Fabrizio Fusi’s family has been producing oil since 1946. After managing on regional and national scale and after flanking his father Mario and his uncles in the business, in 1971 he decided to take a new direction. Confident of his deep personal knowledge of product characteristics and of main production areas worldwide, he successfully cultivated a business network in a few short years and was also doggedly able to establish his own name at international level. In the 1990s, he founded two companies – Castel del Chianti, in 1991, in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa; and Fiorentini Firenze in Colle di Val d'Elsa, in 1996 – both of which he runs.
When you develop a blend to meet the demands of the public at large, on what basis do you select ingredients? Consistency, balance, freshness? Or something else?
When I think of large-scale retail trade, I know that every one of my customers has their own blend in mind. We work to satisfy the preferences that our customers ask for. For example, whether they’re after a fruity oil or one with a mild, delicate impact, we adapt to that. Basically, we take into consideration whatever type of request we get. The consistency of the blend is essential. Keeping the same percentage of mild, bitter or pungent notes in oil is a given, whatever the olive harvest has to offer. It’s not easy, because apart from the season other factors are involved, also related to the origins of the oils. But Italians are past masters at this job. We have the task in hand and we know our raw materials better than anyone else. Not least because we’ve been importing oil forever. We have built up enough market knowledge to make us unbeatable. Not many are able to spot the origin of an oil: we’re able to source the fruitiest, greenest, or other type of oil. What sort of EVO appeals to the consumer? An ideal blend that would make the user happy would be 20–30% Italian with 70% Greek. In these cases, Coratina is essential for giving various blends personality, and we’d recommend it every time if used in the right percentage. So, even if Italian oil is used in smaller amounts, it still makes for a unique end result. I’m convinced that quality is all to do with cultivar and not latitude, but harvest time and olive milling are just as crucial.
Once the blend has been defined, how do you manage to reproduce it in large quantities? Technically, how do you go about blending? How can you be sure the various lots will mix well together and that you will get the scent, flavour and tactile and kinaesthetic profile you want?
After developing the mother blend, we use the same percentages and origins, pouring them into containers of 250–500 tons. We proceed to obtain the same mixture as in the original composition creating a uniform mass. Each container used for blending is fitted with a paddle to stir the oil, revolving like a propeller blade to mix the contents. We don’t use pumps because they cause oxidization. The containers are fitted with vertical blades, or else horizontal blades installed on the bottom of the tank. We find that the best end product is achieved at an average temperature of 20–22 °C, and if possible we keep the oil under nitrogen, so it oxidizes as little as possible.
Of all the foods and beverages on the market, which have been exploited best thanks to blending?
Sadly, oil is valued less than any other raw material in the food industry. For the average consumer, it’s a complex topic … actually it’s even complex for industry workers. Although we try to inform consumers, even today palates prefer the mildest oil possible, and this happens above all in areas where there isn’t much oil production. Everyone always wants an oil that’s not too fruity, not too bitter and not too pungent. A mild oil raises fewer issues with a consumer, but the milder an EVO is, the more criticism it will encounter during panel tests and in any case, it will have a shorter shelf life. With delicate oils, we never get any complaints. Nor is it easy to come up with a blend that suits everyone. There is no universal blend, but we must aim for an oil that is as harmonious as possible, with well-balanced bitterness and pungency.