because the ancient Greeks colonized most all of southern Italy, including the region of Basilicata, also known as Lucania, a wild and rugged land that has yet to be fully explored.

Cultivating olives has been an historic tradition in this small region and olives have had major influence on the local cuisine, for tourism and the economy in general. Then as now, olives are grown from Vulture to Metaponto, areas Achaean Greeks colonized starting in the VII century BC. Although most of the production is for regional consumption, olive oil from Lucania has some truly unique characteristics and can achieve the utmost quality thanks to the pebbly and mineral soil. There are basically three olive-growing areas: Vulture, Bassa Val d’Agri and Bassa Collina Materana. The most important centers in Vulture are Melfi, Rionero in Vulture, Barile, Rapolla, Acerenza, Lavello and Venosa. The most common type of olive grown there is Ogliarola, that also goes by the names Rapollese and Nostrale. Here the soil has volcanic origin.
In Bassa Collina Materana the best oils come from Ferrandina, Grassano, Grottole, Salandra, Montescaglioso and Bernalda. In this zone over 80% of the cultivated land is used for olives. The primary variety is Maiatica di Ferrandina which produces both top quality oil as well as for everyday use.
The towns of Aliano, S. Arcangelo, Roccanova and Missanello in the Bassa Val d’Agri produce lovely olives, mostly of the Maiatica type. Over 300 modern oil mills are almost constantly in operation ensuring maximum yield and, above all, the utmost quality.
Among all the serious, dedicated farmers who scrupulously produce oil there is one I would like to single out, a reserved and modest man who has an incredible knowledge of what his land can produce: Giovanni Marvulli. When his father Vincenzo, in 1960, invested in some rocky hectares of land near Matera everyone though he was crazy to buy what amounted to fields of rocks. But thanks to his father’s intuition, Giovanni now has over 3,000 trees none of which had to be planted by mechanical means.
These olives, of the Ogliarola del Bradano variety, produce an oil that has a shiny, golden color with green nuances. The aroma is pure and fragrant with scents of thistle and eggplant. The taste is fresh, never sticky nor greasy, with flavors of medicinal herbs and a very intriguing, spicy finish. This is an oil that is great already in the morning on toasted bread, thanks to its almost tannic sensation, and is perfect when used in those typical dishes made with Senatore Cappelli durum wheat pasta that the wise Giovanni has himself created.

Olio Extravergine di Oliva Biologico Cenzino (50cl): 7 euros
(Extra Virgin Organic Cenziono Olive Oil)