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)

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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.