Sometimes Italy is beautiful, sometimes challenging and sometimes just unbelievable. Last week I felt a little like Alice after the rabbit hole. It started simply enough. I was looking for olio nuovo. If you are not familiar with this olive oil, let me digress some and explain.
Olio novello or nuovo is the first oil from a harvest. It is quite unique whatever the variety of olive involved. With Expressly Italian I try to find the highest quality oil with the most health benefits as well as superior flavor. Olio nuovo has the highest levels of antioxidants and I love the freshness and fruitiness of the flvor.Before extra virgin olive oil comes the “new” novello oil. Extra virgin oil must contain no more than 8 gm of acid per 100 gms. Like most food products in Italy the DOP (Designated Origin Protection) has very specific requirements. In Sabina, where some of Europe’s oldest producing olive trees live, to gain the nuovo classification, the olives must be processed within 48 hours of picking. They are allowed to be washed only with water and the processed oil must have 6 gm of acid per 100 grams or less. There are many more requirements, but just believe this is a very limited and unique product available only a short time. And well worth the trouble and cost.
In my case, it was like searching for a grail. Last year with such a terrible harvest there was absolutely none available so I was very excited to have the chance to get some of this liquid gold for my clients. It never makes it to stores, so you must search for it from the mills or co-ops. In Sabina I was sent from one frantoio (mill) who said he had none right then but to check another frantoio in Fara Sabina. It is beautiful country only an hour or so from Rome. Unfortunately the GPS signal was less than ideal and I found myself more than once driving in circles. After a 40 minute drive to get 10 minutes away, I finally I located a frantoio that had just that morning processed some oil and he actually had 3 liter tins. Because this oil is so delicate it must be kept from light and heat and air to last 18 months, so a tin container is far better than glass. I actually decant it into 1 liter tins for my clients.
After this wonderful experience I planned on next visiting northern Lazio, where the oils around Vetralla win many awards. It was here I felt most like Alice. I would visit a consortium, where small growers have their harvests blended to produce more oil, and would hear, “no, none today” when I asked when I could try again, the reply always seemed to be “maybe this afternoon, or next week”.
Maybe tomorrow, it depends on the sun, or the weather. It is early in the harvest time in this area, so patience is required.
After hitting Vetralla, Tuscia and Blera, I was still without oil, but I had magnificent porcini and galletti mushrooms, as well as some fresh fennel pollen, which makes a fragrant addition to so many dishes. And I had a beautiful drive through the area. Tomorrow is another day for finding olio nuovo or maybe next week …..