Image Courtesy of Vikki Colvin / Olio Piro
In the minds of consumers, Italian olive oil production is romantic—its ancient stone presses and undulating landscapes. So it might seem incongruous that one of the most exciting olive oils from Tuscany is embracing modernity, technology and precision. But like the wine industry in recent decades, perhaps that embrace is exactly what olive oil needs.
Romain Piro and Daniele Lepori are certainly not the people you would expect as the faces attempting to lead an olive oil revolution. Piro, a Buddhist Frenchman, moved to Tuscany 15 years ago to study at a Tibetan cultural center and eventually, slowly, began to cultivate his own olive groves. He was introduced to Lepori via an elderly neighboring farmer who insisted to Piro that the young, fast-talking, Rome-raised technologically-inclined miller was his best match. The two egged on each other’s obsession with the minutiae of olive oil, and together they began questioning a lot of the traditional givens around olive oil production.
Machines, But with a Human Touch
For Piro and Lepori, a passion for science and technological improvement is as sexy as the scenic groves. While olives, like wine, have a sense of terroir and varietal, the olives themselves “are only 20%” responsible for an olive oil’s resulting flavor. “The rest is the milling process,” Piro insists.
While they do also focus heavily on the quality of the olives they use, he likens the relationship between the olive growers and millers to the historical one between restaurateurs and chefs. “For many years chefs were just cooks and the restaurateurs got all the credit,” Piro says. “Their name was on the space in the way growers’ names are on the bottle.” But the miller is like a chef in that they’re “the person actually making the food that everyone is raving about.”