The Millers Series: Giorgio Franci from Frantoio Franci
We love Olive Oil.
And really, we should. We know the land where it comes from. We have felt the breeze through the hills. We have sat in the shade of its trees. We have smelled the scent of the blossoms and then were there to pick the fruit when it was just right. And when the oil came out of the press, we were there to taste it. But beyond the terroir, what really makes the difference, or rather who – is the miller. The man or woman, who with love, passion, science and gut creates for us – liquid gold. So, actually it’s them we love.
This is the fifth in our series of mini-interviews with our partners, the artisan farmers who bring us some of the most amazing EVOO available on the planet. We think that once you know them like we do, you too will feel the love. Today we meet Giorgio Franci who runs the award-winning, jewel of Tuscany, Frantoio Franci.
1. Name, first and last: Giorgio Franci. I was born August 5th 1968. I’m Giorgia’s husband and Niccolò and Matia’s Daddy.
2. Where were you born? I was born and raised in Montenero d’Orcia, a small town in Tuscany. Montenero is at the end of the Orcia valley, one of the most beautiful and typical Tuscan landscapes and it is where I still live and work today. It is a place that has had the good fortune of staying whole and uncontaminated, where the environment and the quality of life is exceptional. When I was about 17 years old, I went through a phase where this place felt too small for me. University was a period that was very important because it made me aware of different cultures and life in general and gave me experiences that allowed me to appreciate what I had and where I came from. I am happy that my children are growing up here.
3. How has the place where you were born influenced who and how you are? Being such a small town, the economy in Montenero is firmly linked to agriculture: mainly wheat, grapes and olives. I grew up in a community of simple, hard-working people. Working hours were determined by the hours of sunlight not by the clock and putting something off until tomorrow that could be done today could’ve meant compromising an entire season. In the end, it wasn’t so difficult for me but my role models, my parents and grandparents had a hard life centered on work. I am very proud of the values that they taught me through their work ethic and I hope to do the same for my children with the added desire of dedicating more time to them, something I didn’t have. My work allows me to have contact and experiences with cultured individuals from all over the world and it is wonderful to be able to share with them a passion and to have my work appreciated for its quality. I am sure that I would not have achieved the same results without the lessons and role models that I had.
4. What did you study? I studied at a Liceo Scientifico (Science focused High School) and then in the faculty of Architecture in Florence. While I was studying, I lived in Florence and worked in a studio that specialized in Bioclimatic architecture. But in 1995 I began working in the mill full-time and I suspended my studies. For my father and my uncle, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the new laws and regulations in food production. The company was slowly coming to an end, there seemed to be no alternative to closing it.
I thought that I could help out with the business and the seasonality of the mill would allow me to easily continue with my studies. I soon realized that that wasn’t the case and not only would I not have time to devote to school but even my weekends were consumed by the work. And that is how it was for 10 years.
Up to that point, all of our oil from the mill was sold in bulk. My first realization was that we should be the ones to go and find new customers, of course bottling our own oil. This was the first real difficult step because my father did not believe in this direction. I still remember how hard it was to get that first cheque from him to buy two pallets of bottles worth around € 900. The second was the awareness of being a stranger in my own land – without any experience at all. And the third realization was that we could not develop new markets by encouraging buyers with the lowest price – we had to change directions. Hence the decision to pursue captivating packaging, capable of attracting the attention of potential buyers and to manufacture only the highest quality of oil. In later years I made an effort to stay in contact with people who knew more than me, to learn as much as I could from their experiences. But the most important experiences were those IN the field, the curiosity and the desire to touch all the stages of production, especially the processing of olives. I am convinced that the foundation of all good oils is a good raw material COUPLED with the understanding of their potential which only then allows you to work with them in the right way to achieve the best results.
5. Were your studies connected at all to your future work? No, but it was, in any case, a fundamental experience.
6. How old were you when you knew that making EVOO was your mission? 27 years old.
7. What is your favourite dish prepared with your EVOO? I prefer simple dishes prepared with good raw materials. In first place, my mother Rosina’s tortelli or those made by neighbour Iva. They are simple but perfect, the filling is spinach and ricotta cheese and they are served with just our Villa Magra Gran Cru and grated dried chestnuts from Monte Amiata or grated aged cheese. When it is mushroom season, in this area you can find Caesar’s mushrooms, grated raw on top, they take the dish to another level. For a simple dish, take a good artisan pasta or a good Carnaroli rice, dressed with Villa Magra Gran Cru and grated aged cheese – delicious. I also love fresh picked tomatoes with fresh basil and Villa Magra or Judas artichokes eaten raw with Olivastra Seggianese.
8. What makes your EVOO different from others produced in your region, in Italy and in the world? I honestly don’t know. Many industry experts, on different occasions, have said “Your oils are unmistakable, have a matrix that makes them unique.” I can sense the meaning of these statements and simply say that it make me very happy.
9. If you controlled the Olive Oil world, what measures would you put in place to improve it?
I would make it obligatory to have the level of polyphenols on the label and introducing a minimum value of 200mg/kg, I would implement a massive education campaign towards consumers outlining the importance and health benefits of this element. It would be an excellent way to remove all the garbage products that create so much confusion in this sector.
10. Who or what inspires you and your work? The role models that I have had, my wife, Giorgia, and the children we are raising together.
11. When you are not working in the olive mill, what are you doing? Easy question – skiing: I live 10 minutes from the ski lifts on Monte Amiata. When that isn’t possible – mountain biking. I like trout fishing in the rivers but I never seem to have enough time for that.
12. If you weren’t an olive miller, what would you be? No idea, I have never asked myself that question. Something creative, useful. Architecture fascinates me.
13. What is something you can’t say no to? Good oil!
14. The book on your bedside table: Monocultivar Olive Oil – the Perfect Oil by Gino Celletti. It is a very interesting book that through chemistry explains the natural enzymatic processes that are generated during the olive press, the criteria for food and oil pairing, recipes etc. The book starts like this: “There is no oil in olives, you can’t make a freshly squeezed juice like you do with oranges….” . When I need to relax, I read Ski magazine.
15. Your favourite song in your iPod: Love too many, can’t pick just one:
REM.: It’s the End of the World” “Losing my Religion”
DAVID BOWIE: “Modern Love”
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: “Under the Bridge”
QUEEN: “Bohemian Rhapsody” “I want to Break free”
THE CLASH: “Should I Stay or Should I go”
NIRVANA: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
and I also like JOVANOTTI.
16. Your favourite cult classic film: Blade Runner
17. Your most memorable vacation: The next one, I hope…
18. Where have you never been, but would love to go? Salmon fishing. I hope to do that in a few years when the boys are a bit older and we can do it together.
19. Accomplishment that you are most proud of: Professionally speaking, Villa Magra Grand Cru 2002. Amazingly good and complex, it is a pity that oil doesn’t age like wine, it would be so great to be able to re-taste it. Today that product is a beautiful memory and I still have some of the 100 bottles of the Grand Bordeaux (Petrus, Lafite, Cheval Blanc, Latour) that were exchanged on par with the Villa Magra Grand Cru 2002, winner of the invite only tasting competition of the most prestigious oils in the world organized by the Grand Jury Européen. As a result of this exchange, our oil now counts some of the most famous and celebrated chefs in France among its fans.