As often happens a client is the catalyst for new discoveries. This time a client requested olive wood utensils. Having seen many I assumed it would be a quick easy request. As usual, it became something much more. While there are obviously thousands upon thousands of olive trees in Italy, there are not so many available to make olive wood good from. And, while there are commercially made spoons, cutting boards and rolling pins, there are not so many crafted bowls, boards and utensils (that are actually made in Italy).
With the internet it seems easy to find online anything you want. However, like many products, there is often a large difference between the lovely photos and catalogs you find and the quality of the finished pieces. And, the location of manufacturing can be far from where olive trees are grown.
Olives have been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean throughout history. The Romans cultivated olives throughout Italy and olive oil became so valuable they even used it as collected taxes. Ancient olive wood is beautiful and a real sustainable source. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, olives produce for hundreds of years, but eventually they stop producing and are classed as ancient. Usually it is this wood that is gathered and used for crafting the larger pieces of olive wood you see. The large cutting or carving boards, the table tops or large salad bowls. Every tree has its own unique pattern in the grain. You will never see two pieces created of olive wood that look exactly the same.
Olive wood is very hard, strong, durable and has natural anti-bacterial properties which make it ideal for production of items used for food. If cared for properly, olive wood items will last hundreds of years. So an ancient piece of wood becomes an antique long after it is harvested. Olive wood bowls, and utensils of the highest craftsmanship are not as ubiquitous as you might think given how many trees there are here.
Because the olives are a most important crop healthy trees are never felled for use of the wood. The limited availability is part of the reason for the high cost of quality olive wood articles. Although there are artisans in almost every region with high olive oil production, there are not as many craftsmen who work with olive wood. In Tuscany, I understand there are only a handful of artisans who work with olive wood. And, they tend to specialize in the types of pieces they like to make. There is one craftsman in a small town near Sienna that makes only small to large pots with lids, another near Florence that works only bowls. It seems that each artisan has their specialty. That is why I tried to find someone who has worked with these artists and could inform me how to determine the best pieces.
Luckily I found Ricardo Amoruso. He is from Tuscany and has resources throughout the region for artisans in a number of categories (his wife is a ceramicist) including the few who specialize in olive wood. Ricardo explained to me that there is always a shortage of olive wood. If the spring weather is below normal for too many days I believe he said 15) in a row the tree can be damaged and not just lose the crop of olives, the tree can be damaged beyond survival, but the wood also can be unusable from the stress of the cold. He explained that there are numerous makers of kitchen utensils because those do not require the whole tree to be used. In spring when they must prune the branches, they are collected and many are thick enough to be able to form spoons, spatulas and rolling pins. They are the most affordable of pieces in olive wood.
Once I saw some of the fine works he handles I knew that this quality was superiorto most of the other pieces I have seen. The prices will always be high so it is important to get the best quality wood that is formed by the best artisans.
His advice on how to make your wood pieces last forever… Do not soak them, or put in a dishwasher. Use only water to clean them. About once every month or so, brush or wipe on a light oil like coconut or sunflower oil and let it sit on some newsapers several hours or overnight. Afterward wipe any left oil with a paper towel.It is important to keep the wood from over drying. This prevents cracking or warping.
There are some really spectacular pieces that I am now sure I must have. The bowl below is from the works I purchased for another client.
This totally unique flat salad bowl is so stunning I start to drool every time I look at it.
Every trip to Italy introduces me to new places, people and products. It seems a never-ending journey. I have introduced my Sardinia honey source to olio nuovo from Farfa, I have been able to learn about the different grades of cashmere from my scarf vendor in Florence (who uses only Italian materials and workers and produces all she sells right outside of Florence). There are so many fine olive oils available from every region but my clients are spoiled by the consistently fabulous taste of Il Saporito’s olive oil from Farfa.
It is always a challenge to get everything done in the short time I have in Italy (a month is hardly enough time to get your breathing slowed down). And, I always end the trip with my stop at Campo dei Fiori to fill up on the “Spezie Famose nel Mondo” and meet up with Mauro Berardi for his amazing spice mixes that have people all over the world addicted.
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There is never enough time here, never enough space to bring all I would like and always too much weight. But I love it and hope to continue to introduce products and people from Italy to as many as I can.
Well, as August ends, Italians are returning to work from their vacations (vacanze). Most Italians do not travel outside the borders of their country. It may seem that has been happening more often with the poor economy, but honestly, it’s always been that way for most Italians. They love their country. Within it’s borders are almost any type of environment you could want for vacations; mountains, lakes, two seas to explore the beaches of, as well as more art, monuments and historical locations than almost anywhere else in the world. Why would they leave?
I recall my husband talking to a co-worker shortly after our arrival in Rome. He told the guy we were going to Venice and he was very excited. The older man shrugged his shoulders (it takes a couple of years to develop the Roman shrug) and said have a good time. Mike asked if there was anyplace special that we should make an effort to see. The man responded “how would I know, I’ve never been there”. When Mike asked why in 70 years he’d never visited there. His response was “Why?” Everything I want is here in Rome. And, there are quite a few Italians who never venture beyond their province or commune. For us American’s it is hard to fathom that thinking. We love to go whether it’s in the US or abroad. We’re adventurers.
Which brings me to something I’ve been waiting to share with you. Some of the names have been changed to protect this man’s identity. I admit when I first received this accounting I was rolling on the floor laughing. Not only is this entirely possible wherever you travel, but can be expected in some variation on any trip to Italy.
This man, a Californian, decided to take his adult daughters on a trip to Rome. He’d only been there many, many years ago for a short trip and one of them had never been there. The last I saw of him was on the via Veneto where outside his lovely hotel I was giving directions to the next stop on his trip – Tuscany. He’d rented a car, it had GPS, he was confident.
His travel agent had worked out the full itinerary with directions. And, he said he followed the directions exactly. When they arrived it was getting dark, but it appeared the location was not at all as promised. It had all the amenities as promised, BUT. The pool was covered, filled with leaves and had grown green water. The chairs around the pool and tables were plastic and overturned on the lawns. All of them. He was a little concerned that it had an entirely empty parking lot that would hold 60 cars. They found the restaurant was closed and there was not much activity anywhere nearby. His daughters were the ones who realized they were in a hotel with the same name as their reservations, but hours driving time away from where they were that evening. . This after lugging overweight luggage up several flights of stairs (no elevators). Nothing could be done until the next day anyway, but it was not a happy evening.
The next mornng they drove to the correct hotel, which was gorgeous. By then, things were a little tense between them since they had lost a whole day of our precious vacation. He said they did spend lots of time investigating Montepulciano, which has become one of his favorite places. A salvaged vacation after all the previous difficulties (yes they also had arrival problems in Rome, tour guide problems there, and more). Then came the last day of the trip.
One of his daughters became quite ill and had to go to the hospital in Florence. The other daughter returned to her home in New York on her scheduled flight. It turned out the hospital was quite helpful and kind. She was only really dehydrated and needed an IV for hours but was fine afterwards.
Of course, they missed their flight back to California though. They were booked on Alitalia, on their last day of their direct service to LA. There were no more direct flight from Rome to LA. (For the record I remain confounded that there is no direct flight from Los Angeles to Rome from late October until March !) They had to leave the hotel in Florence with three overweight bags between the two of them. They still have no idea how they managed it, but they got the train, along with their luggage from Florence to Rome (near the airport for easier access). There were no available flights and he felt Alitalia was unhelpful. It does seem like they could have arranged something with their partner airlines (Delta, Air France, or KLM).
They got rooms at the Best Western near the airport (where few other than travelers speak English) and it’s truly in a barren industrial area. He called on his cell phone every airline he could find (his cell bill was $1,800). His local Vodafone SIM had been used up and where he was there was no Vodafone place and he could not understand the texts he kept receiving from them instructing him what to do.
Alitalia told him he would have to change his reservations through his travel agent because that’s how he made them. (Of course, by this time he’d fired the agent.) The agent was not returning his phone calls.
Finally, he truly panicked and just wanted to get home. There was literally no way to get out for days, unless they would take Air Nigeria to Turkey, then three stops in Germany, an overnight at Amsterdam, then New York and then LA. Even panicked he knew he could not do that. So, like any good American, he “bought” his way out. He spent over $6,000 on airfare to take British Air to London and London to LA. And, of course, that was not for first class flights. But, he had waited several days already and enough is enough. He missed four days of work and the vacation costs were much higher after his vacation was to have ended that it was for the rest of the trip.
Sometimes, it’s just that bad with traveling. Thank goodness it’s not often. And, much funnier when it happens to someone else. He said “Italy was beautiful but he was not ready to laugh about it yet”. Hopefully, enough time has gone by that when he reads this he’ll appreciate the experience a little more.
Being prepared is good. Knowing things will go wrong is even more important.
I’m readying for my fall trip – think olio nuovo, fresh olive oil. Honey, and new found products. If you want to receive the newsletter on available products, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions about how to use any products or suggestions about what I should try to find, let me know. For sure I will be stopping at Campo dei Fiori for spices from Mauro Berardi and his”famous spices of the world” as well as Umbria and Tuscany for first pressing olive oils, the Maremma for Botarga and a few other specialties. And I’ll also visit Torino for a chocolate festival and stopping to pick up some of that fabulous Sardinian honey and who knows what else. I’m open to any suggestions. Just let me know if you have any special requests. I’ll be happy to do what I can to help.
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The summer season is in full swing in Italy now. I’m always been impressed at how effectively Italy encourages their tourists to stay. If only the rest of their government was as successful. Summer anywhere in Italy is filled with festivals, sagre (the local food fairs celebrating an individual food) and palio events (competitions usually of medieval events). While it’s a crowded time with lots of tourists, there are so many different places to go and things to see it’s worth the crowds, and the memories of those experiences last a lifetime. Since the country is a penninsula, there are beaches, unbelievable beaches in almost every region, and those landlocked areas have lakes. So many beautiful places to explore. So much truly fresh seafood! Get there in June or July if you want to be sure everything is open. Throughout the country summer is travel time. Although most Italians never leave Italy for their vacations, they all take time away from jobs and city for a real rest. Maybe it’s because I was a resident, but Rome in summer is really special. In addition to all the tourist attractions of the museums, mounuments and churches, Rome has so many special events in the summer. “Estate in Romana” covers all types of events. Estate Romana is sponsored by the city council of Rome and provides an incredible programme for those who visit the Eternal City during the summer. The programme lasts for 100 days and 100 nights and features over 1,000 events, concerts, exhibitions and live performances. While events are held throughout the city, it is the River Tiber that steals the scene. The Tiber Island, for example, hosts an open-air cinema with a great, handpicked selection of national and international films, while the riverbanks fill up with food stands, pubs and temporary stores.Romans love to have fun, love to eat and are always interested in a party. And, just about all of it is free. If you’ll be in Rome anytime from June through August, check out the program from Estate Romana – http://www.estateromana.comune.roma.it/. While I’m most familiar with Rome, most of the other regions have similar full programs, especially of performance, music and food experiences available. If you plan on being in a particular region,google the website for the commune and it will give you all kinds of events. I’ll write about some of the other special programs I’ve enjoyed in Gubbio and Castel Madamma and Cinque Terre in another blog entry. While in Rome, recently, I found a relatively new rental in Trastevere in a really convenient area that is to die for. Whether you are only in Rome for a short time or a longer stay, you should investigate this fabulous rental. Trastevere is livelier and more energetic and much less reserved and stodgy than the other side of the river. The location is perfect for exploring Trastevere and all of Rome’s attractions are still within easy walking distance as well. It’s always taking a chance renting an apartment without the certainty of the area and the apartment. Photos are notoriously difficult to judge how happy you’ll be. Well, I was soooo happy with this rental I wanted to share it with everyone. It’s on a quiet street, and it’s brand new furniture and fixtures, but the original integrity of the building still resonates. I could easily live in this place full time, it’s bright and airy, has a wonderful private outside area for dining al fresco and even a spa! I can’t wait to go back. While I was alone, it actually can sleep 8 with two bedrooms and two baths. This is the smaller bedroom (which sleeps 4) The master bedroom (and bath)
Here’s the rental agency link. http://www.romesweethome.com/Luxury-Two-Bedroom-Trastevere-Botanical-Garden.html
I loved how convenient it was to everything. A great area to be living – right down the block is the “Casa delle Donne” which has home cooked lunches for the public at very reasonable prices. Their lovely garden patio area has a beautiful magnolia tree that is several hundred years old and on Thursdays, they have a fresh market of products from Abruzzo there. And, they have a summer Jazz festival in the garden area all of July with women jazz artists. You are only a few blocks from markets and two blocks from the Botanical Gardens, which are well worth visiting. And, if you are lucky enough to find it available to rent in July, in addition to all the Rome events, there is the Festa de’ Noantri -which dates back to 1535 in Trastevere. It starts off with a procession in honor of the Madonna del Carmine and begins eight days of celebrations with music and street performances, a street race and food, always lots of food.
Whether you rent here or elsewhere, rent early. Summer is a very busy time in Rome. I get so excited about Rome in the summer. It’s hot, and crowded, but it’s Rome! I’ll do some of the other regional summer events in the next blog.