On the Search for Sicilian Olive Oil

During her time in Sicily, Carine was on the hunt for first-rate local produce, but found it was more difficult than she had initially suspected. With little to no Italian, and their Air BnB host being their only point of contact, Carine and her family set out to forage for themselves and were lucky enough to come across Oro del Castello.

After hopelessly scouring the supermarket shelves for locally-produced olive oil, Carine – with husband and daughter in tow – decided to try driving through the area their host had vaguely designated as “the place where they make olive oil”. Miraculously, she spotted a small sign out of the corner of her eye and, after following it, they found themselves at a tiny olive oil farm, in the middle of nowhere in rural Sicily.

The first people they saw when they arrived were a couple who – thankfully – spoke both English and Italian, and who kindly agreed to play translator for the afternoon. They lived a few towns over, and came to the farm a couple of times a year to stock up on olive oil, saying it was such good quality that it is hard to find anything equally good closer to home. A strong start!

The farm is owned – and exclusively run – Antonino Cannata and his wife, a couple in their 80s. Their award-winning olive oil is the result of a lifetime of passion and hard work – a fine legacy if only it could be kept up. The couple has no children, and in Sicily times are hard for the independent local producer, with the government pushing for imported olive oil to take its place on the supermarket shelves. “In the supermarket, they had olive oil coming from everywhere in Italy, but not from Sicily, and they were brands you can buy here, like Bertolli!”

Carine was shocked, but the couple told her it had been like this for some time. “He mentioned that they put signs up so many times to show where to find them and the sign would always be removed.” Sicilian olive oil may be excellent quality, but it is expensive in a time where Sicilian unemployment is skyrocketing, and North African olive oil is cheaper than ever.

Agriculture has been the cornerstone of Sicily’s economy for centuries, but nowadays young people are turning away from this unglamorous way of life, and farms such as this are becoming increasingly rare. This, for Carine, is one of the reasons why it is so important to support local producers while you are travelling, rather than rely upon what is familiar and easy to come by.

"Although their oil is a bit expensive, we bought lots! It’s definitely a good oil and was still a really good price for what we got - about 8 euros for a bottle”. The opportunity to see the cellars where the oil is made, to taste it fresh out of the press, and to learn about the story behind it was invaluable, she continues. “They are proud of their product, they know what they’re doing, and they are hard workers, you can tell. It’s not an easy task, especially for people of their age. But they enjoy what they do, they’re very humble, and they were so welcoming. I couldn’t believe actually that we were so lucky to find a place like that.

The oil from Oro del Castello is extra virgin certified, the olives grown right there and pressed within 24 hours of picking. And whatever the effect of the government crackdown, their oil has received considerable acclaim over the years. Fancy supporting this dying industry and trying it for yourself? Well Oro del Castello say they will ship internationally, so head to their website to learn more.

Carine Ottou