I realize that I’ve written about olive oil before, but as I spend more time in Italy and have more opportunity to talk with producers, growers and cooks as well as tasting more oils, the more fascinated I become with all the details about olive oil. The history, the benefits and the lies, as well as the rationale and need for DOPs.
The DOP is the designation the Italian national government has taken to ensure that all traditional products are held to a strict standard for quality, excellence and originality) D.O.P – Denominazione di Origine Protetta. In particular this applies to Extra Virgin Olive Oiland signifies that the oil has passed all the government tests for quality and acidity levels (extra virgin olive oils must be no more than 0.8% in free acidity and be cold pressed. The lower the acidity, the better since it provides better health benefits, among the many reasons.
These days we find that it is difficult to trust much of anything we hear or read about our food. We are “sold” on health foods on the internet without much documentation, we are in farmer’s markets buying food that has been brought by people who have never been to a farm and have no idea what has been put on the food they are selling. It is difficult to buy almost anything with much confidence that the label is truthful, the information accurate and the pricing fair. That is one of the reasons I have spent so much energy and time asking questions, talking to growers and finding people and resources that I can confidently believe and relay what they say to you. These are small purveyors not exporting, not supplying distributors, just growers or consortiums. People I trust.
If you get bored or find this information too tedious I understand. Skim, or just look at the photos. It will be too much information for many, but it is here for those, like me, who want all the details. Now, for a little more on olive oil. Actually there will be a lot more. This is just part 1.
The olive harvest starts with the Raccolta. — the harvest of olives from the trees. They use a giant-size plastic comb, or more often a mechanical mop top broom that kind of whirls around. You grab the branch, pull down and comb. The olives fall out like knots from your hair and the leaves remain.
The nets lie around the trees on the ground to catch and hold the olives that are combed from the branches. Once finished, the olives are carefully collected from the nets and poured into the cestini (baskets). As the baskets are filled they are taken to the frantoio (olive press). Each region has it’s own rules for their DOP registration. But in general, the olives must be taken from tree to the frantoio witin 48 hours. With olio nuovo in Sabina, it is usually more direct. From tree to pressing within ten hours. No storing. Often the lesser quality olives can be stored up to three weeks before being pressed which means much of the nutrients and antioxidants and lots of freshness and flavor have already evaporated before they are pressed.
Here is the process for pressing the olives:
Step 1 WASHING
Water jets on conveyor belts remove large particles of earth and foreign bodies, followed by the removal of olive leaves and small un-ripened fruit.
Step 2 FRANGITURA
The olives get pressed to produce a pulpy, usually violet-coloured substance, with no addition of heat or water. Though it is now done by mechanical means, it was traditionally done by grinding one stone around and around inside another larger stone, often pulled by a donkey or a horse, differing from region to region. I have friends my age from Sardinia who remember growing up with their olive oil being made like this.
Step 3 GRAMOLAZIONE
This is the important step of adding a recipe of movement, heat and time together to separate the pulp into diverse particles, therefore helping the microscopic oil drops unite into larger oil drops: normally 27°C for 15-20 minutes to get a high quality and low extraction. Normally, for top-quality extra-virgin olive oils, it is good to get 15kg of finished product for every 100kg of olives picked, this can change for each harvest.
Step 4 CENTRIFUGATION AND EXTRACTION
This machine separates the different particles produced by the gramolazione into: oil, vegetal water, and the remaining sansa or pomace, which is what the pulp is called.
Step 5 SEPARATION
This final step takes the oil, adds fresh pure water, mixes them together and filters the water away which in turn removes further impurities from the oil.
The oil is then taken and filtered through cotton, and bottled.
PART 2 is a little more about the history and my reasons for staying firmly in Sabina for the oil I bring back. Hint: I love the flavor. Oh, and as you can see above, the Sabine hills are pretty spectacular.
This is one of the few times I am happy to be near the Pacific Ocean rather than the seas around Italy. The current heat wave in Italy has been devastating in so many ways. It is unbelievable to hear of tornadoes in Venice, or people dying at the beach from the heat, or just this week, 140 people in Piemonte dying from the heat, but that’s been the news for the last few weeks in Italy. Well, of course, that and continuing chaos that the fire in May at Fiumicino has created. No, the airport is still operating at only 60 percent of normal and no finish date for the repairs from fire damage in sight.
So, what’s the good news about summer? If you are traveling to Italy in the next month or two, put L’Aquila on your itinerary. It’s in Abruzzo, and the altitude means less heat and less humidity. While it is still recovering from the tragic earthquake years ago, it is a beautiful, peaceful town. To the north west there is also Aosta in Piemonte,in the east, Bolzano and Cortina D’Ampezzo. In other words, if you are in Italy, enjoy the mountains. No snow, but much cooler weather than the southern parts of the country.
All kinds of records are being set this year besides the heat.
A lego tower erected in Milan stands an impressive 35.05 meters high (that’s over 116 feet), breaking the previous record of 34.76 meters (only 114 feet) held by a tower built in Budapest.
The tower, which was built at the city’s Fabbrica del Vapore, took five-days to construct and the process involved more than half a million coloured bricks and 18,000 volunteer workers, including many families.
Highlighting the significance of the project a Lego spokesperson told La Repubblica, “Each small brick was important in reaching the record, in the same way that all our daily actions are important in building a better future.” I think that’s a pretty uplifting analogy for plastic blocks.
And, I understand, that even with Milan’s heat, that the Expo Milano 2015 is having staggering crowds. Some of the pavilions are experiencing wait lines of up to two hours. I am certainly glad I went in May. I still believe the opportunity to see this event is worth the many hassles.
And, whether you are here, there or anyplace in the world, it is a time to be thinking of light, fresh and easy to prepare food. Especially those dishes that do not require heating up your home. So salads are great, grilling is second nature to California and the combination of the two is heavenly.
The best summer salad? Panzanella is the perfect salad for summer. There are so many recipes you can put almost anything in as long as you use stale bread and the best ripe tomatoes you can find. The recipe below is one I have used a number of times, it is simple and really great.
Panzanella Toscana Serves 6
about 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks or small wedges; about 3/4 pound bread (at least 1 day old), that you cut into cubes; about 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and a dozen basil leaves, roughly torn and about 1 cup or so of arugula. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, bread, arugula, basil, and onions.
In a small bowl, vigorously whisk together 1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar and 2 cloves of finely minced garlic drizzle dressing over salad. Season generously with salt and pepper, toss to combine, and let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. (This allows the flavors to blend and the juices of the tomatoes to soften the bread).
It always amazes me how truly fantastic tasting this simple combination is and how everyone seems to love it.Give yourself a summer cooking break and try it yourself.
I was lucky to have the chance to visit Milan and see Expo Milan during the first week. After all the articles about graft, missed deadlines, poor signage and all the other negatives, I really was not certain I would be impressed. Do not let the complainers sway you. This is a once-in a-lifetime event. I visited about 3 days after the opening. It is true, there is 20 per cent unfinished, some of the directional signs are not perfect and some of the exhitions did not work perfectly. BUT…. It is an amazing accomplishment to put together and pull off something of this scale. And by week three all the bumps will be fixed. Go!
I arrived by Metro. Very easy. I had no idea how long the walk to the entrance was. Next time I think I would take a bus. Not as convenient, but it gets you much closer.
This is one of the many long walkways. Eventually you walk into a huge,very well organized area with colored separations For different kinds of tickets. I had a prepaid ticket with an open date and went through a yellow aisle. There were many people to answer questions and direct yoU, speaking many languages. You go through security similar to the airport. All this took about half an hour from when I left the Metro.
Then you start. Basically it is a very long wide promenade with side streets. Lots of food, lots of interesting exhibits.
Just to warn visitors. Bring sunblock and a hat. It will be very hot soon. They have many places to stop or sit but many are in the sun.
And, allow two days to dio it justice. I spent 7 hours with a number of rest stops and I saw most of the pavilions and exhibits but I want to spend more time in a few places.
There is so much to see. Great concepts, great amounts of plantings and it is well covered by helpful volunteers to direct you or answer questions.
My advice; find your way to Milan this year. Not only for Expo Milan, but the city has many events throughout the year. I saw the DaVinci exhibit at Plazzo Reale as well as the exhibits at the Triennale di Milan, a fabulous building and museum that has an “Arts and Food” show now.
My main reason for being in Milan though was to get honey from Sardinia. I have all the types and prices in my newsletter. Well, it will be as soon as my computer cooperates. This shopping trip has been a great success. If you are not on my mailing list and want to be, email me at ‘ExpresslyItalian@aol.com’ and I will add your name.
This trip I am bringing not only honey but spices from Mauro Berardi in Rome at Campo dei Fiori, olive oil from Tuscany and sun dried tomatoes from Sicily. Do not wait if you want something, quantities as always are very limited. I am shopping to introduce everyone to the tastes and foods of Italy that never reach outside Italy.
The newly opened canal in Milan – there are several with restaurants and galleries alongside.
I have been in Italy a week or so. It’s not like traveling anymore. It is more like visiting my home. While I live in Los Angeles, my heart and mind often wanders to Italy. There are just so many beautiful an interesting places to visit throughout the country there seems never enough time.
This shopping trip is a little less hectic than the fall trip. I will make my visits to Mauro Berardi in Campo dei Fiori. It seems his self proclaimed Famous Spices of the World is a true statement. Almost every week I get an email request for information on how to acquire his spice mixes. They are amazing. He sells seemingly vast quantities of spices, but they are all still mixed by hand in his offices nearby the campo. Lately there are a couple of other vendors using “Campo dei Fiori Spice Mix” on their spices blends, but they are nothing like his mix. So, he is now referring to his mix as Maruro Berardi’s Pasta Mix. I am not certain this is a great change since many people will think that is all the spices are good for is pasta. His mix is universal not only in appeal, but in the ways it can be used. I rarely make eggs without a dash of this mix, or soups, stews, marinades or dry rubs, even in salads. In fact, I use it constantly since it can be cooked or used as is. So, if you are looking for Mauro, he is in the same place as always, but the mix name has changed.
Now that we are straight on that, I can tell you how exciting this trip really is. It is wonderful to be buying items for my clients and know that they are not paying 30% more than the price seems. I love that the dollar has been staying around $1.10 to a euro. I hope it keeps there for awhile (as I am sure all my clients do as well).
I have been busy shopping and have purchased some pre-ordered products for clients, including the spices. Also some of the amazing flavorful preserves that have so much more flavor than the U.S. varieties seem to. Maybe it is they use so much less sugar that you can taste the fruit?
I am off to Milan early next week. I look forward to meeting up with Stefano to pick up honey. I learn something new every time I meet with him. He has been worried I would not arrive soon enough since the current harvest product is almost gone and it will be awhile until the next harvest. Sardegna has one of the only totally pollution free environments left in the world. No insecticides, no soil additives, no smog. It is not wonder that Sardegna produces honey with thhe highest levels of antioxidants. He sells much of his honey for the health benefits, but I love the taste of almost all of them. And, my clients love all his products, the propolis, his beauty cream (which has only bee pollen, bees wax, olive oil and lemon oils) and his “Bomba” and “Rispero” for well being and breathing problems.
In addition to the honey from Sardegna this trip I am bringing bottarga as well. I have been bringing Tuscan bottarga from the Maremma, but thought I’d try the Sardinian bottarga which is supposed to be fabulous. It should be — it is quite expensive. I think I will buy a whole piece and divide it for my clients so it will only be pricey.
I cannot wait to see the scarves for spring and summer that I buy there as well. I do not bring many back, but I seem to have requests for them every trip.
If you are not on my mailing list, please get on it! Send me your name and address in an email to: ExpresslyItalian@gmail.com. I’ll make sure you are kept informed about my offerings.
I have another dinner with friends tonight, It is reassuring to know you cannot have a bad meal in Italy, Well, I guess you can, if you frequent tourist restaurants. So, do not do that.
If you are planning trip to Italy and would like to connect with some cooking classes or garden tours, I have some suggestions for the Rome area and I would be happy to help. And do not forget Expo Milan – from May 2 through October.
This is an exciting time – spring is bound to be hitting the whole country soon, Easter is almost here and the 2015 Expo Milano is almost ready to open! This Universal Exposition which takes place every five years, each time in a different country. This year, from May 1 to October 31, the 272 acres the Expo is on will be available for the world to enjoy.
Expo 2015 is themed “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” with a focus on sustainability and innovation. All 140 participating countries will showcase their unique cultural and culinary traditions, within self-built lots, to the 20 million expected visitors from around the globe. Whew! That’s a lot of people, but it is a great amount of space to cover. And that’s without considering that there is also all of Milan to see. And, the Milanese have so many planned events in the city to entertain all the visitors it is a cannot miss trip.
The layout of the Expo grounds are inspired by a Roman city of ancient times. The city has allocated over 60 pavilions in this ‘village’ to participating countries which will line either side of the long central division. Italy’s exhibition area intersects to form a global meeting place called Piazza Italia. The space has also provisioned for event areas like the open-air theatre, Lake Arena and children’s park, as well as clusters for other official industry participants.
There is even a Google interactive map you can watch what is happening in real time. Check it out. Google Earth – Expo 2015 the EU pavillion – interactive map http://europa.eu/expo2015/node/115
I did not see that the U.S. Pavilion has a google map dedicated to it, but it is moving along quickly to completion. The US Pavilion – Designed by award-winning architect, James Biber, the USA Pavilion pays homage to our rich agricultural history with an open design delimited by a large vertical farm that will be harvested daily. An homage to the barn is reflected in the design of the pavilion.
Located in central Milan for the duration of the Expo, the James Beard American Restaurant will showcase American cuisine, ingredients, and beverages with a rotating roster of American culinary talent. Thanksgiving dinner will be served every Thursday and Jazz or Gospel brunch every Sunday.
Leading up to Expo Milano and throughout the six months of the fair, the USA Pavilion will be programming daily activities, on the topics encompassed by our theme American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet. From conferences on global food security to cooking demonstrations, panels on technological innovation in the food system to conversations with top farmers and chefs, we’ll explore various aspects of food, food culture, and the future of our food system. Topics will cover a broad and diverse spectrum, including how to manage water resources, the importance of food labeling, healthy school lunch, traditional American cooking, and how can we create a burger that’s better for our health and better for our environment.
If you are planning on travel in Europe this year, be sure to put this on your itinerary. It’s really a unique experience that cannot be repeated. Being Milan, the city has really gone all out to provide an Expo experience throughout the entire city while the fair is happening. There are art events, fashion events, tours, and so much has been already completed to make the entire city ready for the spotlight.
Among the most important events already on schedule, Milan will feature the biggest exhibition ever organized in Italy of Leonardo da Vinci with works of the Renaissance icon borrowed from Italian and international museums.
Another exhibition will be dedicated to Giotto, the Florentine painter who revolutionized the depiction of figure in the 1300s, with three of his masterpieces on loan.
International artists from avant-garde to today will represent the theme of motherhood that most of all embodies the idea of nutrition, central theme of Expo Milano 2015, in an exhibition, “The Great Mother,” gathering over 80 works of the 20th century.
Music will be central, Del Corno added, with extraordinary programs at Teatro alla Scala, that for the first time will stay open in August with a total of 140 spectacles during the six-month expo, and Piccolo Teatro, which will perform in many languages including English, Chinese and Greek.
“Milan will be a stage open to everybody,” the assessor went on saying. Duomo Square, in the heart of Milan, will host classic and pop concerts free of charge, while public spaces in the city from parks to trams will be animated by countless music performances, book fairs, street markets and thematic events including many dedicated to water.
The architecture of the fair is wildly impressive. Here’s a photo of the entry gate proposal, I saw in Milan a couple years ago. This is the only structure that will remain after the fair. It’s by Nemesi & Partners and is a smog eating, almost zero energy building. It is exciting and I cannot wait to see this in person.
If I sound excited, I am. I have already purchased tickets for my upcoming trip in April (they have a ‘soft’ opening starting this month), but also for my fall trip, in September.
I’m leaving on my spring buying trip in late March! In addition to touring the Expo Milan, I’ll be shopping for all kinds of goodies to bring my shoppers.
Fresh Sardinian honey and propolis as well as some of his propolis soap and beauty cream is high on my list. Honey from Sardinia is extra special since it is harvesting from one of the few pollutant free environs in the world. No wonder it tastes so good. Stefano has honey from a variety of locations on the island, since there are over 200 species of nectar producing plants, I get everything from Acacia and Ailanto to Malata and even Corbezzolo. From the Maremma I will bring some of their unique items like Colatura di alici da Cetara, and the purest fennel pollen available anywhere and some of the products from the organic small growers in the area like La Parrina and Terra Etrusco in Capalbio and near Il Poderino in Montiano.
And, of course, the important stop at Campo dei Fiori for spices from Mauro Berardi’s Spezie famose nel mondo (world famous spices). Anyone who has visited that market seems to have purchased some of his spice mixes. And, they are not available anywhere else. He does not ship outside of Italy, but he is happy to supply me to bring them home and make them available to everyone. The most popular are the Campo dei Fiori Mix and Mauro’s Pasta Mix. Both of these have the same ingredients, except Mauro’s mix has no salt or pepper. This mix enhances everything it touches. Whether cooked or fresh, it adds a depth of flavor well beyond the ingredients listed. I use it in almost anything I cook from salads (where I sprinkle a small bit on the lettuces) to soups, meat marinades, and any pasta. If you’ve tried it, you are a fan, no doubt.
Every trip brings special requests and new finds. If you are already on my newsletter mailing list, you’ll be kept up-to-date on my trip. If you are not receiving the newsletter, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to add you to the list.
Don’t forget this is a great year to travel to Europe. The euro exchange rate is lower than in many years, currently about 1.10 euro to a dollar. And, Expo Milan is a unique experience never to be repeated.