Here are the olives going up the conveyor belt, and this is our granite stone that will press them,” Francesco Sammarelli bursts out as he walks through Sunterra’s head office door. He has recently returned from a trip to Italy and cannot contain his enthusiasm. Blown-up photos of the farm are immediately littered all over the Vice President of Purchasing’s desk. He doesn’t mind – Francesco is an old friend, having worked with Sunterra for over a dozen years.
Francesco is originally from Bari, an agriculturally rich region of Italy on the Adriatic coast. Although he moved to Canada 25 years ago, his love of the local food has not waned.
“I love olive trees so much,” Francesco admits through this thick accent. “I don’t know why.”
Maybe it’s because the trees that Sammarelli olives come from are a thousand years old, with massive great trunks and delicate branches with green leaves scattered with olives. His family has been growing these trees for three generations, harvesting the Leccino olives that are native to Italy.
Leccino olives produce high-quality oil, and Francesco uses only the best of the best. His cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is not blended with inferior oils, resulting in fruity golden-coloured oil with low acidity and no aftertaste. But as Francesco tells us repeatedly, you really have to taste it yourself.In fact, that’s the reason Francesco began distributing his family’s oil to Canada. After tasting olive oil after olive oil, he says he became dismayed.
“I couldn’t eat,” he says very seriously, looking over his glasses. “I couldn’t find good quality olive oil.”
So Francesco brought in his oil to select markets in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. He does many taste samplings because he says he wants to make sure that people are enjoying his products. Aside from olive oil, Francesco says olive pâté and fig spread are his top sellers. All of his fruit and vegetable products are packed fresh on the farm with no preservatives and sterilized home style by steaming.
“I’m busy and I love it,” says Francesco with a smile. “I do this with a passion.”
And after meeting Francesco, it’s hard not to be passionate about his products too. Maybe not bring-your-own-olive-oil-when-you-go-to-a-restaurant passionate like Francesco is, but passionate about choosing authentic, flavourful and natural Italian products.