Egidio Marcantoni is an innovator in a traditional craft.
Egidio Marcantoni didn’t set out to produce olive oil, much less revolutionize the field.
He is the co-owner of Ciar Power Technology in Pesaro, a company that makes remote control mechanisms for reclining massage chairs. He holds 12 patents in that industry.
But as an engineer who six years ago bought 150 acres of green hills outside the town of Monteciccardo, he couldn’t help bringing his hard sciences approach to the softer world of olive oil production. Because of innovative processes that he developed at his Il Conventino olive farm and winery, the many varieties of his oil have won prestigious awards every year since he started production.
“I think that innovation is a part of our genetic system,” says Marcantoni, adding that without it human beings would still be in the Stone Age. His strong, no-nonsense delivery signals that Marcantoni is knowledgeable, confident, and proud of everything he does.
When he was growing up, Marcantoni’s family made their own wine for personal use, instilling an interest from a young age.
“I was always attracted by good wine, especially when I was a guest in restaurants,” Marcantoni said sitting at one of the five tables in the main room at Il Conventino, where he often leads tours and tasting events. He begins his workdays at Il Conventino for a few hours before he heads off to Ciar—on his BMW motorcycle, if the weather is warm.
During a recent visit by 20 Dutch tourists, Marcontoni explained that he was originally attracted to the wine-growing potential of Il Conventino. Then, turning his attention to the 1,000 olive trees on the farm, he decided to add 6,000 more. He also decided that if he were going to produce olive oil, he would have to become an expert in the field.
Marcantoni began with some upgrades in the field. He introduced an underground watering system for his plants to reduce the workload of his employees and ensure even watering. Every tree at Il Conventino is the exact same shade of green.
In order to make harvesting easier, he pruned his new trees into a pyramid shape instead of the classic four-branch style. The new design provided unexpected protection: a heavy winter snow severely damaged the four-branch trees but just slid off those shaped like pyramids.
But Marcantoni believes that only 20 percent of the process of creating olive oil is done in the field. As the Dutch tourists crowd into his compact production room, he tells them that 80 percent of the work happens after the picking of the fruit. He proudly points to the machinery and races through explanations of “micro drops” of oil, enzymes, and polyphenols contained in the olives.
Most olive oil producers begin the milling process within 48 hours of harvesting, but Marcantoni says he has reduced that time to 10, because enzymes start to break down the fruit as soon as the olive leaves the tree. He tells his guests that oxygen exposure also harms the oils’ quality, holding up an electronic probe he uses to ensure that he is keeping his product oxygen-free. The machines that crush and mix are sealed tight, he explains, as he points to tubes that transfer the product from one stage to the next.
In the last step of production, Il Conventino uses is a high-tech centrifuge to separate out the oil. Housed in a separate glass room with space enough for only three or four people to look inside, the shiny cylindrical apparatus is clearly a point of pride. Marcantoni explains that it was custom made by a company in Pesaro following recommendations he formulated after Il Conventino’s first three years of production. With obvious satisfaction, he tells the group that the centrifuge is the first of its kind and that others in the field are now adopting it, a sign that it produces a high-quality product.
Despite his focus on such concerns as high polyphenol content and low oxygen levels, Marcantoni knows that technology does not trump considerations of the nose and mouth. So during his regular weekend appearances at Il Conventino, he guides visitors downstairs to sample the oil for themselves. The walls are lined with red bins holding bottles of the different varieties he produces. In the middle of the tasting room, plastic sampling cups are lined up atop a violet tablecloth.
Marcantoni pours a sipful and demonstrates the sampling process. You must warm the cup with both hands, he tells his audience, place some oil between the lower lip and teeth, and then quickly suck the oil into your mouth, coating your tongue entirely.
One of the oils has an artichoke flavor and another gives a strong sensation of tomato. Both are slightly bitter and intensely spicy, which can irritate the back of the throat. Marcantoni smiles when his visitors cough (as he expected) from the effect of the powerful flavors he has worked so hard to magnify.
Because of its size, Il Conventino is able to produce “monocultivar oil,” oil made from a single type of olive. Marcantoni tells visitors that many of Il Conventino’s competitors in Le Marche are small operations that can produce only blends.
In Urbino, at the Raffaello Degusteria fine food shop, Alberto Crinella rates the quality of Il Conventino’s oil as “maxima.” He sells Il Conventino oil as well as a product from the renowned Cartoceto area that carries the prestigious “DOP” mark of quality.
Regardless of reputations, Crinella says, Il Conventino oil is definitely preferable to some oils carrying the DOP stamp of approval. He says that Marcantoni has the best process and knows how to properly apply technology to the craft of olive-oil making.
Crinella refers to Il Conventino’s olive oil engineer, with respect, as a “maniac of technology.” That description would probably make Marcantoni smile.