Want a classic Italian experience? Visit my favorite olive oil farm: Bonamini frantoio, just outside Verona.
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Every great Italian dish has olive oil in it. From sauces and soups to drizzling on top of steaks or salads, it touches almost every plate in Italian homes. So when we moved to Italy, I knew I wanted to see the process for myself!
Frantoio is the italian word for an olive press – the place that olive oil gets made! They’re found throughout Italy and almost always grow their own olives as well as producing the oil, much like a vineyard.
I initially discovered Bonamini frantoio through a friend who was stocking up before moving back to the States. Bonamini has been producing their olive oil since 1965, first for their own use and a bit of local sales. It’s very much a multigenerational operation: the grandparents still live above the shop!
Bonamini hits that sweet spot of being big enough to ship internationally but small enough to have the family running the daily operations. The third generation offer tours and tastings at their frantoio, as well as offering plenty of delicious options to purchase.
I visited twice in 2020! First with a friend in the summer to get the whole experience, and then again during the harvest. I wanted to see everything in process and get some fresh, unfiltered olive oil.
Making Olive Oil
While visit Banomini, we got to see both the modern and old-school process of making olive oil.
To create olive oil, olives are cleaned, separated from extra twigs and leaves, and then crushed whole to make a paste. This paste is then pressed to extract the liquids, both oil and water A centrifuge separates the two, leaving you with pure extra virgin olive oil.
The modern equipment used for all this reminds me a lot of the process of making wine. It’s not exactly the same, but you get the idea.
Before modern technology, the process was remarkably similar but with human or horse powering the process. It’s been done this way for centuries, and the Bonamini family used these tools up until 2000! Talk about commitment to craft.
The harvest and pressing happen in late fall, usually November. If you can visit then, do it! You can see the entire process in action. They run their presses 24 hours a day, allowing neighboring farms to rent time on their equipment to press their own olives. These other family farms are producing for their own table over the year, not selling.
Tasting Olive Oil
I’ve always liked using olive oil in cooking, so I thought I had a good grasp of what olive oil tastes like. But there’s no substitute for doing a proper olive oil tasting!
After our tour of the process, Rebecca led us in a tasting of a few of their oils and taught us a ton about choosing, using, and pairing olive oil!
While Italians love to eat olive oil on a bit of bread, to get a true taste of the oil you should try it straight. When do you do it, there’s a slight peppery taste in the back of your throat – how had I never noticed this before?
Like wine, an olive oil’s flavor depends on both the types of olives that went into it and the region it comes from. Oils from Tuscany tend to be more peppery and a bit stronger in flavor, while oils from the north of Italy are more delicate and subtle.
Italians use oil in everything – cooking, baking, finishing a dish, and even on their skin in winter! So having different types for different uses makes sense. I loved getting to try each variety and talk about what it would go best with – fish or meat, salad or hearty roast vegetables, or for baking cakes!
Shopping for Olive Oil
Even if you can’t make it to Italy in person for olive oil, here are a few things I learned from visiting Bonamini about choosing the right olive oil.
Always choose extra virgin olive oil. I have yet to even see oil that’s not extra virgin available in Italy – Italians won’t touch the stuff. Extra virgin olive oil means it’s made with cold-pressed olives (this preserves the flavor) and no chemicals or additives. This should be your baseline quality.
Packaging matters. Plastic is bad for olive oil, so opt for glass or metal instead. If it’s a glass container, it should be a color, not clear. Sunlight is bad for olive oil, so a clear glass container isn’t ideal.
A note though: a few of Bonamini products come in clear glass – that’s because they’re best used quickly anyway, so for that small of an amount the quality won’t be affected. Either way, store it in a cabinet away from constant light.
If you buy a massive jug (what I now do) and pour it in a smaller container for daily use, pick one that has a lid. Air causes the olive oil’s flavor to change faster, so those open nozzles aren’t the best.
You can order online from Bonamini to ship globally. I also like that with the nicer quality oils, they include notes of what olives went into each and what it pairs best with!
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