A Sunday at the Frantoio Ruta, where Giorgio Ruta, a master miller from Castelluccio, in the province of Syracuse, preserves and hands down the ancient art of oil with a courageous and visionary project.
"Ciccio, will it bring rain tomorrow?". The air is tense in the Frantoio Ruta, a mecca for green gold researchers lying on the hills of Castelluccio, in the province of Syracuse. "It seems so, but only tomorrow, dad," replies Ciccio with a wrinkled look. A rainy day is not enough, you need a lot of water to bring the olives to the right ripeness, explains Giorgio Ruta, who has been at the helm of the family oil mill for forty-one years. “The olive tree is an exception of nature. It is a selfish tree, it refuses to suffer. If it rains little, he abandons his children on the ground and the year is lost ”. So the machines shine, the workers are ready to celebrate the oil mass, but nobody can be seen in the mill yet.
An immense belt of centuries-old olive trees surrounds the mill, where three generations of Ruta were born and raised. Hanging on the white walls of the building you can see family photographs, bottles of all shapes and colors hug tightly so as not to fall off the shelves. Through the windows of the administration office where Graziana, Giorgio's eldest daughter, works, you can glimpse the heavy crown of medals that the mill has won over the years. “My father built it in 1953, I spent my childhood among machines, olives and oil. At that time the production was very different, the work in the oil mill was very tiring. I immediately felt that this was going to be my life. When I graduated my father gave me the keys: 'now you take care of it, the company is yours ”.
While speaking, Giorgio sniffs the wind and nervously rubs his big dark hands. I am struck by his straight gaze, his clear ideas. “I immediately chose the path of quality. I imposed very strict rules on growers: timing, method of harvest, transport, everything. I no longer accepted compromises: those who did not respect them did not enter the mill. The first year I lost over 50% of customers, it was very hard. But in the long run these choices paid off, after a very difficult first period we started to grow year after year. Today we have six hundred and thirty customers, the largest companies in the area come to me to break up and ask me for advice. And together we win prizes and mentions ”. A choice that paid off, especially now that competition from foreign markets has become fierce.
Ciccio gets up, talks to the workers, checks the machines and the time. It resides. Skinny, with a quick look and skilled hands, even if young, Ciccio is the expression of that new generation eager to learn and with the mad desire to innovate. From his movements, I understand that the Ruta family has oil in their blood. “Ciccio lives for oil, he spends the whole day in here. Without passion you cannot do this job. You have to feel the work of the oil mill inside ”. Inside, Giorgio also has the sound of the machines: “I wanted the bedroom in front of the oil mill so I can hear them and understand if everything is working well”.
I wonder how there is still room for innovation in such an ancient art. “Do you see those two machines? They are the crushers, I took two to not overheat the olive paste. I convinced the producer to modify the production line, today he also sells this solution to other mills ”. Technology and experience, experience and technology, he keeps repeating while looking at Ciccio with affection that, despite nine years in the mill, the separator, crucial junction of the transformation process, cannot yet manage it alone. “Either me or my partner is there, a few more or less moments are enough and the oil is not perfect. Ciccio is learning fast, soon he will be alone too ".
We are interrupted by an elderly man, he is looking for Giorgio. "He lives a little farther on, every now and then he brings me a chicken, I replace it with oil, we are a very cohesive community, for those who live here the oil mill is a point of reference". Here, he explains to me, it becomes community, but also culture: “in the past we organized initiatives to talk about oil. It was not Covid that interrupted them, but the rudeness of some people who left a long trail of decay and garbage when they came to the mill ”. A problem that, unfortunately, goes beyond the oil mill and that, like everyone he meets, Giorgio takes on and solves: "in Modica, with the new administration to which I belong, we have revolutionized waste collection by breaking the old habit of tenders. We have given the task to local farms, giving each a piece of the city. They save municipal taxes, we save money from procurement. And so we all win: the municipality, the citizens, the country ”.
Time goes fast, clouds don't. There are, they, dried from the sky. Giorgio, what is your greatest satisfaction? With an intense gaze, he points to the small flat tap from which the new oil flows. "If the oil that comes out of there has the right shade of green it means that we have worked well and I am happy".
We have to start again, we take the last photo: Giorgio and Ciccio under the inscription Ruta 1953. Yesterday, today and tomorrow of a beautiful story that we at Boniviri are lucky enough to write together.