Encounters with locals
After the short climb up into the ancient part of town, along the main alleyway there is always the same old blind woman, Maria, that you find sitting in front of her house in the company of her cat.
She has lived in that narrow street for 80 years and was happy to chat every time we passed, as if she was waiting for you. The intimacy of Pisciotta presents many opportunities to meet the local people and we have chosen to tell the story of two of them. Both very different in age, but both of whom left Pisciotta and then returned here to start afresh.
The town has a long history of outward migration and now slowly this trend is reversing. Some of the younger generation who have benefitted from experiences elsewhere have returned full of energy to make a go of it in the Cilento. And more elderly people too are coming back after spending their working lives in the north, sustained by their dream of returning home to the only place where they don’t feel a stranger.
A conversation with Antonio, retired, who never became Milanese
Piazza Pinto, just off the main road, is one of the few flat and not claustrophobically narrow parts of the old town. Here the old men play cards and hold court in the local bar or just sit on the benches in the shade of the few trees.
Among them is Antonio who I had seen a few times before, but only to exchange a respectful nod of greeting. He looked an interesting character and as we were leaving Pisciotta I had the opportunity to talk to him.
The piazza is the furthest point in the old town that you can reach by car and where visitors can unload their luggage before disappearing up the steps to their hotel or apartment.
On the morning of our departure, the weekly market was in full swing and the square was already full of food trucks and shoppers with the local police trying to keep everything moving. In other words, chaos.
Unable now to park the car in the piazza, after we had already manhandled our luggage through the narrow alleyways and down lots of steps, Mike left me with the bags while he stormed off to fetch the car from the faraway garage. He is never at his happiest at these times and his expression clearly reflected his mood. At which point, this nice old gentleman called Antonio, approached me with a concerned expression to enquire if all was well.
I assured him that all Englishmen can be a bit grumpy at times and there was nothing to worry about; having assuaged his concern we fell into conversation.
He was born in Pisciotta but like many in this area he left at the end of the 1950s when not much more than a boy to find work. That was a desolate time across most of the south of Italy and he was part of the southern diaspora moving to manufacturing jobs in the north. Antonio was a bricklayer and there was work in Milan for him, but he found the city hostile to working class men from the south. He missed the small everyday pleasures of contact with the land and the fresh seasonal produce. But for more than half a century he remained in Milan, a foreigner in his own country. He raised a family there and gave his children a much better future and they all now pursue their careers around the world.
Despite all those years away Antonio never became Milanese and his accent and speech still reflect the Cilento. Finally in retirement he returned to Pisciotta and in talking to him you realise that his knowledge is so much more than you would expect from having been a simple bricklayer, or maybe it’s his philosophy of life that surprises you.
He came back to recapture everything he had missed for all those years: the clean air, the connection between the local fields and the food, wine and olive oil on his table, the local dialect, the history and the simple splendor of everything around him, in short the rhythm of life.
A conversation with Angelo, a young olive oil producer and cosmopolitan Cilentano
“The Cilento is a place where everything moves slowly, it is even in the name Ci-lento” says Angelo, “it is a territory that resonates with the classic dichotomy between love and hate like a sentimental story” he continues. Having seen the departure of generations of parents and grandparents to the north of Italy or to foreign parts many young people of the current generation have decided to stay.
Twenty-eight year old Angelo Di Blasi is one of them. He has come to define the new cosmopolitan Cilentano, someone who is of the Cilento but at the same time is thoroughly modern in outlook and he has a burning desire to be part of the resurgence of this area, a view shared by many of his contemporaries. He talks with passion about his work researching, cultivating and harvesting olives and then transforming them into oil while at the same time informing and educating the consumer.
He produces several different olive oils (using different olive varieties and blends) and has given them names in English because he aspires to conquer the world and having tasted them I wouldn’t bet against him. They are a declaration of his ambition, a rejection of the lento (slow) in Cilento. His current production includes the following: Enjoy, Vision (winner of the prestigious Gambero Rosso Tre Foglie award in 2020), Green Line, Evolution and Freedom. This last one is his personal project and challenge, changing every year and deliberately free from every restriction so he can reach his true potential and compare himself to the best olive oil producers all across the south of Italy.
Angelo has clear ideas and a precise plan: from the freshness apparent in the very first taste you realise the care invested in these olive oils. But you also know how difficult progress can be in this field, doing everything the right way without taking short cuts, overcoming obstacles and continuing to invest while foregoing earnings, having patience and always believing in the project.
Angelo tells me that “the oil reflects the character of the person who produces it” and his oils are a demonstration of the balancing act between tradition and innovation. “There is no innovation without tradition; tradition is fundamental but it doesn’t have to be everything” he adds with conviction.
Since 2015 Angelo has worked in his family’s olive oil business, founded 40 years ago, and for the last three years he has been fully in control. He chose the name Rodyum, pronounced the English way, to combine several themes. First, to represent a village in the hills near Pisciotta, called 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.
Angelo tells me that he has had the benefit of great teachers. Above all the late Gaetano Avallone, “the professor”. Gaetano was a professional taster and renowned expert in the production of olive oil. He was the president of the National Association of Professional Olive Oil Tasters and over the years he made a significant contribution to improving the quality of Italian extra virgin olive oil. He understood long ago that much work needed to be done to create exceptional oils from humble beginnings and he left a lasting legacy.
Angelo also pays tribute to his grandfather who years ago started the improvements in the family olive oil business.
“Now innovation has become fashionable” Angelo says proudly “and brings with it better practices, but many of the new innovators lack awareness of how we got here.”
The Rodyum Company is constantly evolving and expanding and has already received several national and international awards. Angelo focuses above all on respecting the olives, the process of extraction and then the storage.
These are very different oils to those from Tuscany and being much lighter, fruitier and less bitter may be particularly pleasing to those not accustomed to high quality Italian olive oils.
Our tasting notes and more in depth description of the Rodyum olive oils can be found here (Wine and Olive Oil section).