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Life on a Tuscan olive oil farm: 'After a couple of years, my parents realized I wasn't coming back'

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Life on a Tuscan olive oil farm: 'After a couple of years, my parents realized I wasn't coming back'
John Werich working on the farm. Photo: Private
10:02 CET+01:00
John Werich moved from chilly Sweden to Tuscany, originally to pursue interior design studies at Florence. A decade later, he's still there and running a successful olive oil farm in the Italian countryside.

So what was it about Tuscany and its olives that charmed him?

Werich says that after his original course finished, he stayed in Florence for several more years, studying a range of subjects including art history and Italian. He was unsure of what his next step would be - but certain he wasn't yet ready to leave.

In fact, it was a bit of an accident that he ended up running the farm.

"Once I'd been here for a couple of years, my parents started to realize I wasn’t coming back home, so they decided to help me buy a bigger apartment - with a guest room for them," Werich explains.

The farm. Photo: Private

When the family started looking at real estate, they realized the countryside might be a better bet than central Florence. His mother, who has a passion for olive trees, wondered if they could find a place that had some of its own.

"The second place we looked at was a small farm in the Arezzo area, about an hour south of Florence, with around 300 olive trees," says Werich. "We loved it and placed a bid on the spot - three weeks later we were the owners." 

The farm already produced some oil from the trees, but Werich had no idea how the process worked.

Most of the production was done by some neighbours who rented the olive groves, and taught the Swede the painstaking process of making extra virgin olive oil. Meanwhile, he invested in a new olive press to guarantee high quality oil, and set about turning the farm into a business.

Photo: Private

His housekeeper and their family also offered help, and a friend who ran a wine business shared contacts for sourcing bottles, labels and other necessities.

"My advice to anyone planning to move to Italy, particularly if setting up a company, is to accept any and all help and advice from your neighbours," he says.

"And use local businesses - sometimes they cost a bit more, but the local know-how is a huge advantage."

At the farm, work follows the seasons.

"The olive year starts in March when all the trees are pruned, this is usually done by our neighbour who is a trained pruner," says Werich.

"During spring and summer the grass is cut, and organic fertilizer laid out. In the last weeks of October we harvest the olives together with family and friends, press them, and then it's time for packing, bottling, and labelling!"

Photo: Private

He explains that the high altitudes of hilly Tuscany mean only certain varieties of olives can thrive in the region; varieties which create "a peppery, strong oil with a high concentration of antioxidants and extremely low acidity".

As well as being good for the olives, Werich says that the area also makes a great base for expats or visitors in Italy. "It's a lovely area, full of historical sights like towers, castles, the renaissance city of Monte San Savino, and plenty of restaurants and local trattorias. Gordon Ramsay actually has his Italian restaurant just 15 minutes from our farm!"

And despite starting out as a novice, in a few years Werich has made a name for his olive oil, which was last year selected as one of the top 100 varieties in Italy by the prestigious 'Land of Olive Oil' guide by Fausto Borella.

He not only sells the oil from the farm's own shop and in local restaurants, but also sends it to his native Sweden as well as Denmark and Finland.

Photo: Private

As for future plans, Werich hopes to turn the farm into an agriturismo business, renting out apartments to visitors to give them the full olive farm experience.

"We're in the middle of this process now but it will probably take some time - it's hard to get permits from the municipality. In the meantime, we welcome groups for lunches and guided tours at our small farm."

If you know - or are! - someone with a story to tell about Italy, we'd love to speak to you. Get in touch at news.italy@thelocal.com

 

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