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)

Easter in Italy

“Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” is a famous refrain in Italy. “Christmas is spent with yours (family), Easter with whom you want.”
Although it’s the most important religious festival of the year, Easter in Italy tends to be very much a secular affair, usually centred around eating. There are of course many processions around the country to celebrate Holy Week, culminating in the biggest one the Via Crucis, where the Pope carries the cross (at least if the Pope is of the appropriate age and constitution to do so) to the Colosseum. Unlike many other countries, Easter Friday is not a public holiday, however schools usually close on the Wednesday or Thursday, and often with other public holidays overlapping many people take advantage of a few days off.
With spring well under way in most of Italy, Easter is a very important period for tourism, with Italians visiting the many art cities and even some beach resorts. For those not travelling there are two distinct days: Easter Sunday eating at home, Pasquetta (“Little Easter” as Easter Monday is known) going out with friends to eat.

Lent traditionally would be a period of fasting, especially from animal products such as eggs and meat, so these naturally feature highly on the Easter menu – especially lamb and affettati (cold cuts), as well as home made pasta and pies.
The collatio, the small meal with which you break-fast (which became the modern italian word colazione) is traditionally hard-boiled eggs and cold cuts, such as coratella (made from the less appealing parts of lamb) and salami. Traditionally affettati are prepared at the beginning of the winter and they are ready to eat in the spring, so these are another symbol of resurrection after the winter. Pies such as the Neapolitan Casatiello or the Piedmontese Torta Salata (with asparagus and prosciutto) are also traditional ways to start the day.

Lunch is a multi-course extravaganza. Fresh egg based pasta made into tagliatelle or lasagna, often with vegetables (such as artichokes), fresh ricotta cheese or kid meat. The main course is traditionally roasted lamb (or kid) with potatoes. Spring vegetables are in full bloom, from fave (broad beans) to carciofi (artichokes) and asparagi (asparagus). And naturally fresh cheese such as pecorino will also appear on the table. For desert the Colomba (Dove) di Pasqua is a modern invention, which replicates Christmas panettone (basically the same thing in a different shape), as well as fresh ricotta cheese based cakes, such as Pardulas from Sardinia.

Pasquetta is as eagerly anticipated and organised as New Years Eve, frantically looking for a place in the countryside to accommodate a large group of friends to eat pretty much what was eaten already eaten the day before, enjoy a passeggiata and much conviviality.

This year, despite the weather being perfect for time spent together with friends and family, we will all be home looking out at the world and thinking of our friends and the times we spent together and sharing a toast and tales of food eaten in our virtual shared spaces.

Italian Resilience

Not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Italians. Perhaps they are better know for their exuberance, style, quality of life and very extrovert love of la mamma, but the current Coronavirus crisis has shown this lesser know quality of inhabitants of Il Bel Paese.

As the crisis grew in late February and early March, and the new normal suddenly was to be locked at home apart from essential trips, Italians took it on the chin and have started showing the world how to do neighbourhood entertainment by signing on their balconies, terraces and windows, and telling each other  #andratuttobene – everything will be all right Children have made placards with the new motto and revisiting Forza Italia, an old football banner which was coopted by Berlusconi in his first bid for power in 1994, have been placed on roundabouts and junctions to keep people’s spirits high. The national anthem is sung with pride and the tricolore is shared widely in social media, together with the incredibile successes that Italy and Italians have. The normal loud political bickering has disappeared, replaced by a more nordic let’s just get on with it attitude.

If you look back at the history of Italy you see this resilience appearing when needed: mass migration to the americas and northern Europe when the fields didn’t support enough folk anymore; brutal wars and occupations; incredible internal displacement of people along the A1 motorway, which carried people from the South to the North; real hunger; a political class which has repeatedly failed it’s citizenry; the dark years of terrorism; the uncomfortable relation with the euro; the mafia and other organised crime. To that Italians have responded with entrepreneurship, flair, hardwork, a strong sense of who they are, and buckets of resilience. The brands that make Made in Italy shine (from cars to fashion to food to electronics), are there because Italians know when they need to turn in on. The heroic showing of doctors and nurses batting this invisible enemy and the general response of people across Italy have brought to the fore this most Italian of qualities, resilience, which hasn’t shown itself so clearly for a while now.

#andratuttobene

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.