We introduced Angelo Di Blasi in Stories from the Cilento part 2. He is the driving force behind Rodyum on one of the most beautiful and dramatic coastlines in Italy which is now a Unesco world heritage site. This is the Cilento National Park in the province of Salerno, two hours south of Naples.
Angelo's firm belief is that his extra virgin olive oils are a demonstration of the balancing act between tradition and innovation. As he likes to say:
“There is no innovation without tradition. Tradition is fundamental, but it doesn’t have to be everything”.
Since 2015 Angelo has worked in his family’s olive oil business, that was founded 40 years ago, and for the last three years he has been in complete control. He chose the name Rodyum to combine a couple of themes. First, to represent a village way up in the hills behind Pisciotta by the name of Rodìo that is surrounded by olive trees and second because it sounds like the metal rhodium which, as one of the six platinum metals, is noble, rare, highly resistant to corrosion and acts as a super catalyst. All qualities in other words that he wants his oils to have.
He produces four different extra virgin olive oils with distinctive personalities. Two of them are blended oils from two different cultivars and the others are monocultivar oils. Perhaps the most interesting olive he grows is the Pisciottana, named after the nearby town of Pisciotta and indigenous to the Cilento area.
It’s highly resistant to drought and can grow into a very big tree of up to fifty feet with a large crown. It’s also noted for its incredible longevity with some examples in the Cilento surviving for 700 years.
The Pisciottana is a small olive that turns a deep violet at maturity and one of its unfortunate characteristics is that it is quite difficult to actually detach from the tree. Therefore, as you will see in the video below, Angelo has to shake the trees quite firmly at harvest time with specially adapted machinery in order to dislodge all the olives into the nets. Luckily these large trees are also known for their strong rooting capacity which they need in order to cling to the steep hillsides and to draw moisture from the ground in the normal summer drought of southern Italy.
The Pisciottana oil is noted for being spicy and mildly bitter with an exceptionally high level of polyphenols and, as we wrote in our travel article on the Cilento, the local population here lives to 100 years old at a rate unmatched probably anywhere else in the world and their heavy consumption of the local olive oil probably has a lot to do with this remarkable fact. Who really needs any complicated dietary advice when you can simply look at the life expectancy in the Cilento as unimpeachable proof of what actually works in practice, and it all starts with good olive oil, consumed daily.
The Cilento historically has always been a poor mountainous area and the local people would gather these olives, wash them and put them in a basin with powdered lime and ash and then cover with water. After a couple of days they would be drained, rinsed and put into large earthenware containers with salt and bay leaves and left to macerate for a full day. The final step involved crushing the olives with a wooden rolling pin, removing the stones and pressing them into a glass container, seasoned with hot peppers and herbs and then preserved under olive oil to be consumed over time.
The other cultivar indigenous to Campania grown by Rodyum is the Cammarotana olive, another ancient variety which is also noted for its spicy finish. The olive oils of the Cilento have begun to acquire a wider audience of knowledgable consumers and are also now winning prizes at international competitions, including Rodyum’s Vision which was the winner of the prestigious Gambero Rosso Tre Foglie award in 2020. Olive oil, just like wine and cheese in Italy, is not a homogenous product and regional olive oil very often goes better with the local food than oil from another part of the country. The Cilento oil for example, like Ligurian oil, is better suited to local seafood dishes than a Tuscan oil would be.
The first of his two monocultivar oils, Vision, is from Itrana olives which are originally from the area around the town of Itri just south of the Pontine Marshes in Lazio. Itrana is an olive with a distinctive taste and the unusual characteristic of a very late ripening in March, whereas most olives traditionally ripen in November. This olive can be picked in its ‘white’ unripened state in November and put into brine and then served with fish or cheese or it can be harvested fully mature in March to be processed into oil or used for various other traditional food preparations.
The second monocultivar oil, Freedom, is from Coratina olives. The Freedom olive oil is a different project every year for Angelo that takes him out of his comfort zone. It's his working laboratory to experiment with different cultivars and blends and gain more experience. He did so well with this year's Freedom that he won Leone d'Oro 2021, one of the top international prizes for extra virgin olive oil. This cultivar is very widespread in the south and has its origin in Puglia where it is grown extensively. It’s a large olive and very high yielding with good cold resistance and adaptability to different areas, all of which makes it ideal for commercial production and allows Puglia to produce so much of Italy’s olive oil. The Coratina is another very high polyphenol olive so it should be used liberally.
Rodyum owns 75 acres of which only about 18 are currently olive groves in full production. They are situated on steep hillsides (photo below) at around 1,200 feet above the sea that's always present in the background and they are in the process of becoming fully organic.
Vision (Itrana olives)
This is a green, fresh and elegant oil with some real depth of flavor. It opens with a gorgeous nose of freshly mowed grass, herbs, chicory and is very smooth on the palate initially. Then some pleasant bitterness kicks in at the back end which lingers on and on. This is an oil we could quite happily just sip by itself from a large tablespoon every day but it also goes very well with all the highly flavored local fish of the Cilento like the menaica anchovies. We are drawn to this oil in particular because it has an interesting and unique flavor profile that is a little unusual and presents an excellent contrast for us to Tuscan olive oils.
Evolution (Pisciottana and Cammarotana olives)
Angelo named this oil Evolution because it tells the story of the transition of his family's olive groves from being bulk suppliers of olives to producers of premium olive oil, not a quick or easy process but one that he was instrumental in managing. This is a blend that you don't see very often and it clearly works very well.
Immediately on opening a brand new bottle of this oil the aroma is extraordinary and if you haven't yet been exposed to a premium Italian oil like Evolution, once you experience it there's no going back and your current olive oil will seem dull by comparison. On the palate it's very smooth and rich with notes of almonds and green tomatoes. It also has some attractive aromatic or slightly spicy notes on the finish and would pair well with a medley of grilled summer vegetables.
Enjoy DOP Cilento (Pisciottana and Frantoio olives)
The nose here is powerful and more in the direction of artichokes and almonds than grass. It's very balanced and harmonious on the palate and there's both spice and bitterness at the end but the spicy notes are more persistent. A really delicious oil and it's also DOP Cilento certified, but you don't need to rely on the DOP symbol here once you taste it. The extraordinary flavor of Enjoy made it one of the winners of the prestigious Gambero Rosso Tre Foglie award in 2021.
Freedom (Coratina olives)
We just found out from Angelo a few days ago that his Freedom olive oil, after being awarded more than 94 points at a blind tasting, won the international prize for the best Coratina oil in the whole of Italy at the 2021 Leone d'Oro, so our review is timely. And we're certainly not going to argue with all those experienced judges because this is a striking olive oil.
One of the differences between the Freedom oil and the others is that the bitterness, as is typical of this varietal, is very noticeable on the palate right at the start instead of towards the end. There's some fruitiness here too, represented by artichokes and arugula and it has the most peppery and persistent aroma of all of these oils which makes it a very good match with a rich Mediterranean dish like fresh tuna with tomatoes and olives.
You can never have enough premium Italian olive oil is our motto. We use it every day, but remember it is the exact opposite of fine wine. Buy it fresh every year and use it all up by the beginning of the following year and then buy the next crop. Get together with a group of friends and order all of these olive oils direct from Rodyum, use them generously every day and live to be 100!