Fattoria La Vialla from Tuscany has been producing pure, biodynamic products in an authentic way for 45 years. From pastas, sauces, wines to biscuits and its own cosmetics line. Italian delight in bottle or jar. La Vialla fits in with a circular design as much as possible where everything is reused as much as possible. Olive oil is the crowning glory, because it is really in everything.
Text: Angelique van Os | Photography: Henk Bothof & La Vialla archive.
The late evening sun caresses the rolling hills of Fattoria La Vialla. This biodynamic family business, which celebrates its 45th anniversary in September, covers more than 1,300 hectares of land. We have been a frequent guest in one of the many rustic Tuscan country houses. Here, peace and activity alternate, because anyone who visits the Fattoria, or farm, down in the valley, is embraced with sincere cordiality. And especially a lot of pure delicacies that the ‘viallini’ (the employees) prepare on the spot for their guests.
The olive grove can be found near the Fattoria, between the two country houses La Vialla di Sopra and Uliveto. The olives are still small buds, but in the summer they will grow thanks to the hot Tuscan climate. The olives are harvested and pressed around mid-October. One of La Vialla’s most valuable products can be fully used here, because olive oil is worth ‘gold’.
There is quite a bit involved before there is a good olive oil, because everything goes through the organic-biodynamic philosophy (see box), whereby the soil is uncontaminated, the olives are carefully collected in small boxes and the pressing immediately after picking takes place in a controlled atmosphere. The olives are then pressed in their own olive oil mill, which is located near La Vialla country house and the square.
Céline Kruger, head of communication and marketing, says that nothing of this natural product is lost during the harvesting and pressing of the olives. Circular farming is highly regarded by the Lo Franco family, the founders of Fattoria La Vialla. “From the leaves and the kernel, to the vegetation moisture and the bitter olive water, everything is used for something. We even use the leftover skins and kernels in our compost cycle. Nothing is lost,” says Céline. There is a difference here: olive oil is used by La Vialla in the kitchen and olive water for food supplements and cosmetics. In addition, there is also the unfiltered sediment, the sediment, which has an important effect.
Céline takes us to the sheep cheese dairy, where we see the process of making pecorino and ricotta cheese. La Vialla produces 3000 liters of milk per day for 400 pecorino cheeses and about 80 ricotta cheeses. When the pecorino cheeses are ready, they end up in a large refrigerator where they have to ripen for several months. The important ingredient ‘aqua di morchia’ is used here (the cheeses are rubbed with it). This is the strong and bitter olive sediment that remains after pressing. It contains a high concentration of polyphenols (a group of antioxidants) and thus protects the cheese against bacteria and fungi. This unfiltered sediment also gives the product a special distinct taste.
Olive oil plays an important role in the kitchen. Céline: “We bake many of our biscuits with olive oil instead of butter because it is a healthier fat and gives a good taste. And olive oil has been added to the jars of our antipasti products and sauces so that it has a longer shelf life and the taste is better preserved.”
Fattoria La Vialla was born in 1978 thanks to Piero and Giuliana lo Franco who made their vocation of agriculture. They bought abandoned farmhouses and eventually 1300 hectares of land, just outside the town of Castilioni Fibocchi. They renovated twenty-three holiday homes, restored old vineyards and olive groves and built new ones. In addition, they keep about 950 Sardinian sheep and breathed new life into the almost extinct Val-darnese breed of chicken. Finally, they grow grain and grow dozens of vegetables and fruit trees. Together with their sons, Gianni, Antonio and Bandino and more than 150 employees, Fattoria la Vialla has grown into a successful biodynamic company. Pure farming means that the organisms form a holistic whole, in which the feeding of animals, fertilization and watering of plants and the sowing of the land make the difference between conventional and biodynamic farmers. The key to this is vital fertility of the soil in which micro-organisms live, so that human intervention is limited. Instead of ploughing the soil intensively, La Vialla uses green manure and produces special preparations based on the lunar calendar. The position and lunar cycle are important to achieve certain results.
Fattoria La Vialla is much more than a biodynamic family business. It combines self-sufficient agriculture in its own way with sustainable tourism. It is a community in which the often yearly returning guests and day trippers also get the feeling that they belong to the family. It remains special to see that the ‘viallini’ who have been working here for years, have so much fun. The staff laugh, chat and cook like their lives depend on it. Everything revolves around Italian cordiality, experience and the purest possible food. And knowledge, because in 45 years the founders, the Lo Franco family, have achieved many successes thanks to innovative research and the use of professionals. Because of all that knowledge and cordiality, the food and drinks taste even better.
Love in a jar
->The cheerful Italian Gabriella, chef and head of the museum, knows better than anyone how to use olive oil in la cucina. She has been working on the farm for 25 years. At the time, she learned from the first generation of the Lo Francos, Piero and Giuliana, to have great respect for the farmland and passion for the product. “We treated our customers like friends and everything revolved around personal attention. That is still the case today. Piero said to me: “Transmit the love that is in this jar of tomatoes or in this pasta. His motto changed me as a person in many ways,” says Gabriella.
Gabriella had already inherited her passion for cooking from her mother. There was one rule: respect the food. She was also a big proponent of reusing everything. So the chef hardly ever throws anything away. It is therefore her dream for the museum where she gives guided tours – often in a theatrical manner – to make people aware of the delicacies they can prepare from leftovers. “Taste the Waste”, she exclaims exuberantly, because leftovers can always be used in the next dish.
Gabriella further explains that at La Vialla they follow the rhythm and times of nature. For example, they mainly use seasonal fruit and vegetables in their dishes during lunches. Gabriella: “I really enjoy strawberries, because they only grow here in the spring. So I’m already looking forward to it in the winter. This also gives you more respect for food.
We would like to convey that message in the museum. It is a small educational center, a microcosm. We explain what nature and the seasons can give the product. Biodynamics is based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner (see background box), where we explain where products come from and how they grow. In the museum we also pay attention to how people can be self-sufficient and save food.”
“Have respect for the food”
Back to the olive, because in addition to valuable oil, much more is used. For example, fruit and leaves are a natural source of polyphenols. One of the latest developments is our own line of cosmetics and nutritional supplements: OliPhenolia. This food supplement line consists of a very bitter and a softer variant with grape juice. The extract is filtered from the watery parts of the olives (vegetation moisture) and contains a high concentration of polyphenols. It is recommended to follow a 16-day course a few times a year. Each jar contains approximately 30 mg hydroxytyrosol. This is one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants and is only found in olives and their leaves.
Gianni, the eldest of the three brothers Lo Franco who runs the company together with Antonio and Bandino, saw a program on television about ten years ago in which Professor Dr. Adriana Albini was a guest. She explained how natural substances found in food, such as olive oil, can also be used in products that are not daily food. Gianni was intrigued and contacted her at the time. They started exploring the possibilities with a whole team. A colleague, Professor Dr. Massimo Pizzichini, has discovered how the vegetation moisture can be separated.
The Lo Franco’s were skeptical at first whether this product would work, because having your customers drink a bitter pot for 16 days is quite demanding. However, their great-grandmother Catherina (1902-2000) thought very differently in the 1950s. Bandino Lo Franco says that while pressing the olives, his ‘nonna’ had the habit of drinking half a glass of ‘aqua mora’ a few times a day. This ‘dark water’, as we now know, was the rich vegetation moisture with the very bitter taste. After pressing, this moisture is mechanically separated from the lighter oil by means of centrifugation. Bandino: “My parents and brothers were amazed that grandma drank this without batting an eyelid. She had been doing it for years. It did her good and she was right, because it contains more polyphenols than in olive oil itself. The ratio is approximately 1 to 20.”
Nourishing creams La Vialla
The own cosmetics line is a follow-up to the Oliphenolia, whereby La Vialla no longer focuses solely on food and wine. Bandino: “Dr. Thomas M. Schmidts, a German customer of La Vialla who makes creams, approached us. He was so enthusiastic about the nutritional supplement that he convinced us to develop nourishing creams with partly the same ingredients. We are happy with the result and attach great importance to development and research.”
“My parents and brothers were amazed that grandma drank aqua mora without batting an eyelid. She’s been doing it for years.”
If you want to taste all those goodies yourself or give them as a gift, visit lavialla.com. There are special gift packages in all price ranges.
The Fattoria is open for visits from April to October inclusive . Lunches, Merendas (extensive bread meals with the products of La Vialla) and guided tours are possible in the same period. For reservations and further information: firstname.lastname@example.org
The parking facilities have been expanded and relocated, making the ‘heart’ of the fattoria low-traffic. It is possible to stay 1 night with the caravan or motorhome if there is enough space. This is possible on request.
Over the past five years, the OliPhenolia line has expanded considerably. The adventure started with a face and hand cream and a serum. Products such as body balm, intensively cleansing facial gel, shampoo and SOS Spray have now been developed. Also new are its own sunscreen, hydra-gel after sun and OliPhenolia C with blood oranges. The latter is a collaboration with Sicilian farmers, who have switched to organic-biodynamic cultivation with the help of La Vialla.
In OliPhenolia C, the whole orange fruit has been pureed and concentrated and added to the polyphenols of the olives. Orange peel contains three times as much vitamin C as the pulp and juice. A very powerful antioxidant, good for the immune system, collagen formation and iron absorption.
Over the past 45 years, Fattoria La Vialla has created its own taste development and refinement, in which everything comes back to the basics: the power of nature. They want to continue and improve that with everyone’s own expertise, says Bandino. He and his brothers complement each other well and with their loyal viallini and third generation (their children) who can take over the baton in time, Fattoria La Vialla has a bright future ahead. Fittingly, Bandino says: “Together we know and can achieve so much more. And it’s fantastic that our guests feel so involved. It is working together and living together. And of course, the most important: eating and drinking together, because that’s what we do it for.”