Meet the Producers: Luciana from Casa Gola Olive Oil
Our first shipment of Casa Gola’s extra-virgin olive oil, freshly pressed from the groves blanketing the hills of Umbria, has just arrived and we couldn’t be happier. Though 2020 has been tough for many reasons, it was a fantastic year for Italian olive oil, and the quality of the harvest is unparalleled. We weren’t able to make it to Italy this fall to help with the annual picking and pressing, but we’re thrilled that this season has brought the opportunity to share our favorite artisan olive oil with friends and clients in the US.
We spent a few days this week unpacking newly delivered tins of Casa Gola oil and shipping them to customers across the US to fill our first orders, and feedback has been excellent. Janice and Jeffrey wrote to say that they love the idea that they are buying directly from the farm in Umbria and supporting the local growers, one of the main missions behind our CantinaDirect.com gourmet Italian food website. Other recipients, like Barbara, were struck by the quality, commenting on the olive oil’s spectacular flavor, perfect for pouring on anything.
We believe in the importance of maintaining Italy’s rich and historic network of small farms and artisan workshops that produce everything from top-notch olive oil and wine to sweet and savory delicacies like chocolates, balsamic vinegar, and truffles. The quality is unbeatable, of course, but the human stories behind the food is what truly captures our hearts and trust, making us come back year after year to stock up on the same delicacies.
Casa Gola is a perfect example: this olive oil estate was founded in 1997 when Luciana Cerbini and Giovanni Picuti purchased the land to restore the old farmhouse and replant and revive the surrounding olive groves. We became friends with Luciana and Giovanni over the years, as their estate is not far from our home in Umbria, and Luciana often gives cooking lessons to our clients visiting Umbria. We know first-hand the care and love Luciana puts into producing their extra-virgin olive oil and wanted to share a bit of her passion by speaking with her about Casa Gola and her cooking lessons.
Read on for an inside look into Umbria’s fascinating culture and cuisine, and be sure to order your extra-virgin olive oil now ...olive oil is only produced once a year in the late fall and once it’s gone you have to wait until the following year to savor its uniquely peppery flavor again!
Tell us about Casa Gola, one of our favorite spots in the world!
For me, Casa Gola is a hideaway that combines both mind and heart and is where I feel the strong pull of my roots. From the hilltop where our farmhouse sits - not far from the tiny fairytale castle of Torre del Colle outside Bevagna - the Umbrian countryside stretches out in all its elegance and mystery. The view takes in the Umbrian Valley and Mount Subasio, historic Franciscan sites scattered across the wooded slopes, and the medieval villages of Assisi, Spello, and Montefalco as well as the cityscape of Perugia. Our estate is thick with olive groves that captured my heart from the first time I set eyes on them, and are what made me decide to dedicate my time to reviving the production of authentic Umbrian olive oil along with sharing my passion for excellent food and warm hospitality.
I still remember how taken I was by this land 30 years ago, and how I immediately began dreaming of what it could become. Dreams became plans, and plans became years of hard work. My husband and I were younger then but the idea of purchasing this home and land was still a bit of a crazy one. We followed our hearts and the instinct to put down roots in that spot that seemed to pull us like a magnet. Today, Casa Gola stretches over five hectares, including three hectares of olive groves, an herb garden, wild meadow, and an orchard where I gather fruit to make preserves. There is also a vegetable garden where our guests can pick fresh produce, a kitchen with a wood-burning fireplace and oven, and a lush pergola covered in grape vines where we host an endless array of friends and intellectuals on warm summer nights with conversation that flows as easily as the oil on our plates.
I tried to create a welcoming atmosphere where guests always feel at ease and where our extra-virgin olive oil reflects the three elements of Casa Gola: friendship, history, and passion.
Many of our clients have enjoyed cooking experiences with you over the years. How did you become so passionate about Umbrian cuisine?
My love for cooking is deeply rooted in my memories of growing up in Umbria, where olive oil is a pillar of the regional cuisine. We use it to dress fresh pasta dishes, drizzle over bruschetta, flavor panzanella (a bread salad) and pinzimonio (crudités), and finish off grilled meat like pork and lamb. We even use olive oil in desserts!
My passion for cooking is also motivated by my desire to increase the knowledge and use of extra-virgin olive oil by illustrating the difference between tasteless commercial oils and true artisan olive oil, a delight for the senses. Only by spreading awareness of the importance of this traditional delicacy can we continue to produce it and support the culture and history surrounding it.
During my cooking lessons, I always take time to explain that olive oils aren’t all alike and that oils produced by different types of olives have different flavors: Frantoio, Leccino, and Moraiolo olive oils all taste different and knowing the attributes of each cultivar is important in pairing the right oil with the dish you are preparing. I try to involve my guests in my personal battle to defend our traditional recipes from modern culinary trends and fashions like molecular cuisine that tend to focus more on presentation than substance and ignore the importance of quality ingredients, instead opting for crowd-pleasingly bland flavors and commercial success.
I get a great feeling of pride when I realize that guests at my cooking lessons understand that my passion for traditional cuisine necessarily includes protecting and promoting an awareness of the importance of local ingredients and traditions...which, in Umbria, means olive oil and olive groves. The olive tree represents our landscape, our food, and our history and without it we lose our ties to our culture and legends. If wine is considered the blood of the land, olive oil is the life-blood of our civilization, made with the sweat of our labor. This liquid gold transforms our dishes into an expression of our identity, and Casa Gola encapsulates this history and culture.
Tell us about Casa Gola extra-virgin olive oil.
Casa Gola olive oil distills the essence of these hills and the Umbrian way of life. I began producing olive oil because it is so important to this region and my own personal history as an Umbrian, and I wanted to revive my lifelong passion for my local landscape and cuisine.
There is nothing like the scent of freshly-pressed olive oil, and once you experience it you realize why olive oil has been considered both a food and a medicine, sustaining body and spirit. I have about 2,000 olive trees, primarily Moraiolo, and with these trees I try to make my dream come true by producing the best extra-virgin olive oil I can each year. Casa Gola oil has won several prizes and is considered among the finest olive oils in Umbria (and consequently in Italy and in the world). Despite this, marketing and selling oil gets more difficult each year as the market is saturated with low-quality, cheap oils and many consumers across the globe are not educated when it comes to the nutritional and cultural value of a good oil.
That said, I’m never discouraged. I want my oil and our home here at Casa Gola to represent the beauty and harmony of the Umbrian countryside, with a deep respect for nature and maintaining the balance between humans and the environment. This is something I try to share during my cooking lessons and through the quality of my oil. In October, we love to host guests during olive picking season so they can see the labor and love that goes into our oil up close and experience the wonderful atmosphere of picking and pressing olives with locals. We’ve missed having guests in 2020 and look forward to welcoming everyone back again soon!