Meet the Distributor: Seggiano

13 August 2021, 07:36 AM
  • Celebrating 25 years in the fine food industry, Seggiano – pioneers of bringing the finest Italian food to the UK – is as passionate about its mission as ever

Seggiano is celebrated among foodies for its unique no-cut-corners commitment to excellence in food production and its resulting range of seriously delicious artisan products.

Founded by Peri Eagleton and David Harrison in 1995 after discovering a shared passion for Italian food and rural life, following a chance encounter at Roma Ciampino Airport, within a few years they were producing their now bestselling extra virgin Olivastra Seggianese olive oil from their organic Tuscan farm and surrounding groves. “Our own olive grove has about 500 trees - many over 1,000 years old - of a variety unique to Monte Amiata, the dormant volcano sacred to the Ancient Etruscans, where Peri and I had by chance ended up,” explains David.

A meticulous focus on good practice

Over time the range has expanded to offer a wide selection of regional specialities sourced across the Italian peninsula, each product from other smallholders and family businesses which share the same passion for quality ingredients, provenance and non-industrial production methods.

“If it’s not something we’d happily eat ourselves or feed to our family and friends, you won’t find it under the Seggiano brand,” says Peri, whose meticulous, unswerving focus on good food production practice has always been core to brand decisions.

“Each ingredient of every recipe is scrutinised during product development. Anything potentially having a negative effect on health is out. If there’s any aspect to production that may degrade nutritional content or the taste of a product, we’ll push our producers for an innovative workaround. It can add years to the process but is always worth it in the end.”

Peri continues, “Our intimate partnership with producers gives us plenty of room to experiment with recipes in pursuit of perfection. There’s an open line between us: a shared goal to create truly exceptional products, leading to lots of innovation over the years, such as extending shelf life using natural antioxidants in place of chemical preservatives. We’ve always favoured slower, natural production methods, strictly avoiding any use of industrial additives, emulsifiers, binding agents, thickeners and colourants. We’re totally involved in product development, every step of the way: from farm to fork”.

This hands-on approach isn’t just confined to quality control; Seggiano’s Organic Chocolate Spreads were the first to market made without palm oil, years before this environmental issue became a mainstream consumer concern. “We’ve been donating a percentage of profits from Seggiano Raw Honey sales to fund research into bee colony collapse and preserve insect habitats for nearly 20 years,” explains David. “All of the milk, butter and eggs used in our recipes are organic, as this certification ensures better animal welfare than free-range and other options, and our brand will never sell meat or fish products. We’re working towards eliminating plastics from our packaging, too. We’re not just following consumer trends, though - ethics have always held a lead role in our business, ever since we first wrote our company manifesto many moons ago!”

The Anglo-Italian connection

Italians are very attached to their local culinary customs, which can vary even from village to village. “Maybe it needed us non-Italians to see the bigger picture and to cherry-pick Italy’s standout regional specialities,” says David. “Our experience in the UK and international markets has helped us further refine the products likely to do well overseas. Travelling across Italy to spend time with suppliers is a big part of the job, and it’s certainly a highlight!”

A good grasp of rural Italian culture has been essential throughout. “Our producers appreciate that these eccentric Brits speak their language, farm their land, understand artisan food and the nuances of their culture. The fact we’re also artisan producers ourselves hasn’t hurt either - our endeavours arise from mutual respect between us and the producers we’ve partnered with,” he continues.

Peri and David are still as active as ever and have a few new exciting products coming to market soon, including an amazing chocolate panettone, an entirely new category of semi-fresh herbs (that taste freshly picked but have 6+ months shelf life once opened) and a single-estate organic Taralli using ancient wheat cultivars. They plan to continue making their premium extra virgin olive oil long into the future.

A word on sustainability

David explains, “In the early eighties, a master olive pruner of local legend said something to me that made a lasting impression: ‘This land and these trees were here long before us. They nourish and provide for us and our families. We’re but their temporary custodians, tasked with helping them continue to flourish long after we’re gone’”.

“This man was taught olive husbandry by his father, who had learnt from his own father and so on; this was the continuation of an oral tradition stretching back some 8,000 years, to when humankind first began domesticating this marvellous, health-giving evergreen.

“This holistic, sustainable way of relating to the lands that feed us is central to countless agricultural communities across the planet and will continue to inform our decisions both as producers and brand curators,” he continues. “As long as we and our partners endeavour to leave the farmlands we tend in better condition to how we received them, we will retire happy”.

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