Letter from Puglia: The Story Behind Garlicky Casale Pasta

Another guest post by my colleague Roger Fillion about his summer trip to southern Italy. Claude S. Weiller

Alfonso Casale made his mark as a plastics mogul overseeing a global business. These days he’s turned his passions to a small, local operation in southern Italy that produces high-quality extra virgin olive. I used his EVOO to prepare a very good garlicky pasta.

Alfonso and his wife, Elena Tateo Casale, oversee Masseria Appia Traiana, an EVOO producer near the coastal town of Ostuni, in Puglia.

Located in “the heel” of Italy’s boot, Puglia produces more EVOO than any region in Italy. Some 50 million olive trees dominate the landscape. I was keen to visit an olive oil producer — and use the EVOO to prepare a pasta. So I was lucky to land a visit to Masseria Appia Traiana and hook up with Alfonso Casale. Nichola Hegarty, a Puglia travel expert, had recommended Alfonso’s business.

His wife’s family has for generations owned the masseria, or fortified farm, where the couple’s olive trees are located. The masseria was built in 1889. It covers 60 acres. Elena looks after harvesting and pressing the olives.

These days, Alsfonso appears more focused on EVOO than striking a new deal with Ikea.

“When I retired I started studying agriculture,” he says. He’s since gotten hooked on producing EVOO, along with his wife. “We do that as a passion.”

Masseria Appia Traiana has about 4,700 olive trees. Many are at least 1,000 years old and are known as “millennium trees.”  The trees produce Ogliarola, Frantoio, Cima di Melfi, and Coratina olives. All are hand-picked during the fall harvest and pressed to make oil within 24 hours.

There’s a vineyard on the property, too, producing Primitivo, Chardonnay, and Malvasia grapes. “We are a small producer,” Alfonso says of the family’s wine production.

A man of many interests, Alfonso also sails. And he owns a long-standing Italian company that produces specialty liqueurs. The flagship product is called San Marzano. “The recipe is a secret,” says Alfonso. It’s drunk as a digestive liqueur. Chefs also use San Marzano to drizzle on cake or ice cream.

After giving me a tour of their trees and production facility as well as his plastics business, Alfonso gave me two bottles of his EVOO. They were delightfully pungent and tickled the back of our throats, as oils from Puglia often do.

I took the bottles back to our rental house and used the oil to create a pasta redolent of garlic, olive oil and parsley. We had it for lunch that day. Like spaghetti Olio Nuvo, the dish is a riff on the classic Italian dish pasta aglio e olio.

In honor of Alfonso and Elena Tateo Casale, we named the dish “Casale Extra Virgin Olive Oil Pasta.”

Buon appetito,

Roger Fillion
California Olive Ranch