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“What’s in your bottle?” asks Umbra alum in her new documentary

Jessica Paholsky, an Umbra alumna from the Spring 2012 semester, has just released “What’s In Your Bottle?” an examination of artisanal food production, the power of marketing, and the true joy of a great bottle of olive oil!

Check out “What’s In Your Bottle?“, which Jessica submitted as part of her Honors Thesis at Penn State, and then read our interview with her for more information about her inspiration, studying abroad, and why the subject matter is so important to her.

Why did you decide to make a film about olive oil?
My goal for my thesis project was to not only apply my studies in photojournalism, photography and Italian, but also to produce a work that I could use in my post-college job search. When it came down to picking the topic for the short documentary video I wanted to create, I was in search of a subject that would take me back to the region of Italy where I spent my spring semester of sophomore year: Umbria. I also wanted to show the relationship between Italy and America. After some research, I found an olive oil producer (Fontanaro) in Paciano, Umbria, (just a short distance from Perugia) that sells their product to a vendor (Cleo’s) in Annapolis, Maryland (just a short drive from my hometown in south-central Pennsylvania). Also, I’ll add that I have strong interests in cooking and food, getting to know the true facts behind foods, and learning how food products are made. So uncovering the truth behind extra virgin olive oil regulation and production was the perfect solution to tie all of my goals and interests together.

How has study abroad influenced you these past few years?
Studying abroad at Umbra Institute 100% influenced my decision to make my thesis video. If I had never experienced that part of the world, and Italy in particular, I would have never developed the ambition to return for another purpose. In general, study abroad played a role throughout my college career. After my freshman year, I spent 6 weeks in Puebla, Mexico, through a faculty-led home stay program. Then my sophomore year, I studied in Perugia for a semester. And my senior year, I took an international reporting course in which I traveled to Havana, Cuba, during spring break to produce another video documentary. All in all, these learning experiences abroad enriched my education as well as my personal knowledge of culture and the world. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than an international education because major personality traits, such as independence, confidence and responsibility, are nurtured by international travel. All that is learned through travel applies to life in the real world and especially prepares college students for what is to come after graduation.

Any advice for finding a good olive oil? What should we be looking for on the labels?
The best advice I can give for finding a good olive oil, besides visiting the olive grove yourself, is to find a specialty olive oil store near you. In this setting, you get to sample the products and you can talk to a specialist who is familiar with the products, rather than guess as to which olive oil fits your taste buds and criteria at a grocery store. In general, though, a good olive oil can be found in a bottle with a label that specifies the date the olives were harvested and an expiration date about 2 years from the harvest date. Marketing unfortunately ruins the trust we can develop on labels. That is why it is best to have the opportunity to sample the olive oil. Until grocery stores start offering free olive oil samples, I would go to a specialty store if you are searching for a quality product.

What are you up to now? Planning on coming back to Italy? Looking to make another film? A little update on your life at the moment would be great!
Three days after graduating from Penn State, I began working full-time with Travel for Teens. Over the summer, I spent about 2 months traveling through 8 European countries, including Italy, to gather video footage of the company’s trips. So my wish to return to Italy a third time was granted! I have since been editing together promotional videos for 30 trips for the agency’s website. Until leading trips abroad with TFT next summer, I am responsible to coordinating flights and handling registrations.

Thanks Jess for answering our questions and for making Umbra proud!

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