CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Even though nearly 5,000 miles separate her from her family estate in Sezze Romano, Italy, Lia DiTrapano Fairless brings a piece — a taste — of Italy back with her to Charleston each time she visits.
To her, there’s nothing better than DiTrapano Oil — cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil made from olive trees surrounding Villa DiTrapano, the family’s 16-acre estate near the Mediterranean Sea.
Since 2009, the family has been hand-harvesting the Itrana olives from the more than 400 trees in the uliveto — Italian for olive grove — to make their prized olive oil.
Until recently, they’ve just brought the oil back home in plastic containers to use for themselves and to share with close friends and relatives.
But in September, Fairless said, they brought 67 cases of the bottled oil to sell in West Virginia. The first cases were stocked on shelves at The Wine Shop at Capitol Market; Eggplant on Bridge Road in Charleston; and Bella The Corner Gourmet in Lewisburg.
“It just makes everything you put it on taste that much better,” Fairless, a Charleston-based attorney, said.
“When you taste it, you understand. Every other oil will taste like water.”
The family hand-picks the olives from the trees in the grove several times during the harvest season, which typically falls in November and December.
They load the olives into plastic containers and take a pickup truck full of olives down the mountain to a mill in Sezze.
The olives are “first cold pressed” at the mill, a process that uses no heat or chemicals, which could alter the taste or aroma of the oil. Extra virgin olive oils are cold-pressed, rather than chemically produced, and have a lower level of oleic acid.
The olives — including the seeds — are pressed together and held at a temperature no higher than 81.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold-pressed olives also maintain their nutritional value.
The DiTrapano Oil has a green-ish tint to it once the entire process has been completed.
“When it first comes out it looks so green it’s almost radioactive,” Fairless said, laughing. “What you see sometimes in the store is yellow, and it’s been processed two or three times. The earlier you harvest the olives, the better the olive oil is, but you get less oil. The later you wait the more oil you get — but it’s not as good.”
From the mill in Sezze, the DiTrapano Oil is shipped to the Port of Naples, more than two hours away.
The family has partnered with Olivamed, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based bottling company that picks the oil up from the Port of Naples and carries it to the United States by boat.
It takes nearly three weeks for the oil to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to Jamaica, New York, Fairless said.
From there, it’s sent to Cincinnati for bottling.
“It’s a long process, there has been a learning curve,” she said.
For their first batch, the family harvested enough olives to make 400 liters of oil. The first batch yielded 67 cases, just more than 800 bottles to be sold in the state.
The family sent the oil to the first three locations at the beginning of September, and Fairless said only five cases remain available on the shelves.
Because of the olive grove’s proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, DiTrapano Oil has a robust fruity flavor with a hint of sea salt and a peppery finish.
“It’s too good to cook with. Even our cousins in Italy don’t cook with this oil,” Fairless said. “It’s an artisan oil.”
DiTrapano Oil is best paired with bread, tomatoes, roasted vegetables or salads, she said.
The family will also often drizzle it over pasta or meats.
“You just don’t want to pour it in a pan and fry some chicken,” she said.
Fairless said the family wanted to sell the oil in West Virginia to share a piece of their heritage with as many people as they could.
Every time she returns home to Charleston from a trip to the villa in Sezze, Fairless said many of her friends ask for more oil.
By selling it, she said, they could share their oil with a broader audience.
“We would load our suitcases with as much oil as we can. That’s how it kind of all got started,” she said. “We just wanted to share it with people. We already did share it with people. We just wanted to share it with (more) people.”
Fairless said she has plans to travel to Villa DiTrapano next month for the harvest. The new batch of oil will be available for sale at all three locations in December, she said.
Fairless and two of her siblings, Giancarlo and Luisa DiTrapano, have been renovating Villa DiTrapano since 2013.
Their grandfather, Luigi DiTrapano purchased the historic property in 1932. The property was originally owned and developed by Signore Rappini and includes his 17th century castelletto. During WWII, the castelletto was occupied by the Germans because of its location and fortification.
Luigi DiTrapano came to the United States in the early 1900s at just 15 years of age to find work during the Italian depression. He worked in Cabin Creek and sent money home to his family. He eventually moved his wife, Amelia, to Cabin Creek with him.
He purchased the villa in 1932 and it has remained in the family ever since. When Luigi DiTrapano passed away, he left the villa to his son Rudy DiTrapano, Fairless’ father.
Rudy DiTrapano, a well-known Charleston attorney, maintained the property from West Virginia for years.
For nearly 40 years he would travel to Italy three times a year to renovate and maintain the villa.
Rudy DiTrapano has since passed the property on to his children, who have been working to renovate the vacation property for years.
“When he stopped traveling he passed down the property to the next generation,” Fairless said.
The siblings have done a complete renovation of the four-bedroom mountain top villa, which has views of the Mediterranean Sea and Sezza.
It accommodates 10 people, and includes Italian tile kitchen floors, marble countertops, renovated bedrooms and bathrooms, and a salt-water chlorinated swimming pool.
Guests will soon be able to rent the villa for vacation stays. The first guests have booked a stay during the Christmas holiday, Fairless said.
In the future, she said, guests will be invited to take part in the olive harvesting process while they stay at the villa.
For Rudy DiTrapano, seeing his children maintain the property and sell the family olive oil in West Virginia brings a strong sense of pride.
“I’m glad. I wouldn’t have the energy to do all of this,” he said, laughing. “I’ve had the oil forever. The guy in charge of bottling tastes all he makes. He commented that this is the best he’s ever had.”
As they continue to produce and sell more oil, Fairless said the siblings hope to create a website for the DiTrapano Oil.
The oil is $32 per bottle, and stores have a limited supply.
For more information about Villa DiTrapano, visit http://www.villaditrapano.com.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.