Written by Jan Walsh// Photography by Beau Gustafson
Papa Vince learned the art of making Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) when he worked as an apprentice for the Knight of De Stefani at the Medieval Castello of Rampinzeri, Santa Ninfa, Italy. Under the knight’s guidance, Papa learned that the secret of a great EVOO is in the moody, but extremely generous, olive trees. If cared for properly through their lifetime, they would consistently deliver the sweetest harvest, which yields extraordinary EVOO.As he traveled around the Valley of Belice in search of the best olives to press for his master, he learned that not every soil nor every olive variety produces the same quality oil. He also discovered that each olive variety has a different taste and shelf life, and that the way an olive grove is cared for and pruned makes a big difference in the final quality of the EVOO. At that time, it took 48 hours, three men, and a mule to produce one quart of EVOO. And the freshest olives were pressed within 24 hours of harvesting, which belonged to the master. Thus only the wealthiest people had the finest EVOO.
Fast forward to 2008, when a mechanical olive press that would have pleased Papa Vince was invented. And Papa Vince’s family came together and mortgaged their property for a $1,000,000 loan to purchase the Two Phase Waterless Press. And Papa Vince was ahead of its time, then and now, because more than 95 percent of Italian olive pressers still use the old technology of mixing water and olives today, which depletes the antioxidants and nutrients in the EVOO.
I never knew Papa Vince. But I do know his great grand-niece, Vitina Feo, who lives in and runs the company with a passion beyond compare from Gulf Shores, Alabama. From Feo I have learned the secret of what makes Papa Vince EVOO so special: the way the olives are grown and how the olive oil is made. Papa Vince uses no insecticides, herbicides, nor pesticides on their orchard in Santa Ninfa, Sicily, Italy. The EVOO is made of only one variety, mono-cultivar, of sweet Nocellara Del Belice olives. The olives are harvested annually from November to January. So much like wine, each vintage’s flavor profile varies. And Papa Vince presses only fresh, green olives, with a yield of only 13 to 18 percent oil, which is an expensive endeavor. But the process results in an EVOO with the highest in concentration of anti-oxidants and essential oils, and is the lowest in free fat acidity, which is likely why Papa Vince called it “medicine oil.” The oils are also pressed into the bottle from the olive, unfiltered and unrefined. Thus the bottles contain 100 percent, USDA organic EVOO. And it boasts a high smoke point of 375 degrees, an unopened four-year shelf life and a one-year shelf life once opened.
In 2016 Papa Vince partnered with local artisans in Sicily to bring Sicilian pastas, tomato sauces, vinegar, and sea salt to the U.S. market. I especially love the Busiate Homemade Pastas. I toss them in my homemade chicken noodle soup or boil them for a plate of pasta to which I add their tomato sauce. The pasta is made with non-GMO, ancient grains of Durum wheat and Tumminia wheat. And the sauce is bursting with fresh tomato flavor, including only their summer cherry tomatoes, EVOO, sea salt and basil. I add my own spices, olives, and capers to the sauce including Papa Vince Sea Salt. The salt is harvested in Trapani, is solar-evaporated, all-natural, unrefined, and additive free. And on my salads and to season steaks, chicken, and baked vegetables I enjoy the gorgeous Moscato Balsamic Vinegar. It is 20 percent grape must, which Papa Vince cooked from their own fresh harvested and pressed grapes and 80 percent red wine vinegar, and aged for eight years. Find Papa Vince products at local markets, on Amazon, and at PapaVince.com.