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)

Vibrant Verona

Verona tends to be underrated as a destination, which is a grave mistake. It’s both a lovely city full of character and things to do, and a great base from which to visit Venice, the Palladian villas and the lakes.

It might be known as the world capital of daunted love, but really what stays with you after a trip to Verona is the incredible meshing of 2000 years of history, set in a vibrant, green and well-organised city. We recently used the city as a base to visit Frantoi Riva on the banks of Lake Garda where we tasted their new season oils as well as a quick trip to the 2019 Venice Biennale to take in the best contemporary art the world has to offer. But Verona was much more than that, it impressed us hugely and has left us with a great desire to visit it again soon.

The River Adige defines both the historic centre and the immediate city, which surrounds it. Both in the historic centre and outside you can find fine examples of Roman, medieval, gothic, renaissance and even modern deco. The Arena, which is still in use after 2000 years is one of the best preserved coliseums that remain, the square surrounding it a fun mesh of cafes and people. Other squares to note for dining, shopping and people watching are Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Signori. Outside the centre the Piazzale Castel San Pietro gives you outstanding views, and is reached via a funicular, which is always quite fun.

Crossing back into the historical centre on the Ponte Pietra takes you into a maze of streets, which occasionally open to show a great church, or narrow alley housing some lovely trattorias. The Porta Borsari, which dates back to the 1 Century AD reminds you how many layers of history this city has. The Scaliger Tombs show you the ambition of people and magnificence of the gothic period. Of all the things Verona is famous for Juliet’s balcony is probably the most underwhelming, which is a measure of just how many things there are to do.

For dinner we recommend Locanda ai Quattro Cuochi, Trattoria al Pompiere or Osteria Sgarzarie.

Superstitions in the Italian household

Italians are incredibly superstitious people. If you go to Naples you will see many little red horns hanging from the rear view mirror of cars and a black cat will literary stop all traffic until someone gormlessly passes the invisible line traced by the feline absorbing all the bad luck. Yet a spider in the house is a sign of good luck – ragno porta guadagno (spider brings earnings). We try to codify some of this Italian feng-shui

Rule #1: Have a fig tree in your garden. Not only the fruit is delicious, but it brings good luck to the house.

Rule #2: Don’t have 13 people seated together for dinner (the precedents didn’t look too rosy…)

Rule #3: Never say things are going well, because your luck might change (instead you can say “non c’e’ male – nothing’s wrong)

Rule #4: Don’t spill salt or olive oil (it brings bad luck). If it happens you can throw some salt behind each shoulder (or dab some oil behind each ear) to exorcise the bad luck.

Rule #5: If someone asks for the salt to be passed, put it on the table in front of them rather than passing from hand to hand (not knowing this can bring a few awkward moments when you are holding out the salt mill and the person who asked for it does not reach out, but is too embarrassed to say otherwise)

Rule #6: Never ever toast with a glass of water, unless you are child. And don’t cross arms as you toast (or as you shake hands, oddly).

Rule #7: Don’t put a hat on a bed or a chair (no… neither do we…)

Rule #8: If the situation doesn’t look propitious don’t touch wood, touch metal (or somewhere more private!).

If you happen to be at dinner party where there are 13 place settings, salt has spilt, someone left a hat on a bed, the brindisi is looking dodgy and there is no fig tree outside, don’t panic, because you can keep the malocchio (evil eye) away, by reciting this Napoletan song: “Aglio, fravaglie, fatture ca nun quaglie corna, bicorna, cape ‘e alice e cape d’aglio.” (Garlic, small fish, the magic will not happen, horns, double horns, sardine heads and garlic heads)

In Search of Ligurian Ingredients

Liguria is the land where dramatic jagged mountains meet the turquoise sea.  This moon-shaped Italian province is a real delight as we discovered this summer whilst visiting Paolo Cassini and his family at their frantoio just outside Isolabona near to the French border.

 

For many, Liguria’s main pull is the beautiful fishing villages of the Cinque Terre and Portofino.  In high season however, they are over crowded for our liking so we stepped off the track and spent more time in Bordighiera (a delightful seaside town), and up the valley in Isolabona and Dolceacqua.  We also visited gritty Genova and thanks to these places, we put together a wonderful picture of the Ligurian kitchen.

 

The Taggiasca olive and indeed its extra virgin olive oil is the common thread throughout the regional cuisine.  This small, sweet olive has a delicate flavour, very little bitterness and is grown on the steep, terraced groves that pepper the Ligurina hillsides.   With notes of freshly cut grass, almond and green bean, it weaves its way in to the local recipes, a few of which stood out for us.

 

Pasta is of course very much at home with its local side-kick pesto.  If you want to get it totally right, trofie is the most common choice with its tiny hand-rolled twirl that catches the sweet intense sauce.  Other brilliant pasta from Liguria includes the triangular pansotti as well as a sort of linguine called trenette, particularly good with seafood that also features highly.

 

We found vegetarian dishes in abundance, particularly those based on tomatoes, artichokes, olives and garlic – away from the glamorous fishing villages, this region is still relatively undeveloped and unflashy and this is reflected in the food, much of which is home-grown.

 

Meat is not a huge feature in Ligurian cuisine because the hilly terrain doesn’t allow for even moderate scale livestock farming.  Rabbit however is popular and it has a capacity to pair brilliantly with small taggiasca olives when slow cooked.

And focaccia is a major deal in these parts and whilst you can find this bread throughout Italy, this is it’s true home.  A slight crunch on the outside but with a soft centre, it is typically laced with olives or rosemary and generous quantities of Olive Oil.  Put a slice of the local prescinsêua cheese in the middle and you get a divine focaccia di recco – amazing for a mid morning put you on.  We also encountered the traditional farinata di ceci, which is a sort of dense pancake made with chickpeas and delicious topped with black pepper and olive oil.

 

All of this is of course elevated when you get the oil right.  We have tasted extensively and I can assure you that the very best of the region is Paolo Cassini.  He is a true food hero in our eyes, very few people take EVOO this seriously and as we write this he is starting up the frantoio and facing the most intense few weeks of 18 hr days of insanely hard labour.  Paolo, we salute you.

 

As we drove out of the frantoio, Paolo’s mother caught us in the drive way and thrust a bottle of Extremum in to our hands (their single grove selection).  We were heading to France to continue our gastronomic adventure.  “Take this,” she said “You can’t find good food in France, they have no idea about food.” We laughed.  But you know what, when we got to France, the butter-laden dishes just didn’t do it for us in the way French food had in the past.  Have we lived in Italy too long?  Or was it just because Liguria had surpassed all our gastronomic expectations.

How to Eat like an Italian

Italy is full of quirks, there are many untold rules and etiquettes and you often get the feeling there is a strong national ‘way to do things’.  This applies to food with some serious rigour as you might imagine – food is not flippant for Italians.  Here we codify what it is to Eat like an Italian.

  1. Talk about food: Italians love food so much, they will talk about it whilst waiting for and eating their meals. They will exchange recipes; food stories and you often hear ‘my Nonna used to make it like this’. Food is what you talk about at the table.
  2. Mix it up: only because it’s labelled Secondo (main course), doesn’t mean you can’t have it as a starter. At the seaside for example we like to have a fritto misto as a starter, before a pasta alle vongole. If you want some cheese and cold cuts after your pasta, that is also ok.
  3. Don’t mix it up: don’t put salad or veggies on your plate of pasta. No one wants to taste amatriciana sauce on top of cicoria ripassata. Food is eaten as it’s served – individually by type.
  4. Food is seasonal and thus is should be eaten: don’t ask for asparagus in August, porcini in July, strawberries in November. Eat food when it’s meant to be eaten.
  5. No cheese on fish. Don’t draw scorn from the waiting staff and fellow eaters by asking for parmiggiano on your pasta alle sarde.
  6. A latte is a glass of milk; peperoni are bell peppers. The former is acceptable for adults only before 10am and the latter are a little difficult to digest on a pizza.
  7. Italians are very much in-touch with their digestive abilities and will openly talk about it whilst giving you tips on how to make Ziti alla Genovese (an onion rich traditional Neapolitan dish) easier to digest by salting the onions over night.
  8. Bolognese sauce doesn’t exist. It’s usually called Ragù and it is particularly good in Bologna. In Tuscany it’s just called sugo, because that is the default sauce.
  9. Food in Italy is hyper regional. Some classics have spread their wings (pizza, pesto, spritz), other have not. Eating like an Italian really means eating like a Calabrese or a Piemontese or Sardinian – each have their own food style and tradition. While you travel across the country, if you eat hyper local you are eating like an Italian.

Under a Mulberry Tree

Family histories and the culture of the land are uniquely entwined in Italy.  It is something that interests us profoundly and adds depth to every relationship we enter in to with the families we work with.  The Librandi family gave us countless insights in to their fascinating story when we visited them last month in Calabria.
One such story was recounted by Michele Librandi as we tasted windfall mulberries from the beautiful tree that shades the terrace of their agriturismo overlooking the village of Vacarizzo Albanese.  They use the berries themselves to make jam or to flavour granita (sorbet), but the really interesting part of this tree is the leaves.
The leaves from a mulberry tree happen to be one of the silkworm’s favourite food.  This hungry little white caterpillar loves to fill itself with mulberry leaves and when it is sufficiently large, it starts to build its silk cocoon to begin metamorphosis.  Silk was an important part of a family’s resource, so the cocoons would either be dunked in hot water or baked in an oven (both in order to remove the insect), the cocoon was then cleaned and unravelled to make long silk strands, taking care to allow some moths to hatch in order to breed.
Throughout the seasons families would work on various parts of their land holdings: olive groves, fruit orchards, fields of grain, livestock and in some places such as Vacarizzo Albanese, the symbiosis between the mulberry tree and the small white caterpillar was a part of the cycle and it is a tradition that has been handed down through the generations.