“Belgian wins international awards with olive oil” – Horeca Magazine

Expansion of adoption plan for Italian olive trees beckons Big Apple

Ghent/Assisi, June 26 – “When I arrived in Italy in 2009, I didn’t even know the difference between a banana tree and an olive tree.” Today the former electronics top man, Ghent native Jean-Luc Decroo (60), is snatching up one international medal after another with his own extra virgin olive oil Casa Astrid – grown in the green hills around Assisi (Umbria). “What started as an interest grew into a hobby, a passion and eventually an obsession.” Soon Decroo hopes to roll out his “olive tree adoption plan” in New York.

Jean-Luc made nice for several decades as a top executive in the electronics business. But from one day to the next, it was all over for him and he wanted to realize the one dream he cherished with his wife Astrid: a place of his own in Italy. They had their eye on a centuries-old country house in the green hills around Assisi, Umbria. They christened the property ‘Casa Astrid’ and began a very thorough renovation into a B&B. During the renovations, they were told by a neighbor that delicious olive oil was once grown on the property, but that the olive grove had fallen into disuse. It seemed as if the Gentenaar became infected acutely. With the help of local farmers, he returned the olive grove to its original state, determined to revive the centuries-old tradition.

The first harvest followed in 2013. Adjustments were made, processes refined and a great deal learned. And this year Casa Astrid’s organic extra virgin olive oil received no less than three medals. Silver in Japan and Gold in New York and Italy. The recognition from Italy pleases Jean-Luc the most. Of course, there is no question of sitting still. After an intensive course, he is also the proud holder of an olive oil sommelier certificate since this year. “Because,” he says, “olive oil is as complex and diverse in flavor as wine.”

“What makes Casa Astrid’s oil so unique? The olives are picked extra early, when they are still green. That way they retain all the oxidants and vitamins. All the goodness of the olive oil thus effectively ends up in the bottle. The olives are barely off the trees, or they are already in the presses. The first 24 hours are crucial.” Decroo closely monitors his olives throughout the process and strictly guards the quality and purity of his product. “An olive is born innocent. It is up to the farmer to process that olive into delicious oil according to the rules of the art.” Casa Astrid also does its bit for the environment. The cultivation is almost entirely organic. All products are packaged ecologically. If your bottle is empty you can just order an ecological refill. The oil is bottled in stainless steel bottles to ensure optimal preservation. “In fact, light is one of the biggest enemies of olive oil. So a see-through bottle is an absolute no-go.”

In the coming years, Casa Astrid plans to expand greatly, to as many as 7,500 trees. Jean-Luc does this in part with the help of adoptive parents. In fact, you can adopt a tree, for yourself or as an original gift. The tree then receives a wooden nameplate on it and the brand new adopter receives premium olive oil from Casa Astrid for three years. Nice extra: you will invariably be in touch with your tree via WhatsApp during the adoption period. “The tree keeps you updated with messages and photos of her doings, every ‘haircut’ and how the olives are doing. For each adopted tree we plant a new sapling for the next generation. The concept has been a great success and I am working hard to give people in the United States the opportunity to adopt a tree as well. We are going to develop this with the help of some culinary contacts we made in New-York.”

Does it need to be said that Jean-Luc loves nothing more than to share the passion for his product with others? Therefore, in October, in the middle of the harvest period, he organizes a culinary three-day event: ‘A taste of Assisi’. While visiting Casa Astrid, guests can experience the olive harvest up close. If you like, you may even lend a hand. You’ll further get a unique look behind the scenes. And of course, tasting olive oil with a real wine sommelier, all the way through, is also part of the experience. In addition, you will be fully immersed in the culinary discoveries that the region of Umbria is home to.

Fun Facts

  • The olive grove of Casa Astrid counts 1,500 trees
  • Italy produces some 171,000 tons of olives annually
  • In a good year, one tree gives about 1.5l oil
  • One 0.5L bottle of olive oil contains about 7kg to 12.5kg of olives, depending on the harvest period
  • Jean-Luc’s oldest trees are about a hundred years
  • Jean-Luc invariably starts his day with a spoonful of olive oil
  • Olive oil is a source of vitamin E and antioxidants