Olive oil is produced in several regions across Italy, from Liguria in the northwest to Sicily in the south; some of the most remarkable examples I’ve tasted originate from Marche and Abruzzo. But the most famous Italian olive oils, the ones most people look for, are from Tuscany. From the Bolgheri coast to the inland territories of Montalcino, Montepulciano and Chianti Classico, olive oil from Tuscany is both an important industry, as well as a beloved product.
For several years now, a number of producers near Florence have been producing a special type of olive oil known as Laudemio. The most recognized of these producers is Frescobaldi, and I recently spoke with Matteo Frescobaldi, to learn more about this product, from its origins to its specific qualities, and even discover his favorite pairings with this oil.
First, the name Laudemio. What does it mean? “The root of the word is ‘laude,’ which means ‘with praise,’ like when you get a degree cum laude,” Frescobaldi revealed. “In the Medieval Ages it was used by the farmers to praise, to give thanks for a good harvest, the best part of the harvest.”
How did the creation of Laudemio come about? “It was the idea of the Frescobaldi family to establish the Laudemio brand back in the 1980s, so we could make a special product for the olive oil companies near Florence,” Frescobaldi commented. “At the time in the 1980s, there were no IGPs or DOPs for olive oil; for example, IGP Toscana olive oil was only established in 1998.
“1986 was the founding of Laudemio consorzio. So ten years after our family made this brand which was supposed to be the Grand Cru of olive oil. Then they decided to ask other people to join this project.” He notes that today there are about 20 producers of Laudemio; “most of the producers of Laudemio are in the province of Florence, some west of Florence, some a bit south and east of Florence, but not as far as Gaiole (in the southern sector of Chianti Classico). It does include such areas as Chianti Colli Fiorentini.”
One of the things everyone comments on when they see the Laudemio bottle for the first time is how striking the design is. Why was this look chosen? “Back in the 1980s, olive oil was very standard, so there weren’t as many nice bottles as there are today, Frescobaldi related. “My aunt Bona chose this bottle; she wanted to think of high quality olive oil, as precious as perfume.” (It certainly does look like a perfume bottle, doesn’t it?)
How would Frescobaldi describe the style of Laudemio? Is it different than other Tuscan oils? Is there a Laudemio style or is it more than the individual producer? “There are differences among the individual producers,” he said, “just like you would have among the different Chianti Classico or Brunello di Montalcino. But overall, the idea is to have something authentic from our territory, where the notes are very grassy, with hints of artichoke, a bit green, not only the color, but also to the taste.
“Ours in particular, well it changes from year to year, our Laudemio is definitely balanced, with some spiciness and bitterness in the aromas. So I would say that our goal is to have something powerful but at the same time balanced, so that the aromas, the tastes, the spiciness and bitterness is fine tuned.
“Our part of Tuscany, the olive oils are particularly grassy, with artichoke and arugula flavors. If you go to the Tuscan coast, at Bolgheri near the seaside, you would have more floral notes as well as flavors of tomato, due to the influence of the sea. “Here, far away from the sea, the olive oil is more grassy and fresh.”
Frescobaldi typically produces between 100,000 and 150,000 bottles a year, and the process is quite costly. “To make an olive oil as precious as Laudemio, you need one tree per bottle.”
The labeling on each bottle recommends consumption between 18-24 months after bottling. “It’s sort of a best before date,” Frescobaldi notes. The current release is from the 2021 harvest, and he explained that older bottles are still in good condition, but are different albeit. “Older oils (from 2020, e.g.) change; it becomes more sweet in a way, more delicate.
“It can change the food; for some foods, I would prefer something more gentle, more sweet, with others, something more grassy. The 2021 is still quite spicy.”
Finally, while we always hear that Tuscans pour their olive oil on their vegetables or in soups, are there any unusual pairings that Frescobaldi enjoys? “I also like it on gelato, on ice cream,” he says. “It works well with pistachio, with almond, even vanilla. I also like it on tartare, especially beef tartare.”
Those are pairings I…
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