Learning The Secrets of Olive Oil With Benedetta Cattuzzo

GeneratorHostels_Rome_OliveOil

She’s one of the many interesting “People of Generator" we’ve been meeting.

When Benedetta Cattuzzo was growing up on her father’s farm in Tuscany she would often have a simple dinner of bread and olive oil. In somewhere like Britain – where the Parallel team is based – the idea of bread and oil for dinner sounds like a punishment from a Roald Dahl novel. But in Italy, with its rich traditions and vibrant agriculture, it’s a lovely treat full of complex flavours and health benefits. The olive oil produced on the farm was “balanced, slightly bitter and very green”. Like all olive oils, its taste was determined by the soil and environment in which the olive trees were grown. These are just a few of the things we learnt talking to Benedetta – a veritable olive oil expert.



 

We caught up with Benedetta, who’s in charge of food & beverage at Generator Rome, to pick her brain about olive oil life hacks, the things to look out for when buying your oil, and her favourite restaurants in Rome.

Hi Benedetta. Tell us about yourself.
Hi! I'm the restaurant manager at Generator Rome. I was born in Tuscany and live in Rome. I grew up in the Tuscan countryside because my dad owned a farm. So I spent my childhood between him and my mum, a French translator. So I have this mixture of a French passion for wine and an Italian love for olive oil.

When I was at university I worked at a farm where they produced olives and olive oil. So I got involved in the process – growing, picking, milling and, at the end, tasting!

My biggest passion has always been the kitchen and finding great matches for food with wine and spirits. That’s why I spent a big part of my life as a bartender and as a hotel manager later one.

What was life like working on the olive oil farm?
For me it was quite hard because we used to go clubbing almost every night. But it’s a really fascinating world! Especially during the picking period, where a lot of people came to pick olives to get the oil for free. The milling process is interesting too.

"When you're buying olive oil you want a dark colour, the expiry date to be no more than 18 months, and some descriptions of the olive trees used on the back."

I’ve seen both small artisanal and large mechanised farms, but nowadays all the big mills are mechanised; they need to work very hard because olives have to be pressed within 24 hours of being picked.

The amount of types of olive oil in British supermarkets has grown over the last few years. What’s your advice for buying the best one?
I would say it can’t be cheap – not less than £6 for 500ml! You want a dark colour; you want the expiry date to be no more than 18 months; and some descriptions of the olive trees used on the back.

We’ve heard that British supermarkets dye the colour of some olive oils to make them appear darker. Have you heard about these kind of dishonest practices within the industry?
Yes unfortunately. It happens in Italy too. You hear of factories grinding the olive pits and leaves to make the oil appear darker!

What’s your favourite regional Italian olive oil and why?
That’s easy for me: it has to be Tuscan olive oil. I grew up with that oil so it’s a matter of affection. I used to have the olive oil grown on my father’s own farm and more than once bread and olive oil would be my dinner.

Tuscan olive oil has a balanced flavour. It’s not too heavy, not too sweet; it’s bitter when just pressed and very green. In the Lazio region the oil is too light because of the sea influence. Puglia, instead, is too heavy and too fat for me.

So the natural environment is extremely important.
Yes because every soil has different peculiarities. There are different minerals and also different ways to be fed – usually the olive oil that’s discarded is used to nourish the soil.

I read that the oldest woman in the world used to drink a cup of olive oil a day – is that true?
You have to be really careful drinking oil, because it’s a diuretic! Usually you can have one teaspoon per day – it’s good for the skin, hair and eyes. If your skin is not like a mozzarella you can use it to get a tan as well, although not at the midday heat in August – you’ll get sick!

My grandma uses olive oil as a medicine for mouth disease and it’s working! Or if you have dry hair it can revitalise it.

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