This morning, what should have been an uneventful departure from Tropea turned into quite the adventure! We weren’t but just a few minutes out of town before rounding a bend in the road found us at the base of a recent landslide. We managed to turn the vans around on the narrow mountainside road, broke out the maps, and charted an alternate route to our next destination of Limbadi. Our new route took us along the coast and through several tiny seaside towns – some of which we can now say were not meant for 9-passenger vans! There was a point where it seemed the whole town of Nicotera was out on the street helping us navigate an alley!
Our hectic morning finally brought us to our friends at Frantoio Mafrica, where it becomes clear that the olive oil farm is only found by being “off the beaten path”. Windy, bumpy roads eventually lead you to their front gate – and into their family farm. We are greeted by Giovanni, the face of the family operation, and a host of other family members including his father Rocco who joined us on the tour. We immediately get the sense that everyone in the family is not only involved in the business, but also takes great pride in the olive oil that is produced.
Giovanni begins our tour with a walk through the farm. A stroll through the barn, which includes introductions to a small host of horses, donkeys, pigs, goats and dogs, as well as passing by the “old house” that Giovanni’s great-grandfather built, begins to add depth and flavor to the story that will accompany the olive oil as we taste it. As we enter the olive grove, Giovanni explains that the olive oil they produce is made entirely from only the premium olives collected off the 6,000 trees of the Ottobrattico varietal. They make two oils – a peppery one harvested in early-mid October of only the young, green olives, and another milder version that is harvested a bit later that is a blend of both green and the more mature olives.
Giovanni explains that they have very little time to harvest and that the olives must be made into oil quickly – within 6 hours of harvesting. After that, the oil produced would be good…but not excellent. And when he says it, you feel the emotion of a man who believes that excellent oil is the only option. We are then taken through a dry-run of the oil production. From de-stemming and washing, to crushing and centrifuging, each step is explained with care. And of course, only Extra Virgin Olive Oil is produced – there is never a second or third pressing.
As our minds fill with a new appreciation for quality olive oil, we are treated by the family to a light lunch of toasted bread (with olive oil!), local meats and cheeses, olives, ricotta di pecora, nduja, sweet Tropean onion frittata, and finished off with homemade orange crostata and limoncello for good measure. Driving away, it very much felt like leaving a relative’s house after a holiday meal. But despite wanting to linger, we were excited for our new adventure – Sicilia!
Arriving in Villa San Giovanni, the Calabrian port that serves as the jumping off point for ferries to Sicily, were refreshed and eager to cross the Strait of Messina. After driving into and parking in the belly of the ferry, we climbed the stairs and soaked in some sun on the top deck, admired the view as we sailed toward Sicily. Once docked, we drove through the port city of Messina and down the highway towards Siracusa, catching glimpses of towering Mt. Etna along the way.
Once in Siracusa, everyone was energized by our newest lodging point, located just at the beginning of the main piazza. Blanca and Francesco delivered some much appreciated hospitality on behalf of the hotel, which was well received after a rainy drive down the coast. After getting settled in we took una passeggiata to one of our favorite Osterie in all of Italy. Mariano, the owner, greeted everyone warmly and then proceeded to make everyone “tutti contenti” with a barrage of local antipasti, pastas, and dessert. There was plenty of almond, pistachio…and we might have had our first taste of real Sicilian cannoli! The level of laughter at dinner certainly gave us the sense that the road less traveled was conquered for the day, and everyone was content and ready to explore Siracusa on Monday!