The Sabine Hills are a part of Italy rarely visited by tourists. They lie in the north east of the region and are a short drive from the borders of both Umbria and Abruzzo. Although it takes no more than 50 minutes to drive there from the capital, Rome must have seemed a world away when horse and cart was the main form of transport.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil of the Sabine Hills
This territory is named after the Sabines, an Italic tribe that arrived in the area from the Adriatic coast around the 10th-9th century B.C. It is precisely in this pre-Roman period that the cultivation of olives commenced in the territory (proof of this can be found in the archaeological ruins of the town of Cures, the ancient capital of the Sabines). Further testimony to this is the majestic olive tree in Canneto di Fara in Sabina; a gigantic specimen that, according to authoritative opinions, is over 1,500 years old.
Galen, a physician of Hellenic origin who lived during the reign of Marcus Aurelius considered extra virgin olive oil from Sabina to be the best in the world; he recommended it not only as a foodstuff but also as a basic ingredient for therapeutic preparations. Still today, as in the past, olive groves are still owned by local families and the olives are harvested by hand.
The zone is slightly more arid than its neighbors, but ideal for the cultivation of olives. Some of the tastiest extra virgin olive oil in Italy is produced here. Try it on a hot bruschette. The olive trees of the Sabine Hills are among the largest in Europe and the the distinct delicate flavour of the extra virgin oil is perhaps due to the warm winds whipping in directly from the south. An arid area which has its own fascination.
The olives are of various strains and include Carboncella, Pendolfino, Moraiolo and Rosciola and all are beautiful golden yellow/green before being harvested just as the color turns to brown. In fact, olive cultivation in the Sabine Hills goes back thousands of years. Ancient Babylonian records mention the quality of the oil from the zone as far back as 1700 BC. Visitors might like to head to Canneto Sabino and marvel at the largest olive tree of all. 7 meters in circumference, the tree has been flowering every Spring for more than 1000 years.
More history of olive growing in the area can be found at the Museo dell'Olio della Sabina in Castelnuovo di Farfa. The museum is based in the 15th century Palazzo Perelli at the heart of the narrow medieval streets of the town and is open from Friday to Sunday.
The olive producers of this territory are still very much small, traditional cooperatives and the respective aziende agricole need to stick together to compete in Italy's saturated marketplace. No pun intended. They are grouped under the umbrella of the Consorzio Sabina Dop and the website behind the link lists the mills, producers, bottlers and 2600 year history of the zone. You can even buy online. Unfortunately, for non Italian speakers, the website is not in English or any other alternative language. But they have produced a cute 15 second ad instead which you can view below and also join them on Facebook.
Discover the whole zone of olive oil production in the Sabine Hills by following 6 signposted routes.
- No1. Monterotondo - Mentana - Guidonia - Marcellina - S.Polo dei Cavalieri.
- No2. Montelibretti - Moricone - Monteflavio - Nerola - Scandriglia.
- No3. Fara Sabina - Poggio Mirteto - Montenero Sabino - Castelnuovo di Farfa.
- No4. Poggio S.Lorenzo - Torricella in Sabina - Monteleone Sabino.
- No5. Magliano Sabino - Collevecchio - Tarano - Montasola - Configni.
- No6. Stimigliano - Selci - Torri in Sabina - Casperia - Poggio Catino.