words by Nicola Ferlei-Brown
Alchemy and extra virgin olive oil just so go together. The sacred serum has not only been used to anoint leaders in history, but the affordable star potion has been hailed as a modern day preventative for cancer.
Galen, an ancient Roman physician and surgeon, is credited with using olive oil in the 2nd century AD as a moisturizer. No wonder Homer called it liquid gold.Roman women used olive oil to treat their hair and skin. It was used as an exfoliater, and for moisturizing after the sun. To heal dry brittle nails, and to make the skin shine. They were aware of its many beneficial qualities, both for our skin and for the body. It was even used as fuel for oil lamps, and a pre-fight application to protect the skin from blows. ‘Ornatrices' (Roman slave hairdressers) had a handy little jar of olive oil with them at all times when in the streets, to touch up the decorative hairstyles of their mistresses. Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans all deemed it handy for bathing, make up, and of course, cooking.
Since ancient times, the symbol of the olive branch has been used as a peace symbol. The olive tree is known as the 'immortal tree', and is native to the Holy Land. Is there something magical, sacred about olio di oliva? Well, Doctors, Cosmetologists, and Agronomists alike, acknowledge its benefits.
Olive oil has really branched out! And Italy alone produces over 500'000 tonnes of olive oil each year. Galen considered Sabine olive oil the best, and Sabina is home to a listed olive tree dating back 2,500 years. Not only that, it holds that all important seal of approval from the EU. Most of the top quality extra-virgin olive oils have the DOP (Denominazione d'Origine Protetta) label on the bottle, which indicates food produced with high quality requirements. This herbaceous wonder is bottled and sold the world over.
Montefalco, an Umbrian hilltop village, hidden little gem, and no stranger to holding olive oil festivals, was one place I recently visited with the motive of sampling some of the finest olive oils in the world. Popping into a mysterious looking restaurant known as ‘The Alchemist’, for a dowsing of the golden stuff. Set in one of the finest Italian piazzas, an olive oil tasting session commenced.
As we smelt our little samples of olive oil, I was hypnotized by their peppery scent and in awe of the varying colours and consistencies. Enquiring as to where the restaurant got it’s name from, the owner gestured, "because we make magic, alchemy". Cooking is alchemy, and Olive oil is an essential ingredient for cooking. So the oil is alchemy.
Staying as a guest at the Palazzo Bondatosi Spa (a member of the Mr and Mr’s Smith Boutique Hotel Collection). A ten bedroom, fresco adorned, Cardinals palace, with three suites and an underground spa, complete with salt water and fit for a Queen. I couldn't help but think back to Roman times, and admit, that after my swim I adorned my body in olive oil, just like the Romans did. 'Tis is the season to hail liquid gold', for it never gets old. Ole Olea! Oh gosh, I fancy another bottle!