My recent Journey, taken only in July, due to the cooking schedule of David Tanis at Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School; otherwise, I would not recommend Italian travel in the blistering hot month of July, unless perhaps you are on a lake or a yacht prowling the seductively blue Adriatic Seas.
Ambitious schedules and heat left me limp each day on this overland Journey. I was raised in heat and spent many childhood afternoons stretched out on a sofa with a cold compress on my forehead, nursing a nosebleed due to the extreme temperatures. Hot weather, we are incompatible.
But give me an afternoon under the enormous branches of a shady Stone Pine, and if you must, more chilled Prosecco, countless Italian delicacies and I can manage the heat. We arrived at Antica Masseria Brancati in Ostuni via a winding dirt road, flanked by perfectly stacked rock walls and surrounded by hundreds of massive olive trees. Eventually, I learned at least 800 of the trees are considered Monument Olives due to the age – 2000 – 3000 years old, planted when Jesus was roaming the fields. Brilliantly hued bougainvillea draped and dangled over the white washed walls of the beautiful masseria. A long stone path leads to the main Villa, chapel and garden in the central courtyard of Antica Masseria Brancati.
Seven generations of Corrado Rodio’s family have managed the Olive Oil farm, which includes an amazing underground museum room with olive mill tools that date back centuries. Large plots of the ancient gnarled trees are planted as the Romans originally planted them, 60 Roman feet between each tree planted in a specific grid. Many of the ancient trees, which still produce olives, have been given colorful descriptive names. The Old Man (Grande Vecchio) is bent and twisted three times around itself, and rests on a column of stones, like an old man and his walking stick. Nearby, the tree of Adam & Eve each have a very distinctive face, a likening of a serpent and of course, an apple. Corrado is extremely proud of the farm and its heritage and has incorporated olive oil tasting into the experience, he beams in sharing his family story.
We enjoyed a specially prepared lunch by Alma di Bari, who learned to cook at the apron of her grandmother; she glowed in her descriptions of each dish. And thankfully she will be passing on her recipes to her children, traditions are treasured still in some areas of the world.
Puglia is spilling with locals instilled with a passion and pride in their endeavors, whether it is an olive farm, a fisherman or a chef. Alma thought nothing of hand rolling the special Fricelli pasta that morning.
Initially, Corrado seemed shy, his English and our Italian was a pretty good match, as he enthusiastically conducted a scientific olive oil tasting. It was abundantly clear in his beaming face that I correctly identified the deep fragrance of green grassy fields, spices and a distinct fruit in different cups of the oil. At conclusion, his smile and laughter confirmed that indeed, I was being offered a job! We then spotted the colossal tall wooden ladders used for picking, perhaps we will return after the harvest.
The enormous Stone Pine provided shade and the chirping cicadas bestowed the soundtrack of summer, as our poetic guide Michaela noted…I modified his poetry to the Symphony of Summer.
My tins of specific extra virgin – Salentino and Coratina Olive Oil have arrived, come for an official tasting, I’ve been deemed certified by a legend of Olive Oil, Corrado Rodio.
Of course, we can organize this for you as well on your next visit to Puglia. Trust me, two dozen words of Italian will get you through any hot summer day beneath a massive Stone Pine.