Transported in time and taste | La Mattera

Listen to the audio version of this read by Claudia


Living in Italy, there are so many moments where time feels suspended, a past and future merging in indescribably precious passages, marked by the senses. On a recent trip to a small coastal town in Marche region, I was completely transported… and the simple olive had a distinct role in this.

This photo by Roberto Traini. All others by Claudia Palmira

Some years ago, my husband, Mauro, began ordering our extra virgin olive oil from his friend Roberto’s uliveto (olive grove): La Mattera. From the start, I was impressed by the oil for its quality, but also another distinct reason — it’s prompt delivery and careful packaging. From the first glance to the first taste, every part of the olive’s journey was thoughtfully designed.

A display at La Mattera, where they sell the oil next to the very place the olives are grown and pressed

We leapt at the chance to visit Roberto this summer at his family-owned hotel, between the Adriatic sea and the family estate, where we received a tour of the olive oil-making process. The experience of the product was made even more rich by understanding its creation – from cultivation, to reaping, pressing and packaging – from Roberto himself, who is a passionate and hands-on entrepreneur.

He authentically desires the most natural product– the purest result of sun and water, removing insects through natural and not chemical means, discovering energy-efficient ways to keep air and light out of the final production – but not for the sake of commercialism. He’s part artisan, part scientist. The trees themselves are an ancient stock, not a modern hybrid, for example. This affects the olive oil’s taste and quality, as do so many subtle details throughout its making.

Crops of fruits, herbs and vegetables from his farm were in abundance during our trip, too – summer figs, peaches, plums and apricots filled the bins in his street-side market, which is just steps from the beach.  The simplicity and cleanliness of this small town, unpolluted by tourism and over-civilization, combined with the intensity of the raw flavors, give it an indescribable timelessness. Yet, this is not a place stuck in the past.

Olives, after being hand-picked and caught into their nets, are ready for cleaning, pressing and packaging. This is when I feel as if time bends and I’m transported from ageless earthiness to a techie future point. All of the methods were not only eco-conscious for the olives, but for the planet as well. This included solar power, non-toxic maintenance, and even low-plastic consumption approaches. Technology enhances the quality of the final result, instead of being an end itself or a shortcut. And this philosophy also extends to the beautifully appointed hotel run by the family – it’s high design with a small footprint and zero pretension.

Terrace dining in the nearby medieval town, high on a hilltop

It is an extraordinary aspect of Italy – this blend of timelessness, tradition and technology intermingling, expressed in many aspects, but especially in food. It’s rare to find a harmonious balance of these elements, and even harder to capture the feeling. It has been said that when we become aware of the exact pathway of our food, that is when we find sanity. Here in this corner of the Marche, I believe this – and can even imagine that La Mattera somehow managed to bottle it inside the oil.