Why punk rocker Fil Bucchino is obsessed with olive oil
If you have an obsession, it might as well be one healthy Obsession.
Fil Bucchino is, by his own admission, obsessed with olive oil, almost evangelical — so much so that a few years ago he all but gave up a successful career in music to not only start making his own olive oil, but to become a professional Assaggiatore di Olio di Olivawhich in English means the decidedly less sexy title of ‘Olive Oil Taster’ but still carries with it a certain prestige.
There is only one certified olive oil taster in Canada, and that would be Bucchino. In addition, there are only two others in North America, and a meager 31 total, that are enrolled worldwide with the Imperia, Italy-based National Organization of Olive Oil Tasters (abbreviated to ONAOO in Italian) and registered with the Italian National Directory of Virgin and Extra Virgin Olive Oil Experts in his parents’ house in Florence.
What these “experts” do is quite mysterious, but certification has enabled Bucchino to preach the gospel of olive oil from Toronto to ports of call as far away as the United Arab Emirates. As we spoke for this piece, he had just finished screening his 2019 documentary — what else? – “Obsessed with Olive Oil” at a conference for industrial olive oil producers in Las Vegas.
Just last weekend, things got even wilder for Bucchino in the cramped space he now inhabits: He was named “Olive Oil Personality” of the year by the International Association of Oil Restaurants at the Palazzo di Varignana estate outside of Bologna appointed. The award goes to “an individual who has distinguished himself for his commitment to spreading and passing on the passion for olive oil”.
So, yes, Bucchino rolls deep in some highly interesting olive oil underground that 99.9 percent of us are totally unaware of.
This is where Bucchino’s past as a punk rocker comes into play. He played bass for a decade in Guelph-born Flashlight Brown, which had a US major label deal with Hollywood Records and made it to international stages on the Warped Tour and Lollapalooza around the turn of the millennium.
Essentially, his whole mission is to “bring it on” so to speak, keeping consumers away from mass-market olive oils and educating them about the health benefits and delicious sensory wonders of DIY oils in small batches like his own brand Abandoned grove
“There’s a little bit of that,” laughed Bucchino while conducting an olive oil tasting for a small group of curious newbies at his home on the east end. “But last weekend was kind of neat. When the video was shown to the industry, it wasn’t like “F— you, big corporate labels!” It wasn’t like that. But it was interesting to just say, “I’m on a different path. We do two different things. I don’t have to do what you do.”
“It serves a different purpose. People ask me all the time: “Which olive oil should I use?” And I say, ‘It depends what you want.’ If you don’t like cooking that much, or if taste isn’t that important, or you just don’t care, it doesn’t matter. Don’t go and break the bank and spend $40 on a bottle of oil.
“Even a commercial one is still really high in monounsaturated fat. You want all the antioxidants that a premium oil would have, but it’s fine. It’s still better than the alternative and you won’t break the bank for it. I think there is another purpose for the industry as well. This job is just different.”
Put simply, this task is to ensure that “everyone has a good bottle of olive oil on the table”.
And Bucchino helps, in his role as Assaggiatore di Olio di Olivaby sitting on the international bodies that determine what point on the classification scale between, for example, “virgin” and “extra virgin” a particular olive oil sits at, by participating in competitive tastings with other olive oil “sommeliers” and yourself consult with growers to improve their flavor profiles and correct any deficiencies in their products that could result, for example, from harvesting their olives too late in the season or waiting too long to send them to one of today’s high-tech extraction mills to deliver.
It’s an imprecise science, of course — Bucchino says, “getting better as a taster is somehow no different than learning to play an instrument” — but tasting a lovingly prepared “artisanal” olive oil (or three or four) after you’ve done that Industrial typical product in one’s kitchen is indeed experiencing the same moment of exhilaration that he experienced years ago when living in Venezuela, attending his first olive harvest and tasting the fresh product.
As he puts it, “Everything I knew about olive oil was erased. Suddenly it was like a whole new product, a new thing.”
“Once you taste the difference, you’ll know why. I don’t have to tell you,’ he said. “Our idea of olive oil is freshly extracted, raw olive juice. So when you think of a juice, like fresh fruit juice, you want the fruit to be as healthy as it can be, and you want to extract it in the cleanest possible way, and you want to consume it as quickly as possible. A perfect analogy is an orange juice. You don’t want orange juice from oranges that have fallen on the floor and been on the floor for a week.
“With premium oil, the art form is actually capturing the quality of the strain, the strain, and interpreting that season accurately in that moment. And the beauty of olive oil is that, unlike wine, it doesn’t age. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
“I’m going to stand up here and do a comparison to the music and I hope I don’t screw up, but thinking about a record, right? You record the record and it’s the same every time, but when you see the artist perform live the show changes depending on the night or the mood. We work with three varieties, the same every year, so theoretically the oil should taste exactly the same every time. But s— happens. It will be a little bit different every year. That’s the experience. That’s the part that actually gets you closer to the oil.”
Aside from having to undergo the intense four-year process of learning, testing and tasting required to become a certified olive oil taster with the ONAOO – a process that requires him to return to Imperia once a year to “attend the annual meeting.” attend and get up appointment with continued tastings” if he wants to stay signed up exclusively Assaggiatore di Olio di Oliva club – Bucchino has continued to gamble in recent years by launching the Abandoned Grove project.
Unaware of the abandonment when he first walked down the ‘rabbit hole’ for olive oil, he quickly learned through friendly connections overseas that up to 60 percent of the olive groves in Tuscany’s Chianti region were derelict and overgrown surrounding areas particularly vulnerable to fire, flooding and invasive insect species. With the motto “No Grove Abandoned,” Abandoned Grove has partnered with communities across the region to save what today includes nearly 3,000 olive trees that might otherwise never have been realized to their potential to produce something utterly delicious.
Abandoned Grove’s olive oil is scarce and hard to come by: in keeping with its punk rock origins, it’s only available through a “friends and family” email list that Bucchino himself oversees (at $360 per personally delivered case of six bottles). which now counts 1,000 people annually. But the actual end product is secondary to Bucchino’s overriding mission of getting as many people as possible excited about really good olive oil.
He doesn’t care where you get it. He just wants you to try.
And so he travels the world to bring quality olive oil of every stripe to people willing to listen and taste as part of a growing “scene” that is gaining momentum in the same way that artisan cheeses or craft beers are gaining momentum -Movements. Once people realize there is a better tasting alternative to the industrial model of a food or beverage product, they tend not to look back.
“It’s cool because there are no limits. The tasters, the people I work with, it’s like you’re on tour and it’s a scene,” said Bucchino. “It’s a stalemate and everyone is fighting the same issue, trying to raise awareness and make a difference.
“It’s starting to change a bit, but the world of olive oil today is like you step into the LCBO and all there is is red wine and white wine. No variety, no provenance, no vintage… I actually get depressed sometimes because I feel like I really want to make a change when it comes to olive oil, but we’ve put a lot of work into it.
“And one day, when everyone understands olive oil, I’ll be done and the job done. And then? I like dating.”
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