Friday, May 25, 2012

Italy Dedicates Giant 1,400-Year-Old Olive Tree, 'The Queen,' To First Lady Michelle Obama

First Lady honored by groups promoting the Med-Italian Diet and olive oil consumption; organizers hope to gift the First Family with olive oil from the tree...
Against a backdrop of steeply declining olive oil export sales to the United States,  today Italy is dedicating an olive tree that has been growing since the seventh century in the Puglia region, named “La Regina”  ("The Queen") to First Lady Michelle Obama. The honorarium, for Mrs. Obama's efforts at promoting healthy eating and gardening with the Let's Move! campaign, is being announced on the second day of the four-day Med-Italian Diet Festival, held in the province of Lecce in Southern Italy.  (Above: Mrs. Obama with helpers in her Kitchen Garden)

The festival promotes the diet, which uses olive oil as a centerpiece and includes much vegetable consumption. Organizers for the tree's dedication include the Economic and Technical Institute of Lecce, the promoter of the Med-Italian Diet and the festival's organizer; Coldiretti of Lecce, representing farmers; Lecce Province and the Chamber of Commerce of Lecce. (The tree, above, has a circumference of about 14 meters)

"The reason for this award is the great and important engagement lately shown by the President’s wife to encourage American people and, above all, the children and their families, to follow a healthier lifestyle based on the main principles of the Mediterranean Diet," read the press release from Med-Italian Diet.

Organizers hope to send about 100 litres of extra virgin olive oil from the still-productive 1,400 year-old tree to the White House next fall for use by the First Family, according to the press releases. “La Regina,” a tree of the variety “Ogliarola Leccese," has a standard annual production of 6 quintals of olives, which makes about 100 kg. of extra virgin olive oil.  Organizers said that the White House and US Ambassador to Italy David Thorne had been sent "an official message announcing such award."

But when queried, a White House official said that news of the dedication had been gleaned only from media reports. The official would not comment on whether or not any gift of olive oil would actually be accepted; gifts of food to the White House have strict protocols, due to Presidential security concerns.  Many recipes released by the White House use olive oil, such as Executive Chef Cris Comerford's Seared Lamb Loin on Chickpea Puree, and the recipe for Grilled Garden Pizza, which will be included in the First Lady's forthcoming book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, scheduled for release on May 29

Italy is the second largest olive oil producer in the world with 24% of the global market (Spain is #1), but olive oil exports to the US have plummeted in the last decade according to The Olive Oil Times.  Italy has faced stiff competition from lower-priced oil from Spain, Greece, Tunisia and other emerging markets. In 2003, 63% of olive oil imported into the United States was Italian. In 2009, Italian olive oil made up 56% of the imports. (Above: The press release for Mrs. Obama's award included this photo of a Google Map location for the tree)

Vice President Joe Biden today hosted Ambassador Thorne for breakfast at his residence the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. President Obama hosted Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti last weekend at the Camp David G8 Summit in Maryland, while Mrs. Obama entertained the Prime Minister's wife, Mrs. Elsa Antonioli Monti, at the White House for a special G8 spouses luncheon.

According to the press release about today's dedication ceremony, which includes the signing of an "official document" naming Mrs. Obama as the honoree, the Province Council of Lecce will be represented by the President, Antonio Gabellone, and by the Chairman of agriculture, Francesco Pacella. Mrs. Ines Maria Antonucci, the owner of the land around the olive tree on a farm in Salento in Southern Italy, will also attend.

The proclamation for the dedication to Mrs. Obama reads:

“Because she has conceived, launched and promoted the fitness campaign called “Let’s move”, through which a very important social service has been carried out in order to help the American families and their kids to grow up in a healthier way, achieving a lifestyle based on a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and natural products as well as based on an intense physical activity. This lifestyle blends well with the principles of the Mediterranean Diet, discovered in Italy by the American scientist Ancel Keys, which has lately deserved the important Unesco award as 'Intangible Heritage of Humanity.'

Because she has given a strong example of virtuous behavior, by creating a vegetable garden full of vegetables inside the White House, which she cares personally, and because her idea has spread all over the world a message aiming at improving people’s eating habits, which should become more eco-friendly and healthier though being, at the same time, tasty and nourishing.”

Related: The press release from Lecce Province.

Check the sidebar of the blog for more White House recipes.

*Top photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; others from the Economic and Technical Institute of Lecce.