May 23, 2018
Large fellow with luscious thick black locks, the kind women loved to run their fingers through, sat relaxing in the Mediterranean sun at his villa! Muscular, well-built physique and quick witted charm that he possessed and knew how to use, along with warm brown eyes that connected immediately. He prided himself on being always vigilantly aware of his environment. His best friend, Sammy Cremona was the only fellow who could rein in his exuberant zest for life. Dear friends and inseparable for the past five years, they were frequent companions.
This day was like any other day for Cin-Cio and often welcomed the frequent guests to the villa. He however, felt himself mesmerized by the group of Americans who rolled into the olive grove in the village of Warija, Malta, named Weld Roses. The group seemed to take a liking to Cin-Cio, perhaps it was exotic Maltese look, he thought. It only fueled his desire to work the audience, meeting guest after guest with his characteristic manner.
As the guests were settling in, while Cin-Cio was flipping his golden ascot from side to side, his buddy Sammie began his lecture about the historic olive groves. Whoa…how many times had he heard that oration before? Yawn! Well he would continue to work the audience, he thought. Sammy should let me deliver the speech. I would insert so many more animated gimmicks to attract the group, although Sammy was the founder.
Olive trees were on the island of Malta fifty to sixty years before Christ. A field of magnificent olive trees are still producing are 1800 years in Bidnija as proven from carbon dating. Those olives are resistant to the very pesky olive fruit fly which is somewhat extraordinary.
Oh, ho hum, thought Cin-Cio!
Known as Bidnija trees, the olives are elliptical (hunch back we call them). The International Olive Council, on intergovernmental organization of states has recognized the ancient olives and is intensely interested in research.
Sam has twenty years of experience in pressing olives and hails from the village of Wardija in Malta. He produces four tons of olive oil per year. His wife, Mattie is known for her culinary talents and has authored several cookbooks. Too bad she isn’t here to give the extra finesse to guests, thought Cin-Cio. Previously Sammy was a gemologist, used to detail, so that explains his precise and involved talk which seems to be a hit with this group. We frequently laugh that Sammy was a gemologist and now he is an olive-oligist, but in truth, his friend knows everything there is to know about olives.
He loves to show the guests his ancient stone and mechanical olive press. Yes, I’ll give you that it is quite impressive. The two grinding stones that may have been a Greek invention, were hand turned and normally operated by children–both boys and girls. Tradition did not allow girls to turn the stones during Menses as they were thought to be unclean.
Well, it is true Sammy has been in the olive business for twenty years, now that is a while, isn’t it?
I wanted to produce authentic Maltese olives. With sixty trees, I began. Many questioned whether I would be able to compete with France and Italy’s olive oil, but I researched it carefully. Tuscan olive oil was valued and I thought I could bring a new oil to the market. I would say to any producer, Find your own variety.
When I had found the Frontonian, I went to the bank for funds. I made out a questionnaire for the area farmers. I asked questions such as “Would you have trees in place to produce these?” etc.
Finally when I discovered the ancient olive trees, I was on my way. Soon after the discovery of the heirloom trees, farmers shared stories from oral history that had been passed down from their family members about those trees. This was useful information.
I marveled that the endemic trees were completely adapted to our island of Malta and were not afflicted with the fruit fly. Nobody could believe this affinity of the trees. Even an Italian of the Olive commission asked emphatically, “Do you have educated fruit flies?”It was amazing. Also the ancient trees produced olive oil extremely high in anti-oxidants.
Well, good job, thought Cin-Cio. Sammy is amazing. The research he did showed that the Knights of St. John didn’t like the olive oil from the ancient trees and preferred the less bitter oil which they sometimes imported from Italy and France. Later when the English occupied Malta, after the Knights were kicked out by Napoleon in 1798, the English preferred butter so the olive trees were somewhat overlooked.
Spanish Knights took resident at St. Paul’s Bay and brought 4,000 trees. They were keen producers and sold to the Roman empire. The ancients also planted trees to attract birds and grew small deer.
His four olive varieties include the white olive, a mutation. Shelf life of olive oil is 3 years, Sammy instructed, an important concept for a consumer to recognize. Sammy’s olive oil is nearly clear, and it is necessary to package it in a clear glass container.
He is about to summarize, thought Cin-Cio.
The knights were known for selling three kinds of produce which are still significant in Malta: honey, blood oranges and white olives.
Now I move with the guests to the olive press room. My friend, Sammy likes to demonstrate the olive press. The artisan device for olive oil consists of washing and crushing, mechanization and then separation. They press at 27 degrees. Over 30 degrees, and one will cook the oil They have discovered with even high temperatures in nature, it is best to press the olives at night when it is cooler, perhaps like the Romans did years and years ago.
Next we stroll through the olive groves.. Sammy points out his use of large soda bottles for collecting insects. Those large hanging soda bottles contain fish paste and water, which attracts flies.
The males are particularly susceptible to the paste in the soda bottles and with a large percentage of the males gone, females lay infertile eggs. Also throughout my olive grove, see the lavender, sweet marjoram and rosemary. Also notice the trap bands that I have around the tree trunks. These puffy, fibrous fabric bands encase the trees and serve as a trap for the weevils. I also make my own compost which is used magnificently by the strawberry growers in the area, said Sammy...best strawberries in the country.
Ah…now we come to the tasting area, a place where I can work my magic on the guests. Sam is demonstrating how to soak the bread in the olive oil. The bread must be thrust back and forth to absorb the oil and then one should suck the oil from the bread as if it were a sponge. Then you can truly taste the oil. Merely eating the scrap of torn bread is not adequate to truly taste the essence of the olive oil (Habs Bissette).
In making his bracheta, Sam places olive oil, then tomato sauce, rosemary and anchovy. He always cautions that if this were to be cooked, be sure to put the olive oil on last as not to cook it.
Oh no, Sammy is calling me over. Oh no, my identity will be revealed. You see, I cannot resist the scrumptious bread with Sammy’s olive oil. Cin Cio, Cin Cio, show the folks how you stand to receive your treat.
Good boy…what a beautiful black Labrador, my dog, Cin Cio!
Sahaa…goodbye and good health, my friends!
MORE INFORMATION ON OLIVES AT: http://www.internationaloliveoil.org/
(The glossary is wonderful!)
(Many additional photos of items the NACAA group experienced)
Books by Matty Cremona on cooking with olive oil and life on an olive estate:
Cremona, Matty, and Kurt Arrigo. A Year in the Country: Life and Food in Rural Malta.
Proximus Pub., 2004.
Cremona, Matty. Cooking with Maltese Olive Oil: Maltese and Mediterranean Dishes.
Proximus PR, 2002.
Cremona, Matty. The Way We Ate. Midsea, 2011