Oropuro- Pure Gold. This simple label identifies the bottles of Francesca Di Nisio’s artisanal olive oil. Observing her as she guides and engages visitors through her Museum of Olive Oil, I smile at the choice of hands to represent her business, CantinArte. She is all hands when teaching her guests to appreciate good olive oil and hands on with running the business she brought to life in 2006.
Abruzzo born Francesca has returned to the Chieti countryside to make a living. At 26, she decisively reversed the family trend, begun by her grandmother after WWII, to abandon the rural areas for work in nearby cities. As a child, Francesca felt connected to her grandmother Maria’s memories of living a simple life sustained by orchards, vineyards and fields. After studying wine in France and Tuscany and apprenticing at a winery in Chianti, Francesca was ready to return to her Abruzzo roots to produce and sell her own products “with passion and uncompromising quality.”
Francesca’s approach to olive oil production is holistic. Eager to show visitors this centuries old process, she restored a 17th century mill in the town of Bucchianico. It is in this small, brick mill where visitors see how man and donkey used wood and stone machinery to crush and press olives. The candle lit rooms of the mill testify to her respect for the Abruzzo past. Reverently displayed tools, pottery and books are placed in niches and on walls throughout the former mill. On one wall hangs a shepherd’s zampogna and below that an elaborate ex voto.
Her tour engages more of the senses as she teaches visitors to identify grasses or berries- whatever natural properties influence the taste and smell of olive oil. Her lessons end at table. Coddling a small cup of oil to warm it for tasting, guests watch Francesca demonstrate how to hold the olive oil in the back of the mouth and suck in air. She delights in the efforts of her guests to practice this tasting method and identify essences of tomatoes, almonds, grasses.
Days after the tour, visitors are still in Francesca’s attentive hands. She sends guests a thank you email sharing several of her grandmother’s treasured recipes – pure gold.