In Search of Umbrian Virgins

July 22, 2014 / Food & Wine

In Search of a Virgin in an Olive Grove | ©Tom Palladio ImagesOn a recent journey around central Italy as a guest journalist, I donned a Lt. Colombo trench coat and went in search of virgins. EXTRA virgins, to be exact.

In Search of a Virgin in an Olive Grove | ©Tom Palladio ImagesThe tour bus dropped me off alongside the groves of the Frantoio Oleario Ragani (Ragani Olive Mill) that blanket the slopes of Mount Subasio between Assisi and Spello in the Umbria region of central Italy. Here, I’d find out firsthand what the “virgin” is in the prima spremitura a freddo (cold pressed) extra virgin olive oil.

In Search of a Virgin in an Olive Grove | ©Tom Palladio ImagesI get the answer straight from the “olive man” himself, Emanuele Ragani, a third generation grove-and-press specialist who manages all stages of the family business, from the tree to the table.

In Search of a Virgin in an Olive Grove | ©Tom Palladio Images
With an outstretched open hand, Emanuele displays the three varietals of olives that go into Ragani’s
Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin, or DOP) oil: Moraiolo, Leccino e Frantoiano.

In Search of a Virgin in an Olive Grove | ©Tom Palladio ImagesThe olives are all grown and handpicked right here on the farm and at nearby affiliated groves, then processed inside the mill adjacent to all those crooked trees.

In Search of a Virgin in an Olive Grove | ©Tom Palladio Images
The process seems pretty simple to this novice, but there’s a lot of love and expertise that goes into the Ragani brand. As Emanuele explained, “It’s passion and the family reputation that brings the end product to market.”

In Search of a Virgin in an Olive Grove | ©Tom Palladio ImagesThere’s the care of the over 5,000 olive trees, the harvesting by hand of the fruit, the separation and selection of only the very best from the varietals, the cleaning of the stock, the crushing (only once for the cold method), the pressing, removal of the pulp and pits, filtration, storage, bottling, labeling and shipping.

In Search of a Virgin in an Olive Grove | ©Tom Palladio Images

I’ll be sure and remember all of that hard work the next time I reach for a dark green bottle of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil.

In Search of a Virgin in an Olive Grove | ©Tom Palladio ImagesAlthough the demonstration was very informative, the highlight of the visit to the frantoio was the sampling of this mouthwatering cornerstone of la cucina italiana. Never did a slice of rustic bread, slightly toasted over a wood-burning hearth, drizzled with the greenest-of-green oil and topped with a dash of sea salt, taste sooo good.

In Search of Virgins | ©Tom Palladio Images  In Search of Virgins | ©Tom Palladio Images

To say the least, those bruschette went mighty fast; quicker than you can say prima spremitura a freddo.

Note: Tom was part of an international media group invited along to sample a portion of Insight Vacations’ Country Roads of Italy journey. For more info on Insight, click HERE.

by Tom Weber

Tom is a veteran print-broadcast journalist who resides in the Colli Euganei (Euganean Hills) in the province of Padova in the Veneto region of northestern Italy. He hosts the eclectic travel/foodie/photography blog The Palladian, is a regular contributor to Los Angeles-based, and is a member of the International Travel Writers Alliance. Feel free to follow Tom as he “meanders along the cobblestone to somewhere.”

19 Responses to “In Search of Umbrian Virgins”

  1. Linda Boccia

    I work for an Italian grape producing winery that also has an olive press store within and once of year we have our community olive pressing. It is in October and people bring their olives in buckets, which are weighed and then in about 2 weeks when all have been harvested and pressed those who brought olives in for pressing can claim their gallons of high quality olive oil. However, since it is a community of people bringing in their olives for pressing none will be just from one grower’s trees. the thing that they watch for it a dimpling, which means a specific insect has been at work and the dimpling causes the olive oil to become bitter. So those who bring olives with substantial dimpling are declined.

  2. We’ll written, felt as if I were there with you, my witty friend!

  3. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    as with all the oils from Italy, they are superb….your search was a worthy and successful one…. however in your quest,do not overlook Puglian Oil, you will be equally delighted….

    • Giuseppe — I’m well aware of Pugliese oil, some of the best. Thanks for the reply. Much appreciated.

  4. La prossima volta includi anche la Calabria, la Piana. Comunque, grazie dell’articolo.
    Buon lavoro, e buone scoperte utilissime per noi.Ciao

  5. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    If we go to Calabria we also get the finest salsicci..

  6. Mary Watson

    I initially checked out your article because I was interested in the “virgin” title. I am trying to find historical sources covering women in Venice 1000 to 1500 and thought there might some clues there. But as a former olive tree grower (only three), and definitely an olive and olive oil consumer, I found the story fascinating. Thanks for the background — no wonder the taste of all Italian foods is always so distinctive and wonderful — can’t cook without them. Let me know if you have any references on women in early Venice! Thanks, Mary

    • Hi Mary — Thanks for your comments. In your search about women of Venice, here’s one noteworthy Venetian: Elena Cornaro Piscopia, a Venetian mathematician and the first woman in the world to be officially awarded a university degree. She graduated from the University of Padua in 1678.

  7. Malinda

    The article as well as the replies are making me hungry!!!!!
    I am lucky to have ‘adopted’ an olive tree from ‘Nudo’ and have been receiving g lots of fantastic oil- including one called Piantone di Mogliano. Yummmmmy ! This new (to me) flavor, has gotten me very interested in olive oil making.
    It’s so fun to learn of new things in life to love. So, thank you again for this article and thank you Italian Notebook.

  8. Do you know about Sala in Monferrato? It was recently added to the “Most Beautiful Italian Villages” register. I have a friend who is selling her house there. 500 residents who grow their produce and wine.

  9. Marianna Raccuglia

    Mr. Weber – Clever headline! It certainly got my attention. I enjoyed reading this as I love to visit olive farms when I visit the Umbrian area and taste the fresh squeezed oil (with a slurp). Thank you

  10. David Barneby

    ” In Search Of Umbrian Virgins ” !

    Are there any , where should one look ?


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