One of the most interesting adventures in Italy in November was the visit to Renzo Baldaccini’s olive oil “farm” – Villa Baldacinni – complete with miniature horses, Golden Retrievers, and his very own chapel on the property. With over 900 olive trees, some over 400 years old, the entire experience was fascinating as well as totally educational on the “olives become olive oil ” process.
As we pulled through the gated entrance in Elisa’s taxi, we were immediately greeted by Renzo’s two dog in a way that made us feel entirely welcomed!
Renzo has a beautiful estate on top of the world in the hills of Lucca, Italy. Surrounded by other olive farms and vineyards, as well as the original road leading to Villa Mansi, his property dates back to the 1700’s… it is truly a sight to behold.
Through an allee of trees, you see a pool with cabana on your right, and the house (which is the former barn) straight ahead – as well as the old chapel that served the family and area residents many years ago. Renzo bought the property and added almost 500 trees to the existing 450 ancient olive trees. He invited us to tour the property, meet the miniature horses (which provide the “fertilizer” for the trees…!), as he explained the process.
The harvest begins by placing 6 to 7 rows of nets about 50 meters long under the trees after the sun has dried any dew that might be on the trees (you don’t want the olives to be wet as they might mildew), and the olives are handpicked to fall to the nets on the ground. Each row of trees is harvested as the olives ripen, and only the amount that can be taken to the frantoio (“olive press”) that day are harvested. None of the olives are allowed to lay on the nets overnight, as the batch of oil would not be “pure” since the harvest would contain different pick times and that just is not acceptable to Renzo.
Once the olives are taken to the frantoio for pressing, the next rows of trees are harvested until all of the olives have been picked. That freshly pressed batch of olive oil is returned to Renzo, who has a pristine storage facility near the old chapel, and the oil is then placed in stainless steel vats for storage, prior to be bottled right there in that very room.
Here comes the exciting part – we were invited by Renzo to taste the oil that had been pressed and returned to him THAT DAY (can we get any fresher here, people???!!!). After explaining the proper way to warm the oil in a small container in our hand, we then “slurped” the fresh oil throughout our mouths to cover our taste buds. Well, let me just tell you this….our taste buds had never experienced anything like this in their entire taste buds lives! At first, all you got was the viscosity of the oil in your mouth, THEN the piquant taste hit the back of your throat, and you knew this was something very special….
Needless to say, we asked to purchase several bottles – thinking Renzo would simply hand over the bottles from the ones lined up so neatly on the counter. Instead, Renzo took the empty bottles, filled them from the tank from which we had just tasted the oil, placed the stopper in the bottle, and proceeded to label the bottles. Then, he took the foil top and “shrink wrapped” it around the top of the stopper. Watching in amazement, we could not WAIT to get those precious bottles back to the US to savor our moments spent on the farm with Renzo.
One thing is for sure – shopping at the grocery store here at home, rest assured we have NO CLUE who our olive oil maker might be…but in Italy, high in the hills above Lucca, you KNOW the trees, the horses, the dogs, and the owner who so lovingly shares his passion for olive oil. Renzo, all we can say is “Bravo!” to you and grazie mille for the magical time we spent with you at your farm.