Giuseppe and Silvia Di Vincenzo left their financial careers in Northern Italy and moved to the coastal Sicilian town of Agrigento in 1995 to meticulously grow, harvest, and extract olive oil. They became early champions of monocultivar oils – that is, oils produced from one type of olive – which vary in aroma, flavor and texture. In short order Mandranova became a culinary destination featuring regional cooking classes taught by Silvia and her son, olive tree horticulture with Giuseppe, along with access to their state-of-the-art mill.
They planted 10,000 light to medium density trees of Nocellara, Biancolilla, Cerasuola, and Giarraffa olives. Since olive maturation rates differ among varieties, to control quality they harvest each cultivar based on its maturity index. Giarraffa and Cerasuola are earliest, producing low yields coupled with a robust flavor profile. Milling however presents challenges. Due to the young fruit’s high water content, the oil droplets struggle to pool together.
This monocultivar Cerasuola is grassy, bitter and peppery! These gripping qualities imbue in the oil many nutritional benefits. The peppery burn you feel is caused by oleocanthal – a natural antioxidant and polyphenol. This oil is also a rich source of monounsaturated fat, which is a healthy fat beneficial to your blood vessels and liver. One tablespoon contains 10% of recommended intake of vitamin E. Fresh vibrant olive oil is the backbone of the Mediterranean diet and a mandatory requirement for a well-rounded meal. When used for cooking its flavor becomes incorporated into the dish. If raw its herbaceous pizzazz remains separate and distinct.
Sicily is a vast frontier for grape growing and wine production. When cultivated along coastal plains, grapes yield wines with ripe, fruit-forward, and food-friendly characteristics. The soil is a mixture of limestone and sand, giving the wines a bright mineral quality. Further inland at higher elevations in a more continental climate, grapes compete with other crops and grains. Wines from the mountains err on the lighter side with strong aromatic profiles and higher acidity. Look for wines from Di Giovanna and Planeta for very accessible and benchmark wines produced from indigenous grapes Grillo, Catarratto, Nero d’Avola, and Nerello Mascalese.