Local Business

Little Venice scoops Bermuda-connected olive oil

  • Oil business: Francoise Lepercq, a former island resident turned Italian olive farmer and her Poderecogno extra virgin olive oil, sold exclusively to Emilio Barbieri of the Little Venice Group of restaurants (Photograph by Raymond Hainey)

A Bermuda restaurant chain might have the most exclusive extra virgin olive oil in the world — the entire production of a former island resident who bought an olive farm in Italy.

Françoise Lepercq, who still owns a home in Bermuda and is a regular visitor, bought a working olive farm in the picture postcard province of Tuscany five years ago after a decade in her homeland of France.

And, through a friendship with Emilio Barbieri of the Little Venice Group, she struck a deal to sell the bulk of her oil to the restaurant chain.

Ms Lepercq said: “I found this place in Tuscany with three thousand olive trees. The former owner was producing oil, so I decided to continue and that’s how it started.”

She added: “I didn’t know anything about olive oil, but I was lucky enough that the person who worked with the former owner stayed on — everybody in Tuscany has olive trees, so they know how to take care of them.

“They bring the olives to the mill and they have enough for their family. What I do is just on a larger scale.”

Ms Lepercq said: “I have known Emilio for 25 years. It was just by chance I mentioned I was buying this property and I was going to produce olive oil.

“I brought some so he could taste it and he loved the fact it was organic. That’s how it started.”

Now Mr Barbieri takes almost all the olive oil that Ms Lepercq’s Poderecogna farm produces, an average of more than 2,000 litres a year, although she said she kept some for friends and family.

Ms Lepercq said: “It’s a small production, but at the same time, it’s large enough to be commercialised.

“I was always going to try and sell it but the lucky thing was that Emilio had so many restaurants, that’s taking almost all of it.

“I’m very lucky I didn’t have to work so hard. I just care for the trees and do the best I can.”

She said: “It’s funny when people in Tuscany ask what I do with the olive oil. They’re very impressed when I say it goes to Bermuda.”

Ms Lepercq explained Tuscan oil used early harvested olives, picked just before they started to change from green to black, which gave the product a stronger flavour with hints of “artichoke and asparagus” unlike varieties produced in the south of the country.

She added: “It’s very green and spicy. That’s the way people in Tuscany like it. Further south, they wait until the olives are mature, so the oil is softer.”

She said that she kept up another tradition of the former owner — organic production, but also installed her own olive press and bottling plant so she could control production every step of the way.

Ms Lepercq said: “It’s very important after the harvest to process the olives as quickly as possible. If they’re not, the oil would be too acidic and not qualify as extra virgin olive oil.”

She said her oil was also high in antioxidants, like polyphenols, which are regarded as having healthy properties.

“It was tested in a Canadian laboratory to see what the polyphenol content was, and it had a very high level.

“We got a comment from the person who looked at the results and they said it was very high quality. So it’s not only got a good taste, it’s good for your health.”

Mr Barbieri said: “People love it and we get so many compliments. People often ask after dinner if they can buy a bottle and we try to oblige.”

Ms Lepercq said Bermuda was likely to stay her main customer.

She added: “I don’t really have plans to expand because most of the land we have is already planted. The rest of it is a forest and we’re not allowed to change that.

“That’s why Tuscany is so beautiful. They try to preserve the forest. It’s vineyards, olive trees and forests.”

Ms Lepercq, 59, who lived on the island with her family for about a decade until 1998, said: “I come back to Bermuda probably three or four times a year.

“I still have strong links to Bermuda — my daughter loves it here and I love spending the summer here. I also have good friends who are like family.”