An extraordinary extra-virgin oil: the Story of Roi Olive Oil Mill
Stories never belong to chance. Stories always belong to someone. The one belonging to Franco Boeri ( Roi is the old family nickname) begins from afar. The Roi di Badalucco olive oil mill, in the heart of the Argentina Valley in Imperia, has an unforgettable date of birth, 1900. You know who your father is, you remember your grandfather. Then memory is often lost. Franco’s memory isn’t, you can find it in the olive oil that has been produced for four generations.
“ This was a land of coal, hunger and olive groves. Now the people who work the land have been rediscovered but until recently the stories of those men and women were forgotten stories. My great grandfather owned the town oliver mill, we are a family of olive pressers.”
The secrets behind the taggiasca olives
You can see memory, you can touch it. The enormous machine which is kept at the entrance to the olive mill has been turning for decades, crushing tones of olives. They are all taggiasca olives, the best in the world.
Olives usually produce on average 12% of oil, the rest is water and stones, taggiasca olives reach 25%. The continual turning of the machine has scoured a groove a couple of centimetres deep in the floor.
Franco touches it with his hand, he strokes it: “ It is Sardinian granite. The only stone which is capable of doing this job”. Then he turns and touches a dry stone wall: “My grandfather told me that when he was a boy every morning as he walked towards the mountain he took with him a stone from the river to build other walls. They were our pyramids. An incredible job, incredible, incredible”. He repeats it three times.
The international success of the ROI olive-oil
His story begins in 1980: ”I was young, carefree, a hippie. The press was working well but we had to sell the oil to the bottling industries who paid us too little. For this reason I decided to bottle the oil myself. I spoke to my father about it, at the beginning he was very sceptical but in the end I convinced him and he helped me. In my valley there were a lot of hippies, boys and girls who came from all over Europe, Cologne, Frankfurt, Amsterdam. I knew all of them, we were friends. I had a telephone, it was the only one in the area. I lent it to them sometimes. And I introduced them to my oil. One evening during a party in Badalucco wood together with Stefan who was the son of the manager of the youth hostel in Frankfurt, we decided to sell my oil in Germany.”
The experience of the Second World War
No sooner said than done. Friendships, the real ones, sometimes turn into projects, businesses, destinies. Stefan is no longer with us, he succumbed to a terrible illness when he was still a boy. For Franco friendship is everything.
He is still moved by the memory after all these years: “ I went to visit him. He lived in a comune, an ex bunker of the Second World War, nobody in those parts knew good quality extra virgin olive oil. There was only one problem. It’s appearance. At that time in Frankfurt you could only find Sasso oil and a strange oil from Marseille. They were refined oil and therefore transparent. My oil was cloudy, dense, not transparent. I explained that it was like that because we made oil using only olives. My explaination is convincing. I wrote it down, I had it translated and printed on a stencil duplicator. That’s how I began”.
Today Roi oil is sold in 23 countries, you can find it in the most refined food boutiques and its vintage extra virgin olive oil is chosen by the best chefs in the world. In his valley he owns 42 hectares of land with about ten thousand olive trees and there are 250 farmers who bring their harvest to the mill.
The two most curious guardians of the olives
We are in the olive tree grove where he produces one of his Cru, the Morga. “ I was the first to bottle a Cru, like they do with the Barolo”. The olive grove is an ampitheatre 260 metres above sea level, 200 olive trees look out over the sea protected by the hills. The trees are not subjected to any treatment and are watched over by Pinocchio and Alice. “ They are donkeys, they clean the land, they fertilize it, and they keep the olive trees company. And they are nice”.
All around you can smell the scent of the woods, the sea, the pine and chestnut trees. Of the many testimonials his oil has received for quality, he loves to quote Friend of the Earth, which certifies the management and conservation of natural resources, the orientation of technological and institutional change towards the maintenance and sustenance of human needs for present and future generations.
Back to the land
Once a year, in July, Franco and his wife Rossella organize “Al Bistrot dell’Ulivo, spremitura a freddo, pensieri in libertà”, an event organized to reflect on the difficulty of doing agriculture:
“For some years, I decided together with some friends, Carlin Petrini, Oscar Farinetti, Michele Serra, Staino and many others, to award with a certificate of appreciation and fondness stories of people who return to the land, people who give up their old jobs and return to making oil, wine, cheese and vegetable gardening. They go back to agriculture and are doing well”
Hidden tips to get the most out of extra-virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is a dressing, it must accompany the dish not cover it. You can pour a little over some bread. Open a bottle of Carte Noire:
” This is the best way to try it and understand it.
I remember the fair in Anuga in Cologne in the 1980s. We were really carefree, unconventional. We shared out up to seven thousand slices of bread from our stand.
An Arab passed by, took a slice of bread and walked forward a few steps, then he stopped, came back and told us that he had never tasted anything as good. A week later we exported our product to the United Arab Emirates”.
For Franco you do not drink olive oil you eat it. There is an ancestral bond, long-standing, maternal. Since we are here I ask him the secret to making and recognising a good pesto: “Choose only small basil leaves, add our oil, some pine nuts, some garlic but no cheese, that you add when you dress the pasta, that’s how I do it.” And we trust him.
Try roi extra virgin olive oil at the present
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