Discovering Oil - Tales from an olive grove in Umbria

by Brian and Lynne Chatterton

First published by Pulcini Press in 1999 and reprinted twice. 116 pages and 4 B & W illustrations.

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Discovering Oil - Tales from an olive grove in Umbria.

by Brian and Lynne Chatterton.

Pulcini Press, Castel di Fiori and Renwick 1999.

ISBN 0-473-06289-5: 116 pp b/w illus: p/b.

First published in 1999 and since then reprinted in 2001 and 2005.

Brian and Lynne Chatterton are olive growers in Umbria a region famous for its premium oil. This is an account of their discovery of the delights of olive oil. They have learned not only to appreciate its unique contribution to their daily diet, but also to love the life that goes with caring for their olive grove and the pressing of the fruit. New olive growers and olive oil eaters in the New World, embarking on their own discovery of oil, may find this traveller’s’ tale hits the spot.

Some reviews....

Petits Propos Culinaires 64, Essays and notes on food, cookery and cookery books. Prospect Books, Devon. U.K. April 2000. Page 58

After careers that took in mixed farming in South Australia and consultancy specialising in sustainable dry-land farming, the authors were not on unfamiliar territory when they began restoring their olive grove. This book is something of a how-to, served up with an account of how they did it too. Their agronomists' perspective ensures that the matter is factual, not mythical, and it usefully connects practices in several olive-producing countries not least Australia and New Zealand. While cantering over fields of varieties, yields, flavours, pruning, fertilisers, pollination, picking, pressing, labelling, marketing and much else besides, it is also graced with land use, and an explanation of those exquisitely terraced and walled hillsides we so admire.

"Stones dominated the life of the share farmer in the hills. They made his life a misery. He picked them out of the fields, carted them into heaps and then when the heaps took up too much room, turned them into dry stone walls. The attractive dry stone walls that form the abandoned hill farms are not retaining walls for deep fertile soil but controlled stone heaps.

We found this out the hard way when we planted half a dozen walnut and chestnut trees in a small terraced field behind our house. Most of the holes we dug hit sheet rock but when we dug near the walls in expectation of finding a good depth of soil we found only loose stones. On our farm the lay brothers from the abbey at the bottom of the hill. had picked up the stones off the hillside with a sledge drawn by oxen, put them into a heap and then built a wall below the heap to prevent the stones rolling down into the field below."

To those who think Tuscany Arcadia, the pages detailing decline and devastation are sobering. There are distributors in Australia and NZ, but readers may find it simpler to write to the authors at Castel di Fiori, 05010 Montegabbione (TR) Italy. Tom Jaine

Wanted in Rome. Rome, Italy. Year 16, No 19, 22nd November 2000 pp 23.

Time for olives

It's the season for picking olives, St. Catherine’s day on 25 Nov is the traditional start to all the hard work but some growers particularly in Umbria, begin before. You can find all this information in a book written by Brian and Lynne Chatterton, Australians who gave up farming back home to grow olives in Umbria. If you want to know how to cultivate and look after olive trees, or, more ambitiously, make and sell your own olive oil, this book will point you in the right direction. The authors start with an explanation of the best land for olive trees and end up with what to look for on the label when you buy your next bottle of extra vergine. The book, published privately in New Zealand by the Pulcini Press , is available at the Food for Thought Bookshop at the Food and Agricultural Organisation,

New Zealand Growing Today March 2001 pp 3

With a title like that, one expects yet another of those lightweight "odes to the Italian lifestyle, with olives." In fact, this is an intensely practical little book, with more relevance to New Zealand olive growers than is immediately apparent. The authors are Australians (Brian Chatterton is an ex-Minister of Agriculture and farmed in the Barossa Valley) who now live in Italy and have spent some years restoring an old olive grove there.

The book covers the practical steps the authors had to follow to turn their abandoned olive trees into a modern grove producing premium quality oils for the discerning Italian market. Along the way they have interesting opinions on the quality of oils being produced in this country (their daughter grows olives in Marlborough) and Australia, and the varietal choices we have made here. This little book could provide some local growers with food for thought.

NZ House and Garden June 2001 pp 64

Hurrah! Here’s a slim volume that, in spite of being sub titled Tales from an olive grove in Umbria, doesn’t chronicle the agonies of restoring an ancient farmhouse or rhapsodise about the beauty of the countryside and the local cuisine. It tells you how to grow olives. No coloured photographs, no recipes for the region’s specialities - just lots of down-to-earth practical information about soil and rainfall, planting, picking and pressing, irrigation and pruning. The Chattertons came to Italy from farming in Australia and are linked to New Zealand by their daughter, Blenheim winemaker Jane Hunter. This is required reading for anyone planning their own olive grove. Jane Turner

New Zealand Lifestyle Farmer August/September 2001

Olives have likely been cultivated in the Umbrian region of Italy since 600 BC in plenty of time to build up a bit of local knowledge about their growing and pressing.

It is into this rich vein of tradition that Brian and Lynne Chatterton tapped when they bought their hill farm there in 1990. Formerly from the Barossa Valley in South Australia where they grew grapes, the couple found themselves restoring the old olive property.

They then wrote a book on their experiences which brings together not only the nuts and bolts of olive growing and processing but a lot of local history and culture.

This is a must read for anyone interested in olives.

" The Olive Source" web site (

California. Newsletter Vol. 3 Issue 3 March 2000.

DISCOVERING OIL: Tales from an olive grove in Umbria - a book by Brian and Lynne Chatterton describing their travails in restoring an Italian olive grove should be of interest to California growers struggling with a similar grove of old Mission trees. They bought a hill farm in Umbria in the heart of Italy in 1990 The stone farm house, built originally by monks from a nearby abbey, had been deserted for thirty years and the olive grove was being reclaimed by the surrounding forest. This is an account of their experiences in restoring their olive grove, planting more trees, and discovering the traditional and scientific methods of olive growing and oil pressing. Before moving to Italy, Brian and Lynne grew grapes and farmed cereals and sheep in the Barossa Valley in South Australia as well as making red wine and a unique white port. Brian was Minister of Agriculture in the 1970's and Lynne was Rural Policy Adviser. Following is their description of the book:

"The book is about our experience of restoring and extending an olive grove in the hills of Umbria, how we discovered olive oil, and what we had to do to achieve a premium oil from our own trees. In writing about this we have done our best to keep a balance between the ever changing practical day to day operations of managing an olive grove and the more scientific prescriptions for fertiliser use, pest control and so on. The usual romantic image of olive growing in Central Italy is that of the sun always shining and friendly peasants toiling in the fields while the owner sips chilled white wine under the shade of the olives. Our part of Umbria has poor stony soil and we have frost, snow, drought and hail. We pick, prune and care for our olives ourselves. Even the best oils can be ruined by poor processing so some understanding of the operations of the press helps the grower ensure their good management is not put in peril at the mill. A part of the book is about the mill and bottling. The final section of the book is concerned with regulation and advertising, how this affects the marketing of oil and how to interpret marketing language to identify a good oil. Some ideas based on domestic Italian use of home grown oil are provided. We have not attempted to include a complete recipe book of Italian food but merely sketch in some indicator dishes that show how we and our Italian neighbours use olive oil not just as an alternative fat but as a vital flavour ingredients

Pulcini Press web site:

Discovering Oil is available from:


The Australian and New Zealand Olivegrower and Processor.

67 Anzac Highway, Adelaide. 5000 Australia.

Mail orders to:

P.O. Box 54 Goodwood 5004. Australia

Phone +61 (8) 8375 9888

Fax +61 (8) 8351 5899



Royal Horticultural Society

Books for Cooks

4 Blenheim Crescent
London W11 1NN.
T 020 7221 1992
F 020 7221 1517

The Italy Magazine Bookshop.

01305 266360 from UK.

+44 1305 266360 International calls


Brian Chatterton

Podere valle Pulcini,

Castel di Fiori,

05010 Montegabbione (TR)




New Zealand

Hunters Wines

P.O. Box 128

Renwick, Marlborough.

New Zealand.