Dusty roads, open fields, rows and rows of olive trees. This was just the beginning of the Frantoio Bonamini experience. Did you know there were over 500 varieties of olives? Me either. I never even thought past the grocery store as to where my olive oil came from. What started as a small operation in 1965 grew into a full-on family business that now spans 3 generations. Rebecca, the tattooed 20 something granddaughter, greeted us with a smile and a warm “Buongiorno!” Grandpa, Giancarlo Bonamini, was still out on the property trimming trees and cleaning the fields at 81 years old. Must be the olive oil. A staple in Italy, he takes tablespoons daily as a type of life elixir. Fountain of youth?
With over fifteen thousand trees, ten thousand planted in 2017 due to demand, the property spans several fields in all directions. Frantoio Bonamini grows over 7 varieties to meet the production and the quality requirements for their oils, spreads and beauty products. Not only controlling their own end to end production, Frantoio Bonamini also offers their services to process olives for neighboring famers, making their facility and place in the region integral. A sleepy little community provides about 10 workers to maintain the property and work the production line regularly but in the harvest season, Frantoio Bonamini’s headcount doubles and workers from neighboring areas and even countries come to the region to fill the seasonal demand. Harvesting is a long process and runs from October to November and is still done largely by hand and small shaker machines. Traditional shakers are too powerful for the trunks of olive trees, so they must shake the branches one by one as to not damage or kill the trees. Kids, even Rebecca as a youth, used to climb to the tops of the trees and pick them by hand, dropping them to the ground for others to pick them up. Now they lay down a sort of sheet to collect the olives and make it easier to move to the production line.
Inside the processing facility, we find the modern-day efficiencies that allows Frantoio Bonamini to run lean and continuously process olives for olive oil. A 4-step process begins with the “tiny hammers” that mash the olives, skin and all. The paste then moves by pipe into the mixing stations. Here the mixture either under goes the cold or hot press __ that determines the end quality. Cold produces (27°C) Extra Virgin Olive Oil whereas Hot (50°C) produces a regular olive oil that can be used for anything else. Side note, hot press requires chemicals to maintain flavor and color but does produce a higher yield. Once the paste is sufficiently macerated, the pipes again move the mixture to the first of two centrifuges in order to separate the hard parts from the oil and water. Finally, the second centrifuge spins off the rest of the water, leaving only the delicious olio that so many of us enjoy.
Huge storage homeostatic containers keep the finished product safe and fresh until it can be bottled. The bottling process has also been modernized and only requires 2 people, one to load the empty bottles and the other to expect the labeling and caps before loading them on the pallets for shipment. EU labels require not only the expiration date but also manufactured date. Olio only lasts for about 18 months and is best kept in glass bottles that are dark. Plastic can and will change the flavor of the oil and should be avoided.
A departure of the processes of years gone by for the more modern methods makes for a cleaner, easier and more efficient production but as with all innovative efficiencies, less employees are needed. These improvements are often necessary for any company to stay competitive and yet even this family business can not prevent the reductions in force that come with innovation. The Frantoio Bonamini family upgraded their facility in 2000, using the old stone mortars and presses up until that point. Their products reach many countries including our own. Above all else, the peek inside the company shows how a small family owned business has continued to innovate and modernize to become a power house in the $3.5B industry.
Grazie mille to the Bonamini family for welcoming us into their home. Piacere di conoscerti!