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Meet Alberto Gallufo, the “World’s Best” Olive Oil Maker

Our Italian wine expert, Gianluca Rottura, interviews his favorite olive oil maker, Alberto Galluffo, and shares a memory.

Olive oil maker Alberto Galluffo and Appetito’s Gianluca Rottura.

Since I was in a baby carriage, my parents, especially my father, would take me and my brother to “Piccola Italia” (I can still hear his voice) to visit various shops in Manhattan’s Little Italy, but always Di Palo's, which is one of the best places to find the largest selections of salumi and cheeses from Italy. In fact, they are responsible for introducing certain Italian foods to Americans.

For many years, I was buying an exceptional olive oil from them that I always loved. Eventually, the olive oil maker went on his own to form his own company, naming it after himself, Alberto Galluffo. The olive oils he produces are among the very best in the world; in fact, I think they are quite simply the best, period.

At Di Palo‘s, I love talking with one of the owners, Lou Di Palo, a walking encyclopedia. I’m always eager to absorb wisdom from him as well. After reminding him how much I’ve been enjoying Alberto’s olive oils for years, he said, “It’s the best. You know, if you want to meet him, he’s coming to do a tasting here.” I knew I had to stop by and finally meet the man behind the world’s greatest olive oil. But would I really be meeting him for the first time?

When we finally met, I went on and on how much I loved his olive oils, and Alberto was surprised at how much I not only knew about the liquid gold (it’s the largest chapter in my book, Ma, What Are You Cooking?) but about his oil in particular. He appreciated my interest. I felt like I knew him from somewhere in the past. I asked him, “I know this will sound weird and very specific, but, by chance, were you at a beautiful restaurant on Lake Garda in the spring of 2003, during the week of VinItaly?”

I was at the five-day wine event in Verona. I remember the very large table overlooking one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Before we sat down to dinner, the owner of the restaurant mentioned to us that the gentleman at the end of what seemed like a 30-foot table wondered if we were interested in trying the best olive oil in Italy. We were excited to try it; although, I must admit, I thought it was a very bold claim. When I finally tasted it, I could not believe it. It truly was the best I’ve ever tasted.

At Di Palo's, Alberto was shocked when I brought this up, and he remembered that event fondly, and we both know it holds some special meaning. I told Alberto I would visit him at his estate in Trapani, Sicily. I did. And it was magical.

Alberto Galluffo makes an array of olive oils, and it would be impossible to go into detail about each. His Historium would probably be the most classic. I don’t do drugs, but I would imagine that his Settembrino mimics the exact same feelings one would get on anything that instantly hooks you. It is, in my opinion, the boldest yet most elegant and stunning expression of olive oil that has ever been produced. Of course, he makes a wonderful and super fresh Novello, as well as a monocultivar Bio, just from Nocellara.

He also makes aromatized and infused oils. His Lemon Olive Oil tastes like Italy and is one the most refreshing oils I have ever come across, and it will further exalt your seafood dishes. He painstakingly makes a Pistachio Oil from a mutual friend, Emma Scaravilli, using her Bronte pistachios, only harvested every two years. His Hot Pepper Oil is perfectly balanced, while his Wild Fennel (Finocchietto) is exotic and amazing on vegetables, meat, and seafood. He also makes an Espresso Olive Oil that can spice up seafood dishes. Alberto does not just make “finishing oils” to anoint and exalt dishes; he makes a balanced and more “all-around” one for cooking, which blows away almost anyone else’s finishing types! It’s so good, my mother prefers it over the olive oil from her own olive grove.

Let’s get to know Alberto and his oils a bit more.

The olive harvest at Azienda Agricola Alberto Galluffo.

How did you get involved in the olive oil business? Are your children interested in continuing?

I was born in the countryside, surrounded by olive trees. The sound of their rustling leaves always accompanied me during my afternoon play. My studies in business took me first to the banking sector and the fashion sector, but the call of the land and nature was too strong. My passion to cultivate, transform, and produce unparalleled oil became my true business that took my creations and made them known throughout the world. I give my children the business know-how, which is important to strengthen our company, and could be the launching pad for their future.

Tell us about your relationship with your olive trees.

The olive trees are like my children; I speak to them, take care of them, handle them with care, and let them grow to take them to their maximum splendor.

You use various local olive cultivars for your oils. Some oils are from just one, while others are blends. What are the characteristics of each olive cultivar and how do you balance them to gain a desired flavor profile?

For my oils, I only use indigenous Sicilian olives, specifically Biancolilla, Cerasuola, and Nocellara del Belice. We use one variety exclusively for each of the primary oils. Biancolilla is a very elegant oil with a delicate flavor profile and aromas of Zagara flowers. Cerasuola is an oil with a medium flavor herbaceous profile, with notes of artichokes, and the perfect balance between bitter and spicy. Nocellara del Belice is an oil with a strong herbaceous flavor profile, with notes of tomato and artichokes, and strong notes of bitter and spices. The base for my blend is ideal for cooking, too, and has to be very balanced in both the bitter and spicy, must be full of polyphenols, and with low acidity and peroxide, which is why the base is Cerasuola. I add Biancolilla for a touch of the aromas of Sicily and some Nocellara for a strong personality.

Can you briefly describe your olive oil making process?

The olive oil making process starts first in the olive grove with my trees. At my olive mill, we use Alfa Laval machines, crushing with hammers and discs, a 3- way process I came up with. The oil is naturally decanted in stainless steel silos, before being racked and then finally bottled.

Your olive oils are sold all over the world. How do you introduce them to those from different cultural backgrounds with different cuisines?

In the past 20 years, the health benefits of extra-virgin olive oil have become known throughout the world. As a taster and head of panels, I’ve traveled the world over the years, helping to introduce the virtues of my oils, and all their various uses and accompaniments, through seminars and fairs. Given I produce my oils and are very aware of their qualities, it is very easy for me to suggest how to use them in different cuisines to exalt their flavors. Of course, word of mouth has always been the most important.

Where do you see olive oil and the business of it in the years to come?

I don’t see a future for human beings without olive oil, which is necessary for our existence. With the inclusion of my children at the company, they will add new, fresh ideas to my experience, which will be helpful to continue to satisfy our dear clients, without whom I would’ve never found success. 

You have one last dish. What is it and which oil would you use?

For my last meal, I would spare no expense. I would eat Spiny Lobster all Catalana, dressed with the one and only, inimitable Settembrino di Siculia, paired with a glass of Champagne, with 3 drops of Settembrino di Siculia.

Alberto Galluffo and Gianluca Rottura at Di Palo's in New York's Little Italy.
Alberto Galluffo and Gianluca Rottura at Di Palo's in New York's Little Italy.
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