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An Italian Encounter: Olive Oil Tales with Marfuga CEO Francesco Gradassi

Marfuga Olive Oil Company

At the Italian Food & Wine Week in Singapore, I had the chance to catch up with Francesco Gradassi, the brains and heart behind Marfuga olive oils, and his daughter Ginevra, who was a superstar translating between English and Italian for us. It felt more like a friendly chat than a formal meeting, as they unfolded the story of Marfuga, a family-run gem that’s been in the olive oil game since 1817.

Francesco Gradassi CEO Oil Maker and Daughter Elettra

Ginevra and Francesco took me on a journey through the history of their olive groves, nestled in the beautiful Umbria region, and shared how they’ve kept the family tradition alive and kicking, producing some of the best olive oil out there. We talked about everything from the challenges of farming on rugged terrain to the unique flavours of their oils that chefs and foodies can’t get enough of.

The highlight? Hearing how passionate they are about sticking to their roots while also shaking things up in the olive oil world. It’s clear they’re not just making olive oil; they’re crafting a legacy that’s all about quality, tradition, and a whole lot of love for what they do.

They even mentioned Marfuga Bio Cosmetics made from Olive Oil that was created by Francesco’s wife who was not at the event at that time so I managed to skip that area as its not in my purview!

Interview with Francesco Gradassi CEO of Marfuga

  1. Marfuga has a rich history dating back to 1817, with roots deeply embedded in Umbria’s olive cultivation heritage. How has the historical context of your region and your family’s long-standing tradition in olive oil production shaped the philosophy and practices of Marfuga today?

Olive farming in Umbria is one of the most ancient in Italy, as the first to take care of this plant were the Etruscan. The extra virgin olive oil has become one of the main treasures of Umbria and there is no place in this region that is not characterized by the presence of olive trees.

Our company is located at the feet of the majestic hill Marfuga, from which it takes the name, covered by the nicest and most fertile land of the valley of Spoleto.

This said, it is not surprising that the Gradassi family, which runs the company, has made and sold olive oil since 1817 and that in 1923 my great-grandfather Domenico already used to send glass jugs with the precious nectar to families in northern Italy, as certified in some documents found in the family archives.

Francesco Gradassi and family

However, the real growth arrived thanks to the will and the perseverance of Ettore, my father, who, in the years of agricultural crisis (around 1950/’60), despite having undertaken the banking career, maintained a true passion for the oil and for his land and transmitted his dedication to all his relatives. His passion led him to take over new olive tree groves and, in 1976, to realize a new mill.

Ettore transmitted me the motivation, the passion and the competences that remain the base of the success that Marfuga products are achieving in many well-known and qualified restaurants and high gastronomy shops all around the world.

So, our strength comes from the continuous challenges of history and of the territory, but also from the stubbornness of my family, that faced them through the years always pursuing high quality standards.

  • The transition from traditional farming to becoming a brand that emphasizes the cultural dissemination of olive oil is fascinating. Can you elaborate on the journey of creating the MARFUGA brand in the late ’90s and how it has influenced your approach to olive oil production and marketing?
Francesco Gradassi with Marfuga Olives

1992 is the year of joining the company for me, Francesco, who created the MARFUGA brand. In 1998 Federica, my wife, entered the company, contributing decisively to the affirmation of the “branded” MARFUGA products, expanding and diversifying the range, with the creation of a line of organic cosmetics.

At this point, a qualitative leap was necessary and in 2003 there was a change in the company machinery. The technical evolution was pointed out through the passage from pressing with a traditional mill to extraction with a continuous mill. The following year is another historic year, with the construction of the current site, no longer conceived only as a mill for crushing olives, but as a welcoming place for the final consumer, where, in fact, an open space hosts during the year, conferences, events and art exhibitions.

The extension of the factory and the acquisition of new olive groves completed the consecration, crowned in 2020, when Marfuga extra virgin olive oil has been awarded as the best extra virgin olive oil in the world by the prestigious International Guide Flos Olei, after having obtained, since 2003, over 500 Awards, in the most important national and international competitions.

  • With a focus on producing “EXTREME OILS,” as described by Francesco Gradassi, how does Marfuga ensure the balance between maintaining the highest quality of extra virgin olive oil while operating in geographically challenging environments?
EVOO MARFUGA DOP RISERVA

Olive trees in Umbria are very important for farming, but they are also very important in a more hydrological, landscape and cultural point of view. In the past (13th century), in Spello, Trevi and especially in Campello sul Clitunno, due to the cultivars with gradients, were built several dry-stone walls to hold the soil around the trees and they contributed to create a peculiar and charming landscape.

The design MARFUGA aims to enhance the Umbrian territory, in particular the town of Campello sul Clitunno, with the production of “extreme oils”, like Francesco likes to call them. Our extra virgin olive oils come from the strains, sweat and hard work of men. They are produced in geographically impervious areas, cultivated in tiny plots of land stolen from the mountains, from the rocks, from the woods. So, the quality of our products depends also and mainly on the challenges we face because of the territory where we live.

  • The importance of olive varietals, particularly the Moraiolo cultivar, is evident in Marfuga’s product line. How do the unique characteristics of your main cultivars contribute to the distinct flavor profiles of your olive oils, and what makes Moraiolo so special in the context of Umbria’s climate and soil?

Each olive cultivar has got peculiar scents and flavours, so, especially in the case of monocultivar oils (made with just one cultivar) the cultivar is crucial to feature the oil itself. The cultivar Frantoio, for example, has a green almond flavour and a perfect balance of spicy and bitter. The cultivar Leccino si lighter and delicate.

The cultivar Moraiolo has been the predominant variety in this area for many centuries and the more prestigious one. It contributes, next to the cold continental climate (that almost prevents the damages from the olive fly), the characteristics of the soil and the farming techniques (without using agrochemicals), on giving the oil high quality levels together with a flavour of artichoke and a bitter-spicy taste.

  • How important is Flos Olei to the Olive Oil industry, and how does Marfuga’s engagement with or recognition by such guides underscore your dedication to quality, innovation, and the promotion of Umbria’s olive oil heritage?

The Guide to the World of Extra Virgin FLOS OLEI is a global point of reference for enthusiasts of high-quality olive oil and a point of reference for all producers.

Obtaining so many recognitions in this context, first of all the award for the best extra virgin olive oil in 2020, is the greatest reward for our efforts and perseverance. It is the perfect balance between the heritage of the past and the innovation of the present.

Azienda Agraria Marfuga

Marfuga Address & Telephone

Address: Viale Firenze, snc, 06042 Campello Sul Clitunno PG, Italy
Telephone: +39 0743 521338

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