By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- On any given day, the papal table may feature extra-virgin olive oil, lightly pasteurized milk, fresh eggs, free-range chicken, honey, apricots and peaches -- all straight from the farm at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo.
A worker gives hay to cows on the papal farm at Castel Gandolfo. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)
Part of the curiosity comes from the fact that, for years, the only media allowed on the farm have been the writers and photographers who work for the Vatican newspaper. L'Osservatore wrote about and published photos from the farm in its Aug. 31 edition.
The farm, which covers just under 50 acres, is home to an olive grove, fruit trees and greenhouses used to raise flowers and plants that often are used to decorate the papal apartments and meeting rooms, the newspaper said.
Each day, 25 cows produce more than 150 gallons of milk, and more than 200 eggs are collected from some 300 hens. In addition, about 60 chickens are raised for meat.
What the pope and his aides do not use is sold to Vatican employees and retirees at their discount supermarket.
L'Osservatore said the farm took shape in the 1930s under the pontificate of Pope Pius XI, who saw it "as a model of a genuine lifestyle, the same he was able to enjoy as a youth."
Saverio Petrillo, director of the papal villa, told the Vatican newspaper that the farm once hosted two wild boars that had been given to Pope Paul VI, but they were a bit rowdy.
"The gazelles of Pius XI were more tranquil," Petrillo said. "They were given to the pope by the apostolic delegate in Egypt, and the pope had great affection for those beasts; he would go visit them" every time he went to Castel Gandolfo, and he always went with some treat to feed them.
"People often say that he would carry around the smaller of the two," Petrillo said.
Unfortunately, the story had a tragic end, he said.
"One day, frightened by a group of young Hungarian scouts who came to visit the pope, they jumped the fence," and were hit by a car "to Pius XI's great sorrow."
The article did not mention whether Pope Benedict XVI visits the farm while at Castel Gandolfo, although he is known to walk daily through the villa's gardens.