CULTIVAR

 

There are around 800 different Olive Cultivars in Italy alone, many of which are used for Olive Oil. Similarly to grape varieties in wine, the Olive cultivar influences the flavour profile of your oil.  Different cultivars, depending on size of fruit, thickness of the skin, composition of the pulp can produce different yields, varying concentrations of anti-oxidants and overall different quality levels.

LOCATION AND CLIMATE

 

As you might expect, olives grown in cooler areas where there is more moisture (rainfall and dew) exhibit leaner, more restrained characteristics.  This doesn’t however mean that great oil can now be made in Iceland – you need a minimum amount of sunshine to make your Extra Virgin Olive Oil taste remarkable, similarly to tomatoes or stone fruit.

Olive trees are sensitive to winter freeze (the Casaliva cultivar is more resistant to cold, hence being grown in the Garda region).  It is also easier to farm organically where the climate is more stable and less chemical sprays are required to keep the trees healthy.

OLIVE MATURITY

 

Here’s the thing – all olives are green.  When they become fully mature, they turn black.
Olive maturity at the time of harvest is a major factor in flavour and quality: olives harvested earlier (green olives) feature more bitter, grassy characteristics, with lower yields and with the highest anti-oxidant content.  The oil is a much more intense green colour and has a longer shelf-life.  In terms of production, milling can take longer with green olives (a longer malaxation - the action of slowly churning milled olives to release droplets of oil - is needed and can be more complicated) but the results are far superior!  Don’t choose olive oil from over mature fruit: it lacks all the potential goodness and flavour.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL IN GROVE AND MILL

 

People who care passionately about what they make and follow it personally every day have the capacity to create products with far higher quality, with integrity, and that taste of where they come from.  They are also able to do this by caring for the environment they inhabit.

FRANTOIO DI RIVA BOX

This box contains 6 bottles of extra virgin olive oil made exclusively by Frantoio di Riva from groves on the banks of lake Garda.

Frantoio di Riva, 46°PARALLELO green label x 3 bottles (50cl)
Frantoio di Riva, 46°PARALLELO organic white label x 1 bottle (50cl)
Frantoio di Riva, 46°PARALLELO blue label x 1 bottle (50cl)
Frantoio di Riva, ULIVA Garda Trentino DOP x 1 bottle (50cl)

The Forager: Caterina Cardia

Pienza native Caterina Cardia has foraged in the spectacular lands of the Val d’Orcia ever since she was a young girl.  Today she supplies some of the best restaurants in Italy with native wild plants, which she has helped recuperate and propagate. She helps run her partner’s lovely restaurant La Buca Vecchia  and supplies wild herbs, salads, greens and flowers to the kitchen. She also runs courses and tastings for anyone who wants to learn more about wild foraging in the Val D’Orcia.

 

How did you get into foraging in the first place?

My grandmother was a forager and as a little girl I used to follow her as she went to pick mushrooms and herbs. As I was growing up in my teens I started suffering from anorexia and was really only eating vegetables and fruit: I wanted to loose weight, so I kept it to a minimum. A paediatrician helped me by suggesting I take an interest in the little I was eating and where it was coming from. This sparked my curiosity and also a sense of autonomy, which as teen I was seeking. Eventually I started buying books, learning, and making my first own salads and discoveries, which allowed me to go further than the 15 or so salad leaves my grandmother had been picking, and discover tastes and combinations. In time I wondered what this could become and eventually I asked a herbalist to teach me systemic botany which opened this whole world to me.

 

Your next step brought you to Florence…

Yes, with a bunch of friends we started living in the countryside near Florence and I was taking care of the vegetable garden and doing my usual foraging. I wasn’t managing to find a job so one day I decided to try to take my foraged salads to one of the chefs in Florence who most famously work with hyper seasonal food, Fabio Picchi of Cibreo – I literary knocked on his door with my basket of herbs, and next thing I knew he gave me my own work salad work station. Each morning I went picking and then prepared all the wild salads for the restaurant, for the next 4 years.

 

Since you moved back to Southern Tuscany, you have developed your business supplying many restaurants around Italy, what do you feel has changed from the early years?

First of all perceptions: 10 years ago when I started working with Picchi, people thought I was a crazy woman, now if I say I run a wild herb farm people know exactly what I do.

The oddity really is that this is a farm – we seed, turn crops etc, so we can have a supply for most of the year. It has become increasingly difficult to find clean and wild spots to forage. I live in the Val d’Orcia, which is a place of outstanding natural beauty, but has only a few untouched spots: the agriculture here is mostly grains, which kills any wild herbs, and vines, which have a similar effect. So the only places really where wild herbs remain are through the olive groves – it really is the only symbiosis left.

I have foraged these lands since I was a little girl and I know the signs and how to find wild herbs, but the spaces where I can do this are getting progressively smaller.

 

Are there any herbs that you can’t find anymore – perhaps they have disappeared?

Yes, loads. For example one of the basis of salads when I was young was what we call gallinella, but it is a wild valerian (Valerianella locusta), and it’s now impossible to find near by, but it used to be our Easter morning breakfast: an egg, bread with a type of bacon and gallinella salad. This was a tradition for a long long time, which has now sadly gone.

One of the things that really have fascinated me in this field is these plants grow in synergy with their origin. We tend to import and plant all sorts of things, but if you look you can find plants that have similar properties – as if nature gives you what you need. For example the Aloe, which is a wonderful plant with great properties and is being planted more and more.  It behaves as local succulents do and people has been used as an emollient forever.

 

I find some similarities with the importance of New Nordic Cuisine these last 10 years, in foraging and preserving flavours. Do you find more and more people are looking at what you are doing with interests?

Yes, very much, and constantly growing, also for the courses I do. It is also linked to the changing climate and realisation that if are buying a tomato even just from a near by country like Spain, something is seriously wrong. Of even if you think you should have a tomato when it is not season. People are realising that the industrial food model after WWII has brought a miseducation of diets and food stuff. People are not approaching me because what I do is reminiscent of a world that doesn’t exist anymore, people are approaching me to learn about health and nutrition. People who take supplements are looking for alternative foods that can help with achieving health.

 

Did you ever have a mishap?

Yes, once many years ago. I was looking for a particular plant, but one that was very similar got me and it made me ill for a short while. It really takes years of experience in an area to have the confidence that I have now. But I constantly learn and progress my knowledge both through books and by interacting with experts, botanists and chefs. It’s a synergy really, just like the plants I forage.

The Modern Italian Cook: Joe Trivelli

Joe Trivelli is co-head chef at London’s iconic River Café, where he has worked since 2001. Southern Italian on his father’s side but born and raised in Kent, Joe’s first book, The Modern Italian Cook was released last year and has been talked about non-stop since.

 

The last couple of years have been pretty epic for you…. The Modern Italian Cook, OFM Book of the Year, Fortnum & Mason Awards Debut Cookbook of the Year… mamma mia.  What is the moment you look back on with most happiness?

The moment I look back on with most fondness, escaping to Italy to finish writing the book whilst dad was in the midst of his olive harvest. He would help me in the evenings and I him picking during the days.

 

I won’t ever forget you cooking lunch for me whilst you were recipe writing for The Modern Italian Cook – I felt the most incredible gratitude.  Do you have a recipe you keep going back to or one you’re most pleased with?

I’ve had the most positive feedback about a pasta with peppers, it was one of the first recipes and did kind of define the book. It maybe my favourite too.

 

Who do you most admire in the kitchen? 

Outside River Cafe circles the chef I most admire Stephen Harris from the Sportsman. Just brilliant.

 

In your mind, what is it that makes The River Cafe such a great place to be?

It’s the people that make the River Café great, be they colleagues or customers.

 

You use extra virgin olive oil somewhat liberally let’s say at The River Cafe.  Do you also use monocultivar oils in the kitchen or are you mostly using blends of different olives?

We use both. The monocultivars are usually from Felsina wine estate on the borders of colli senesi and Chianti Classico. We buy from them, destoned, a leccino, pendolino or ragiolo depending on the season as well as more traditional blend.

 

What’s your favourite thing about Italians?

Appreciation of what the important things in life are.

The Landkeeper: Luca Gregori

Brothers Stefano and Luca Gregori share the joy of running Frantoio Gregori with the support and guidance of their wider family, following in the footsteps of their father and his father before him.  We were invited to their annual summer family and friends gathering, where we sampled their mother’s utterly delicious Olive Ascolane – a local traditional delicacy, made with their own Ascolane Tenera olives – honestly this celebration was beyond a feast, so many incredible flavours each speaking of their territory.

Younger brother Luca is completing his studies in agronomy and looks after their olive trees.  We caught up with him for a chat about organic agriculture, tradition and where to eat well in Le Marche (named recently as the top 10 regions to visit in 2020 by Lonely Planet).

You are completing your studies in Agronomy. What are the most important lessons that you can apply to the succssful running of Frantoio Gregori?

The most crucial lessons which can help us develop the company are around the so called circular economy – a new approach to production and consumption, trying to offer new solutions that help the different demands of consumers. To do this we need to move beyond what we are doing in terms of company planning, sustainability of the land and of society around us. We are fully convinced of the fact that the quality of what we do is necessarily linked to the quality of the soil and environment around it (soil, water, organisms and animals which inhabit it)

Your family has shown a passion for authentic local ingredients for many generations. What do you feel you have learned from them?

We bring with us the flavours, aromas and colours of Le Marche’s culinary tradition as indelible images in our “sensory” memory. We will try to bring with us the values handed down from our grandparents to our parents, hoping to be able to pass them on to our children and grandchildren with the same pride and the same passion of our ancestors in a sort of circular economy of food and wine traditions.

How has the cuisine in Le Marche changed over the years? What do you consider to be the most representative dish today?

Over the years, the cuisine of Le Marche has changed hugely, passing from a “poor” kitchen in which the dishes had relatively low nutritional values, to a richer and at times more calorific cuisine.  The dishes that tend to live on are the most flavoursome, those that were once the dishes of feast days. I think that the vincisgrassi and the ascolana olives are the most representative historical dishes of the region – they are very different from each other but both are incredibly laborious and complex to make, in both cases it is the details that make the difference starting from the raw material to the hands of the cook who makes them.

Your university research has focused on the cultivar Ascolana Tenera. Can you summarise your findings?

This is a 2-year research carried out in parallel also by Spanish colleagues on the Manzanilla de Sevilla cultivar. We have tried to observe how the Ascolana Tenera responds to certain foliar treatments throughout the fruit development phase. Our goal was to observe how these treatments influenced the qualitative parameters of the table olive and to highlight the most appropriate periods to carry out the treatments. We still have to work out the statistics of the second year but already in the first we had positive feedback.

You are fully committed to organic agriculture. How come you chose this and why is it so important for you?

We have chosen to farm our groves organically because we believe that preserving the environment and the health of the place where we live is very important, more than obtaining greater yields from the field.  Obviously this choice involves a bigger effort in terms of time dedicated to the olive trees and the costs, especially during the summer months can be higher. Working the land organically requires technical know how to select the best interventions. We consider this to be a year round approach, as for other fruit cultivation such as apples and apricots, which is one of the most technologically advanced sectors of agriculture.

Our experience tells us that the best place to eat in Le Marche is your family’s house. Can you point us in the direction of some other favourite places to eat?

In Le Marche it is true, we eat very well within the families that carry on their gastronomic traditions, but there are many restaurants worth seeking out, places where traditional cuisine is made but also with a modern interpretation.

From north to south I would mention Nostrano in Pesaro where the raw materials of the Marche region from the sea and the land take on new and fascinating forms.

In Senigallia the tradtional Uliassi e Cedroni is always good – here you begin your meal with bread and oil of Raggia or Ascolana Tenera.  Also worth a mention is the authentic trattoria Vino e Cibo.

In the Ancona area we are very attached to the restaurant Dal Mago in Morro d’Alba, also specialised in game.  In Filottrano the Gallo Rosso is a guardian of the most traditional Val Gardena cuisine where the choice of raw materials is rigorous.

In the Macerata area the restaurant I Due Cigni of Montecosaro makes vincisgrassi that recall the past and on the sea in Civitanova da Galileo the fish is always centre stage and fabulous.

At Porto San Giorgio a refined cuisine is shown by two exceptionally talented young guys at L’Arcade and by Retroscena, on the seashore Stella Adriatica is a very nice place that satisfies both visitors and locals.

In Lapedona Didacus a restaurant famous for being a gourmet pizzeria but where the raw materials are second to none, in Ortezzano and Offida we love Piceni and Ophis, where the traditional cuisine that the two cooks know very well is combined with innovation.

In Grottammare, L’Attico sul Mare serves top quality seafood and reinterpretations of tradition such as the brodetto alla sambenedettese, inside the old embankment perched on the hill with a breathtaking view of the Borgo Antico, we love this place.

In Ascoli Piceno the Piccolo Teatro, a stone’s throw from Piazza del Popolo, is a quiet place, great for a romantic dinner where you can taste olive all’ascolana and other local specialties and Villa Cicchi, an ancient farmhouse in the countryside in Rosara just outside Ascoli where the Piceno traditions are preserved.

The science of good health: Dr Simon Poole

Physician, award winning author, public speaker and broadcaster, Dr Simon Poole has been extolling the virtues of the Mediterranean Diet and the use of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in particular since the 1990s. His seminal book, The Olive Oil Diet (authored with Judy Ridgway), brought to life how easy is it to live better for longer. You can follow him on twitter @thetasteofthemed 

 

How do you get your patients to consume more EVOO? Is extolling it’s health benefits enough or do you have more practical tips?

Firstly, I am passionate about lifestyle medicine, because perhaps 70 – 80% of chronic diseases can be prevented, and a good diet is central to a healthy lifestyle. The body of evidence supporting the Mediterranean way of life as a gold standard to protect from illness and to support a long and healthy life is now very well established and compelling. The common denominator and universal ingredient of all the regional variations of the Mediterranean Diet is extra virgin olive oil and it is a significant contributor to the Mediterranean Diet Score used by scientists to measure adherence to the diet. There is also increasing evidence that extra virgin olive oil on its own has measurable beneficial effects. It is perhaps the oldest and most convincing superfood! When I discuss eating patterns with my patients, I encourage them to adopt the Mediterranean Diet with extra virgin oil at its heart. It is not only the healthiest of diets, but it is delicious, enjoyable and sustainable.

 

In an interview you said that people should eat a litre of EVOO a month. Is this just condiment oil (over salads, pasta, meats etc) or even frying and cooking?

A litre of EVOO a month is equivalent to the quantities measured on the dietary scores by researchers in most studies describing the benefits and positive health outcomes of the Mediterranean Diet and EVOO. In most northern European countries and the USA consumption would need to increase ten fold to achieve this. I recommend that people use EVOO in the way that the peoples of the Mediterranean use it for cooking, food preparation and as a condiment. It is the ubiquitous fat and features in all meals and cooking. It is also a fundamental part of the history and culture in these regions.

 

Which would be your number one life style-hack to ensure more people arrive at that litre a month.

I encourage people to buy a 3 or 5 litre can or box of affordable, good quality regional EVOO and use it every day for all food preparation and cooking. I suggest ditching other less healthy oils and fats and banish them from the kitchen. People can then choose a more premium oil for the table for flavouring and finishing dishes and can explore and enjoy the taste differences between excellent quality EVOOs.

 

What is the most compelling reason to exchange butter for EVOO in your diet?

There are so many reasons to exchange butter for EVOO in our diets. EVOO is fundamental to the Mediterranean Diet, is made up mostly of healthy monounsaturated fats, is plant based and is environmentally sustainable (with 10 kg of carbon “fixed” per litre produced), and has a complex range of tastes which add exquisite flavour to foods. However it is probably the unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds which have beneficial health effects present in the “fruit juice” of the olive which provide the most compelling reasons. These compounds called polyphenols, as well as vitamin E are critical in protecting our bodies from the damage of oxidative stress and inflammation.

 

From a scientific perspective what is it that makes EVOO superior choice for cooking with?

The polyphenol compounds which occur naturally in EVOO, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties protect the fats in EVOO from breakdown, preserving the health of EVOO when used for cooking at all usual temperatures in the kitchen. This makes a good EVOO the perfect oil for cooking, roasting and frying, just as the peoples of the Mediterranean have used it since ancient times. The “smoke point” of an oil is a very poor indicator of its performance at temperature, and whilst cooking temperatures are well below the “smoke point” of EVOO, there are also additional benefits of cooking with EVOO which involves the exchange of antioxidants between vegetables and EVOO, creating an even healthier end result.

 

For those of us who follow the subject, there is constant new research about the health benefits coming out. Which are the most significant facts that have emerged for you in the last few years? 

Probably the synergy of cooking vegetables with EVOO and the combined effects of the polyphenols is the most exciting development in recent years, making it not only entirely safe to cook with EVOO, but also desirable as a way to maximise health and to gain the most from the nutrients in vegetables. EVOO has also been shown to significantly reduce the formation of potentially harmful chemicals called heterocyclic amines when meat is cooked – the antioxidants in EVOO deterring the production of these compounds when meat is grilled for example.

 

What was your lightbulb moment with olive oil? When did you decide to immerse your self into the subject?

I have been interested in the health of the Mediterranean Diet for years, promoting it to my patients since the 1990s knowing the evidence for its benefits was increasing year on year. I have also enjoyed the taste and flavours of EVOOs as part of this lifestyle. However, as a doctor my lightbulb moment with EVOO came in 2012 when the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition published findings of an associated 26% reduction in death for those you consumed high levels of olive oil compared with non users for the period of study, with deaths from heart disease nearly halved. Since then there has been even more evidence of the unique role that EVOO plays in conferring the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet.

 

What are the lines of current research on EVOO that excite or interest you the most? 

So many chronic diseases, including heart disease but also conditions such as Alzheimers disease and other forms of dementia relate to chronic low levels of inflammation. New discoveries of the anti-inflammatory effects of EVOO are creating an understanding of how such illnesses may be prevented. Even in the last month there has been a publication demonstrating that a single meal including sofrito – the sauce with EVOO, onions, garlic and tomatoes, can very quickly and measurably reduce markers of inflammation. It is exciting to see the tangible, real world link between enjoying wonderful EVOO containing meals with an outcome that probably means a healthier body and mind.

The memory collector: Tessa Kiros

Tessa Kiros’s work has been very important to us: her book on Tuscan cooking ‘Twelve’ was the first cookbook we bought together as a young couple and the pages have been worn and loved over the years.  She has written an incredible selection of fascinating books, combining her love of travel and collecting, but also her heritage and eclecticism. She was very kind to speak to Frantoi.org about her journeys, life in Tuscany and naturally Extra Virgin Olive Oil.   You can find out more about her and her wonderful books via tessakiros.com

 

You come from a mixed heritage, spent time growing up in different countries, but have been living in Italy for many years now. What brought you to Tuscany in the first place? Is there a culture you truly feel is yours now? Have your children leant more towards their Greek, Italian or Finnish heritages?

I first came to Tuscany to study the language & the food. Here I met Giovanni – we have been married for 22 years this November. I travel a lot – so I probably spend as much time away as in Tuscany. I am comfortable to call many places home – but I think the one that I feel is most home is Greece.
I have always incorporated all of our nationalities into our lifestyle – through food, travel & stories with my children & family. I think it is important. At home now we have a mixture of everything & my daughters have spent time in all of the places. They love it all.

 

How does your South African upbringing fit in to your cultural tapestry?

I spent all of my school years in South Africa – I think these are important years. We had a mixed cultural upbringing – a rich tapestry of different traditions, also mingled in with friends of many nationalities in different elementary schools. I went to a Greek High School. At home we followed Finnish & Greek traditions & holidays – like Greek Easter, Finnish Christmas Eve celebration with regular Christmas on the 25th. I love South Africa – I still love visiting.

 

When did you become a food writer?

I became a food writer when I wrote my first cookbook ‘Twelve’ – It was a way for me to keep all the recipes I had collected from my time in Tuscany & from working in Giovanni’s family restaurant. I had always kept notebooks & journals even before that.

 

What is your first memory of olive oil?

The summers we would spend in Greece from a young age – sitting at long tables by the sea at a taverna & the Greek salad with bright oil poured over the top. We always loved the end part where the oil had mixed with the tomato juices & origano at the bottom of the bowl – to dip our bread in.

 

The 3 cultures of your childhood treat fats and flavour layering very differently. Do you find yourself mixing methods and trying to incorporate one ingredient rather than another one? Or do you remain a purist when cooking for family and friends?

I am not a purist – unless it is essential to the taste of a dish. But I don’t like mixing things up for no reason. Finnish foods often use butter & cream & have fats in the wonderful salmons for example. When I cook Finnish food I do add olive oil with a mixture of butter. I also often like to add a blob of butter to Greek & Italian foods here & there if I think it will be good in a dish. I also love to use ghee & sesame oil in my food. I believe in artistic license – but I also really do love traditional foods – when you can taste the place in the dish.

 

What is it that you just don’t get about the Italians? 

That not much English is spoken – at least around where I live. The dubbing. I mean I get it that they do a great job. But I personally don’t like to go to movies that are dubbed. I think films should be left in the language they were made in with sub-titles.
The closing hours in small villages – I live in the countryside & very often feel frustrated about the 10-1 then 4-7 shop opening hours. The time that things are closed is often when I find I need something! By the time I actually get out somewhere there is not enough time to get several things done in the morning for example…. In the bigger towns this is different. I don’t get it though – that even those small wonderful alimentari shops close at lunch time! I still haven’t managed to cultivate the before-hand planning for the day – even after all these years in Italy!

 

What do you eat for breakfast usually?

My very favourite breakfast is a cappuccino & croissant – but I don’t have this always.
I also love a bowl of Greek yoghurt with honey, nuts & some fruit. In winter I sometimes love a bowl of warm oat porridge with cinnamon.

 

Of the various books you wrote which one stretched your professionally the most? Given that you continue to add different cuisines to your storytelling and cooking repertoires, which one was hardest to feel you understood it and therefore which book was hardest to complete?

I think my latest book ‘Provence to Pondicherry’. I knew from that start that it would be a stretch but it was one that I really wanted to do. The challenge was in the several places – that were each very diverse – that had to be covered for the research & photography. It is very different to write a book in these circumstances than to write from a place where you have grown up or have relatives for example. But it wasn’t hard for me to complete – this is exactly what I love about my work – this opportunity to explore other cultures & represent them from my viewpoint. I loved this journey – it was so inspiring. And when I am inspired I can write & work. So many incredible things happened along the way, such wonderful people happened upon my path – I truly love this process in my work.

 

You call yourself a collector: what are the most extraordinary things you have collected?

Of recipes. I am a collector of images. Spices. Ideas. Of memories. I have come home with a tortilla press from Mexico. A beautiful piece of silk from Sri Lanka. Fabrics are amongst my greatest loves.

 

Living in Tuscany, which ingredient do you find you miss the most from your larder?

Fresh coriander, dill, rice vinegar, salt & vinegar chips, cheddar, stilton, sesame oils. The base for tarama for example. Fresh lime leaves, curry leaves. Papaya, green mangoes & tamarind. Makrut limes. I do miss being able to get different breads like a proper Lebanese or Persian flatbread or a great souvlaki on the run.
In compensation – we have wonderful panini places & really incredible ingredients in Tuscany – something which I am always grateful for & am lucky that I can cook many things at home. I go to Florence often & come home with a stack of ingredients.

 

What is your relationship with Olive Oil?

Olive oil is one of my top ingredients that I would never be without in my kitchen – along with a good crunchy salt, & fresh herbs like sage growing outside.

 

Do you have a favourite type of olive oil?

I love many oils – Tuscan, Ligurian, Greek. Any oil that comes from the village. And of course freshly pressed oil is so impressive – it is a time I really look forward to – savoured with the November vegetables & recipes.

 

Which recipe do you feel represents best your relationship with olive oil?

For me – it is hard to beat a fresh raw artichoke dipped into a bowl of olive oil, salt & pepper. A summer tomato scattered with salt & olive oil. Bruschetta or the Greek Dakos, the toasted bread rubbed first with a piece of garlic. A piece of feta or burrata, scattered with herbs & a liberal splash of olive oil. An egg – soft fried in a small pan in olive oil.
The recipe that best represents me I think is the Greek ‘Ladolemono’ which is olive oil whipped with lemon, salt & pepper & poured over warm grilled fish. I love this. I also make a rice pudding with olive oil & plums.

 

As a seasoned traveller can you name your best places for a) street food, b) taverna food and c) fine dining?

Street food: Vietnam & Thailand.

Taverna: Greece & Italy.

Fine(and generally great) dining: Australia.

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Manos Chatzikonstantis  @manoswashere