Terre del Conero

In this section you will find many interesting facts and insights about our area, its food and traditions. You will also come across many tips about healthy eating, and there are some simple recipes that you can use to enjoy our products.

Olive Oil

Mount Conero is a land of hills that has always been ideal for the growth of the olive trees and therefore for the cultivation of olives and olive oil. An example of the importance and the spread of its production can be found in the Statutes of Ancona, written in 1468. Here specific warnings are made, "that no person dare or presume to dare to gather [...] olives on the ground." Similarly, in the Statutes of Offagna, written in the fourteenth century, people who cut the olive branches were fined twelve deniers, and were banned from taking the olives harvested there out of the village.

The Statutes of Recanati (which in 1302 had already signed a treaty of commerce with Ancona, which dealt with the transportation of oil in particular), which were written in 1404 recognized the importance of olive oil. It was considered to be a source of wealth in the town. The statute regulated the activity of the mills, to prevent fraud and to control production, and it established a special committee that met annually to evaluate the yield of the oil and the amount of money that was owed to the olive suppliers. During the nineteenth century, we can observe that the production of olive oil was well established and organized. On the outskirts of the Monte Conero we can find olive farms (Moroder 1830), or even olive presses, such as the one of Innocenzo Bianchi of Massignano. Nowadays we can find several presses in Offagna and Osimo made during the first decades of the twentieth century.

Of course, the production of olives and olive oil of the Conero was in large part destined for the city of Ancona (in fact the town was not abundant in olive trees), where the office of the "Grassia," together with the managers of the bread ration, took care of the oil supply. The Statutes of the town Customs, drawn up in the years 1397-1400, decided that the ‘oil meter ‘(equivalent to twelve mugs, corresponding today to 17,400 litres) would be the unit of measure (which would remain valid until the introduction of the metric system in the nineteenth century) with which the quantity of oil that entered the walls of the town could be ascertained.

As has already been pointed out, olive cultivation in the Ancona area was not such a common occurence, so the town of Ancona often had to import oil, not only from the immediate vicinity (from Macerata, where the famous aristocratic family of Bonaccorsi were among the main suppliers along with the  Marefoschi family, or from Recanati from the Centofiorini and Colloredo families, or the Holy Seat of Loreto, which had a huge production of oil) but also from other locations in the Papal States (Umbria, in particular in the eighteenth century). Sometimes Ancona also had to import oil across the border, mostly from Puglia, necessitating therefore, the use of tanks that could preserve these quantities of oil (it should be noted that part of the oil collected was also used to power devotional lamps in places of worship and also to light significant parts of the city).

The Ancona Statutes of 1513 provide further details on the management of the oil presses. The statutes regulated the processing of olives and determined the best way to obtain a "good and sweet" olive oil, to be given back to olive suppliers within eight days of the initial delivery of the olives (a light, clear yellow colour was considered to be a guarantee of quality). Retailers were widely spread through the town streets. They remained in the same location, which consolidated the habits of citizens, who would buy olive oil from the same place every time.
As we have seen olive oil was an essential commodity that was used for lighting and heating. It was also used for devotional and liturgical purposes, for medical and pharmaceutical practices and for cosmetic reasons. However, olive oil was of course primarily used in food, both to conserve (vegetables, meats, cheeses, etc.), to cook, or to use as a condiment for salads, and other dishes. In this regard it should be pointed out that locals in the past would strictly adhere to the religious requirements imposed by the catholic religion of abstinence from meat during Lent and Christmas Eve. During those days of ‘magro’ you were supposed to use cooking fat of vegetable origin to flavor and cook vegetables and fish (although it was very frequent in those days for the religious authorities to come out with ad hoc edicts which granted a special exemption, so that citizens could avoid buying oil by using lard even on penitential days, certainly a resource that could be found in most kitchen cupboards).

The monastic tradition certainly contributed to the farming of olive oil. It not only recovered and replaced the regime of olive tree cultivation in the Middle Ages, but it also developed an alternative ‘low fat’ gastronomy, based on the vegetable fat obtained from the pressing of the olives. We should not forget the Benedictine monasteries and the possessions of the church on the Mount Conero. We should also mention the ancient abbey of Fontavellena, on the border between Ancona and Pesaro, that within its cloistered walls hosted San Pier Damiani, who despite being a habitual faster, did not refuse the kind and humble comfort of olive oil to break his fast, as quoted in Dante’s canto of Paradiso in the Divine Comedy: “food of juice of olives with which the saint ‘gently passed through the heat and the cold.’

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Terre del Conero Agricoltori per Natura, soc. coop. agr. Via Peschiera 30, 60020 Sirolo (AN) P.IVA 02474980428
European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development