On Friday, Temple Rome’s Professor Aldo Patania led a mix of Temple and American University students around Umbria for a glance at the workmanship behind olive oil, wine, and ceramics. Even though we had to meet at 7:20 AM, the early wake-up was definitely worth the visit.
At the first stop, we visited the Monini olive oil factory. In Umbria 1920, Zefferino Monini used his instinct and business abilities to start a company specializing in foodstuffs. Eventually, Monini began producing only extra virgin olive oil. So successful, his oil expanded to the nearby regions of Lazio, Marche and Romagna. Ninety years later and Monini, still 100% family-owned, is considered Italy’s number one large-scale distributer of olive oil. One aspect of the visit I found fascinating is that none of the olive oil that Monini distributes is made in Umbria. In fact, the Umbrian factory is solely a bottling facility. The company imports olive oil from mills in southern Italy, Greece, Spain, and other countries by the Mediterranean Sea. Now, don’t get me wrong, seeing how the bottles are cleaned, filled, and packaged was cool, but I was disheartened to learn that Monini, labeled and known as an Italian olive oil, is not actually from Italy. When the company receives the oils, they blend the different types together according to their secret Monini recipes. Thus, instead of growing olives, crushing them, and manufacturing the oil, Monini is simply a vehicle for quality control. They even distribute olive oil for the Italian supermarket, Carrefour! In the end, while the visit was eye opening, I left a little dissatisfied in the olive oil industry. Recently though, I learned that many people are interested in enforcing rules on the olive oil industry so that olive oil from a certain area can only be labeled as from that area—similar to the way a wine can only be labeled by the region of origin. For example, similar to the fact that Burgundy wine is from the region of Burgundy (Bourgogne) in France and Chianti is from the region of Chianti in Tuscany, Italy, Italian olive oil might soon be made from olives grown in Italy. Personally, I think this is a great idea and will clear any misconceptions and also add value to small, family-run olive groves that actually do grow, crush, and mix their own oil.
The next stop on the trip was the Cantina Novelli winery. Immediately after exiting the bus, I walked to the entrance of the Novelli building, which faces a breath-taking view of the vineyard in the foreground and the Umbrian valley in the background. The wine specialist on the grounds led the group through the crushing, mixing, and fermentation facilities. Did you know that the color of the wine (red, white, or blush) is determined not by the type of grape, but actually by the amount of time the skin and flesh stay in contact during the winemaking process? Thus, if a grape is quickly pressed and the juices not permitted to contact the skin for very long, a white wine is produced. I had no idea!
At the actual wine tasting, we had the opportunity to sample Novelli’s Rosè de Noir (a sparkling rosè), Trebbiano Spoletino (a white), and Montefalco Sagrantino (a red). My favorite was the white. I am not going to try to describe the wine since every person’s experience is different, but just know I have never tasted a white wine so perfect…and I have had a lot of wine. Here are a few tips I cultivated from the wine tasting:
- When first poured the wine, inspect the color of the wine by tilting the glass at a 45-degree angle and examining the liquid against a white background.
- Smell the wine. Swirl. Then smell again. I was amazed at how differently the wine smells after the swirl.
- Take a sip, making sure the liquid coats every centimeter of one’s tongue to receive the full experience of the wine. Voila! You are now a wine-tasting expert!
Officially, the tour had one last stop at a ceramics factory in Deruta, but my friend from Duke, Marie, had joined Katie and I on the trip and invited us to stay at her mom’s villa in Umbria. I was not about to say no to a relaxing weekend in the beautiful Italian countryside, so the three of us skipped the ceramics tour to leave for the villa. On the way, we stopped at Casa del Cioccolato Perugina (the chocolate factory in Perugina). Not a bad trade-off.