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.
I realize it has taken far too long to return to finish the Part 2 information on olive oil, but there have been good reasons. Mostly my traveling back from Italy (bringing along Mauro Berardi’s spices, porcini and all that wonderful Olio Nuovo from Farfa). Then the holidays seem to move in more quickly every year. Or, perhaps it is that I am slowing down somewhat? Nope, that cannot be.
Looking back, it seems unbelievable that I am renewing my EU passport already. While my husband and I managed to spend time in Italy (He mentored young film technicians for Technicolor Rome years ago) before we decided to move there for a couple years on his retirement. After our return it was just too painful to think about not being able to frequently return to Italy (and especially visiting all our friends there), so Expressly Italian was born. While I regret not beginning Expressly Italian’s journey much earlier, my life as an art dealer/ consultant was fulfilling and good preparation for Expressly Italian.
Our View in Belevedere di Riaino
While in Italy we were living outside Rome (about 9 miles north of the center) in the country and made great efforts to see as much of the country as we could. We traveled mostly throughout Tuscany and Umbria and I asked questions always. I shopped every street market in every village because I was fascinated to find how different each was in personality as well as goods. I learned to ask lots of questions even when you think you understand what you are being told. There is not an Italian who is not very happy to have a conversation about food at any time, and if you express any interest they will tell you how their mother prepared their favorite dish, which week is the best to buy whatever product is in season and who is best vendor to buy from.
Living in Lazio I had the chance to watch the seasons change with pruning, cleaning, harvesting and of course, tasting. Tasting is an art. To properly taste olive oil (which many of the frantoio insist you do); first you put a little in the bottom of the glass (the glass is blue so you don’t get swayed by the color the oil, which doesn’t really indicate quality, but more about the variety of olives used). You hold the glass in your palm (to warm it a little and bring out the flavor more), while covering it with the other hand. Hold it and swirl it for a moment or two. This traps the aroma in the glass. The aroma is a very important part of the oil. Now take a good whiff. Do you smell grass, artichokes, berries, cinnamon or olives? The word “fruity” in the context of olive oil can refer to vegetable notes, like green olive fruit, as well as ripe fruit notes. So think of artichokes, grass and herbs as “fruit” when you taste olive oil. I still haven’t found those little blueglasses they officially use in the tastings, but one day I will.
Now, take a sip of the oil (a decent size sip). You want enough to swirl around your mouth. Think of the way they taste wine. It’s the same. Suck air through the oil to coax more aromas out of it, and then—this is important—close your mouth and breathe out through your nose. This “retronasal” perception will give you a whole bunch of other flavor notes. Retronasal perception is possible because your mouth connects to your nose in the back. Now swallow some, or all of the oil. Think about the after-taste, the pungency of the oil as it goes down your throat. This peppery sensation is what gives great olive oil it’s little after-kick. It’s a pretty addictive impact that can be quite quiet or enough to make you cough. Everyone has their own preferences.
After you’ve done all this, then you should taste the oil with food. Usually just a piece of bread is enough to tell you if this oil is for you. Or potatoes, some mild food that will complement the oil, but still allow you to experience it. So, now you know the ins and outs of tasting and can taste oil with any aficionado with confidence.
The Sabine hills are about 50 minutes from Rome, and have been producing olive oil for more than 2,500 years. In fact, in Fara Sabina there is a tree called Ulivone Canneto which has been carbon dated to more than 2,000 years old that still produces enough olives to make about 150 kilo of olive oil a year today! This tree made olive oil for the Romans, to Byzantines and modern-day Italians.
An archaeological discovery of the small flask of Poggio Sommavilla traced back to the seventh century BC is preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and is the oldest example of writings from pre-Roman times. It is a testimony of the olive culture of this area because in it are the remains of olive oil.
Claudius Galen (129 AD – 216 AD), the father of modern pharmacopoeia, called oil of Sabina “the world’s best known.” And, although Sabina oil is not as universally known today, it is revered by those who have tasted it and experienced its quality.
Sabina is slightly cooler than Tuscany and the hills make it ideal for cultivation of olives. The trees here are some of the largest in Europe and the distinct delicate flavor may be created by the warm winds whipping in directly from the south. There are various strains including Carboncella, Pendolfino, Moraiolo and Rosciola. All are a golden yellow/green and harvested just before turning brown.
Sabina has a consortium of small growers and cooperatives, but my personal preference and practice is to purchase the oil directly from the frantoio of the grower. Rosario presses his own olives from his own groves. He also contributes to the consortium, but I love knowing exactly what I am getting and feeling like I can watch the olives be delivered and watch them be pressed and put into the lattine (tins). It is really exciting and moves really quickly. Sabina DOP is available in many places, but I love knowing exactly how and when the oil is processed and how it is handled. The drive to Farfa is beautiful and serene, although I have to admit I always seem to get lost in the hills on the way there. I am confident that what I offer is as fresh, and high in antioxidants and flavor as possible.
Some of the characteristics of Sabina DOP oil are: Color: yellow gold with nuances of green, Perfume: fruity, notes of fresh herbs and artichoke; Flavor: velvety, aromatic, peppery finish.
This map is from Eataly.
Each region, even village has different types of olives grown, so the oils are different. In Italy there are 350 different cultivars of olives grown. When you travel in Italy try to taste as many types as you can to give you an idea of which varieties you prefer which may give you an idea of what oils you might like. And, taste oils as often as possible. During harvest times there are often tastings available as well as sagre (festivals) for olive oils which are wonderful opportunities to try different oils.
I hope this explains a little more of my fascination with Italian olive oils, and Sabina olive oil in particular. It is so full of antioxidants, great taste and bright flavor, add a little zip to your life by drizzling it on everything you can.
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.
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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.
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I love the Maremma. So many people visit Tuscany and think they’ve seen it all after Sienna, Florence, Orvieto and maybe a few hill towns. Nope. The western part of Tuscany by the sea is so special, it deserves much more attention than it receives. On the other hand, it’s nice not to be over run with tourists. While the whole of the Maremma covers a large area, I know the area near Grosseto and south best.
The Maremma area has almost timeless roots. The Etuscans long before the Romans lived in this area. They built cities and developed agriculture in the midst of beautiful landscapes. Many of the people still living in this area are descendants of the Etuscans, a people who lived in this part of Italy long before the Romans. While much is unknown about their civilization, the Etruscan people were known to be intelligent, gentle people with many advances in their culture and few wars. They were easily made extinct by the Romans. There are many both Etruscan and Roman ruins in this area to be explored.
Pitigliano, Manciano and Montiano are only a few of the spectacular hill towns. But it’s the sea and the towns of Porto Santo Stefano, Orbetello, Albinia and Capalbio that keep my heart in the Maremma. Orbetello is on a thin strip of land that crosses in the middle of a coastal lagoon. The isthmus joins the Argentario to the Tuscan mainland. Although Orbetello is surrounded by lagoons it is also connected to the Mediterranean.
There has been a settlement in Orbetello since the 8th century BC! Being on the sea means fishing has always been important to it’s livelihood and culture.
Orbetello is one of the few areas in Italy still producing bottarga, which is flaked and served simply with olive oil on warm bread or grated over vegetables and salads. It is finely grated and served over spaghetti to make their most famous dish ‘spaghetti alla bottarga’.
Covitto fish market has been in Orbetello since 1940. Domenico moved from the Amalfi Coast to Orbetello and brought his idea and process for making bottarga. His was the first Botarga made in this part of Italy. It is still made the same way. Bottarga di Muggine is famously used in Sicilian dishes. Buying the whole roe sack is quite expensive, but this grated bottarga is much easier to use and less expensive. It is wonderful over salads and vegetables, but the best known use is in Spaghetti alla Bottarga. You simply add a little olive oil to a pan, heat it and add a little red pepper flakes and add cooked pasta. Take it off the heat and sprinkle the Bottarga over the pasta and a good handful of fresh chopped parsley. So simple and yet so special. It takes only a little for very rich flavor. The 40 gram jar I have will last well past the end of this year if kept in the refrigerator. Bottarga is very rich in protein and Omega 3’s with a delicate and wonderful flavor.
Domenico also brought with him from Cetara, the process to make Colatura di alici. Anchovy Sauce. It’s definitely part of the slow food movement.
His famous amber condiment is delicate and available only in Italy. While they use it for pastas, it is a wonderful flavor for anything that needs a little depth of flavor. This amber magic is made by taking fresh caught anchovies with salt and laying them in a wooden container called a “terzigni”. After four or five months the liquid that comes out of the bottom hole in the container is harvested. It’s quite different than the Asian fish sauces. Delicate and uniquely flavored, it adds that indefinable extra to many dishes.
For an easy Pasta dish, use a simple pasta and cook it as directed on the package. When it’s about done, heat about 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add a clove of garlic, being sure not to brown it, along with some red pepper flakes to taste, and about 3 Tablesppons of COLATURA DI ALICI with a little pasta water. Add the drained pasta and sprinkle fresh chopped parsley over and serve. Keep the COLATURA DI ALICI handy to add additional over the top of your pasta to taste. This should generously serve 4 people.
This area of Tuscany is full of regional typical products not generally seen outside the area. The Maremma is a mixture of farm lands, cattle ranches and seaside fishing villages. It’s well worth spending some time in this area and exploring the beaches as well as the ancient ruins all around you.
From Albinia I brought back Conserve to be used with cheese or bruschetta. One I love is called Conserva del Buttero. The Tuscan cowboys, horses and the Maremma sheepdog are all parts of this interesting area. The Conserva del Buttero’s ingredients include: peppers, peaches, apples, pepperoncino, apple vinegar, lemon juice and sugar. Wow is it great. It would be fabulous with meat as well as served with pears or apples. So many uses for these conserve. I hope you’ll try some of these magnificent specialties.
Please feel free to email me at ExpresslyItalian@aol.com if you have any questions or want any additional information. I do hope you have the chance to explore this part of Italy. I ended my week with a fabulous dinner made by a long time resident of Montiano who fixed a fantastic cinghiale, with juniper berries and raspberry agrodolce sauce. Thanks Penelope, it was better than any I’ve ever had.
I have so much more to tell you about this special area, I’ll have to make another blog entry sometime in the near future to tell you about Albinia, the fantastic Alimentari un Mare di Sapori and explain some of the other local products.