“It’s a story about moving to another country, starting a new business, surviving the pandemic, rediscovery and adventure. What more could you ask from life?” asks Marco Simonelli.
When Tulsa native Amanda Forman moved to Italy in 2017, she didn’t intend to become an olive oil producer and exporter. She’d had a successful career in Tulsa working in her family’s business, when she and her husband, Simonelli, decided to relocate.
They settled in Marco’s hometown of Perugia, in the region Umbria, dwelling in a country home that has been in the family for four generations. It was here, surrounded by 300-year-old olive trees, that they began their new adventure.
Simonelli is a professional photographer, and Forman an event planner, so the couple decided to combine forces and found a destination wedding business. They had personal experience, having been married at a Medieval castle in Umbria. Their future looked bright, with a full 2020 wedding season on the books. Then in March, COVID-19 changed everything.
“All of a sudden, our weddings were canceled,” says Forman. “Events were basically illegal, and we found ourselves in complete lockdown.”
Not knowing what the future would hold, the couple channeled their fear and frustration into positive energy, turning their attention to the property’s olive groves that hadn’t been given much thought. Climbing the trees to prune overgrown branches and wrestling tightly-clinging ivy down with a crowbar gave them a good workout … along with a new sense of purpose.
The trees showed their appreciation with a highly abundant 2020 harvest, providing far more olive oil than the couple could use themselves. It was then that Olivando was born.
Because Umbria only produces 2% of Italy’s olive oil, it rarely leaves the region. Most people think of Puglia and Sicily when sourcing, since both grow significant quantities. The couple had an excellent opportunity to offer a product that is as delicious as it is rare.
Having had no experience in the business, they decided to test the waters by offering Olivando to friends and family back in the U.S. They thought a few might be intrigued and order Christmas gifts. They built a simple website and made posts on social media. They sold out in less than a week.
Forman and Simonelli have since ramped up production and added a second oil, a Monocultivar (single varietal), to their lineup. They are ready to offer it, alongside the second vintage of the “Originale” blend that few people outside of Umbria have ever experienced.
Umbria in a Box
In addition, the couple teamed up with fellow American ex-pat Susan Guerra to create “Umbria in a Box,” which highlights regional artisan micro-producers, or as they like to say, “foods with a story to tell.”
Guerra operates Via Del Vino, a local food and wine tour company in Perugia. She works closely with chefs and producers to show her (sometimes famous) clients the best of Umbria. I was fortunate to get to spend some time following along on a recent trip to visit the region. For more info, visit viadelvino.com.
Olivando is currently available in very limited supply in Tulsa at The Meat and Cheese Show (1306 E. 11th St.) or online at olivando.it. Visit the website for more information, tasting notes and recipes.