Tag Archives: food

From tree to table: Olive oil

18 Nov

Last week we had the lovely opportunity to see the process of making olive oil from tree to table, literally.

The net spread around the base of the tree to catch the olives

Olive picking happens late in the harvest season, after most other crops are done. Here in mid-Italy most people harvest early November. It’s hard to believe, but the majority of olives are still harvested by hand. For this reason you want to choose a dry day, preferably one that it hasn’t rained for a few days. In most cases, only the largest of olive farms harvest mechanically because of the permanent damage that is done to the tree. We also waited for the dew to burn off before we began. You’re under the tree so if the tree is wet, so are you. The first thing we did was spread the net under the tree. The net catches the olives as you knock them from the tree. We used our hands and these small, plastic rake-type tools to pull the olives off the trees. You simply run your hand or the tool down the branch pulling off as many olives and as few leaves as possible. The goal is to get all the olives off the tree, which is actually a bit of a challenge and quite time consuming. This was a very dry, hot year and yields were nothing of what they normally are, same for the grapes 😦 After all the olives fall onto the net you gather them into a compact pile and dump them into crates.

Gathering the olives

Olives are a tricky business, one should never wonder why olive oil is so expensive. You gather hundreds of lbs of olives and you get very little oil, typically only 10-16% of the original olive weight. We only have about 35 trees on the property, but during a good year it provides enough oil to last the family all year. I can’t imagine the families and farms that harvest thousands of trees by hand! Once all the olives are picked you take them straight to the olive mill. It’s crazy, they’re everywhere! Many, many Italians press their own oil and each have their favorite “frantoio”. You dump all the olives in the hopper where the leaves are removed and the olives are washed. The olives are then crushed, heated and the oil is extracted. The remaining, dried pulp is then sold to other companies that use chemistry to extract the last remaining bit of oil.* The pulp is also a perfect compost fertilizer to replenish the trees with the nutrients they lost in producing the olives. The whole process of pressing took about an hour. Fresh oil is a brilliant green, almost artificial looking and spicy with a very unique flavor.

Fresh-pressed olive oil! Look at that color!

Once you taste fresh olive oil you’ll recognize it forever. Claudia, our host mom/boss, enjoys fresh-pressed olive oil with the traditional Tuscan/Umbrian saltless bread. The traditional bread is done saltless as it has been since the middle ages when a salt tax made it too expensive for the average baker and has since stuck. In most instances I don’t enjoy the bread (who would have though that pinch of salt would make such a difference?!) but the strong flavor in the fresh oil compliments the bland bread well.  So that’s the story of how we picked and pressed the olives during the day and were able to enjoy it with fresh bread that night!

Getting crushed and heated!

*This oil is specifically labeled in Italy as it is not olive oil in it’s truest form, not Extra Virgin.

Fall in Ohio

13 Oct

As expected, Mitch and my’s time in Italy has been amazing. We learn new things about wine, Italy, the world and ourselves everyday. As great as Italy is though, the fall season just doesn’t feel the same as home in Northeast Ohio. Now believe me I’m not typically one to get homesick, but fall just doesn’t feel like fall without certain things we have both grown up with and become accustomed to. Some of our fall favorites include, but are certainly not limited to:

Football! Be it college or high school, fall just doesn’t the same without the ole’ pigskin getting thrown around and someone unfailingly complaining about this coach and that referee. Although the Ohio University gods were smiling on me when the OU vs Penn State randomly played in Italy, the utter lack of football (American football of course) has been tough.

Our pet bunny, Indie, last year playing in the leaves!

One thing Ohio does exceptionally well in the fall is festivals and I eat up every one! Since I was a little girl my mom and I have gone to the Algonquin Mill Festival in Carroll County, Ohio. Put on by the Carroll County Historical Society, the festival offers everything from the steam powered flour mill to Carroll County genealogical informational it is a fest for the stomach as much as the eyes. My personal favorites are the apple butter with cinnamon and stone ground flour we store and use all year around.  My other favorite fall festival the Great Trail Festival in Malvern, Ohio. Clog dancing, fiddlers, living Colonial America and Storybook Craft Villaga are some things the festivals has do brag about, but my personal obsession has to be the ham and bean soup. I love it! The last festival is one of much smaller scale, but closer to the heart. The Constitution Festival in Louisville boasts a pageant, parade and Music in Motion band competition. All family friendly fall festivals that are Ohio specific!

Fall food in Ohio is a treat for the taste buds that the best tiramisu can’t match. Hot apple Cider, pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip, and OktoberFests, specifically Cellar Rats InFestation! We are hoping to have a bonfire with some friends to make them some of our American favorites soon. This came up because they hadn’t heard of many of our delicious fall foods or activities. We hope to give them a small taste of what we call fall! This might be the nesting bug bitting me, but I love decorating inside and out for fall! It’s great because god does all the work in fall, natural beauty in the leaves changing, bails of straw, gourds, pumpkins, mums, corn stalks and scare crows. It’s funny because many of these things exist in Italy, but just aren’t as visible or used to give that fall feeling as much as at home. So as wonderful as fall in Italy has been, we would both take a weekend in Ohio this time of year to enjoy family, friends, food and festivals!

 

 

Familiar faces

26 Sep

In Perugia with Aunt Vicki and Uncle Randy!

Just shy of a month here and we have been graced with visitors! My Uncle Randy and Aunt Vicki were in Europe for business and decided to come say hi to us for a few days. Getting here from Rome took 3 hours, where it would have taken an Italian 1 and 1/2, but they made it! Saturday we went to Perugia for a nice dinner on the Piazza. Mitch and I have always been there during the day, so we were shocked to see people of all ages thronging to the city center. Many college aged students, but also families and older couples all enjoying the beautiful fall evening. As I’ve mentioned before, our family owns a bed and breakfast outside of Perugia, so that is where we all stayed. Ev and Claudia were nice enough to give my aunt and uncle the suite, and we got stay there with them. After a delicious breakfast at the Casale we headed to Tuscany for some wine tasting. A unique aspect of wine tasting in Italy is that most wineries require an appointment and they can be very costly. Ranging from free to 40 Euros a person, the latter had better be some pretty amazing wine! We went to a very nice organic winery in Montalcino, Le Potazzine. The area is famous for their Brunellos and we tasted three very nice wines; Rosso di Montalcino 2010 made from a 5 star harvest with fruity and floral scents and light in body, Brunello di Montalcino 2007 from a 5 star harvest and the newest release with a medium body and scents of black pepper and black cherry and the Brunello di Montalcino 2005 from a 4 star harvest thus they let it age a little longer before release which gave it a deeper color than the first 2 wines and with much the same scent as the ’07. Yum! We loved them all, but the 05 was great. The set-up at Le Potizzne was really gorgeous and Michele, our tour guide and wine expert shared some really cool wine knowledge we had never heard before:

The mouth requires a full 11 seconds with the wine in it for tasting
The first sip essentially doesn’t count and it’s the second sip that tells you everything about the wine
Opening the wine bottle during a different weather pattern can change the taste of the wine

At Antonelli with our new friends Cindy and Leslie!

It was very nice and afterword we enjoyed walking around and had lunch in Montealcino.We took at bit of a “detour” shall we say on the way back, ending up in Orvieto. But we got straitened out and went to a cafe in Perugia for dinner. It was great getting to spend some fun, relaxing time with family. They had to leave early Monday morning, so we went to a wine and lunch pairing at Antonelli Winery in Montefalco just the two of us. They are off to Ireland- happy travels you guys and thanks so much for coming to see us- it meant SO much! Antonelli is one of the biggest wineries in Italy, producing over 300,000 bottles a year. We tasted their Grechetti 2011, a very crisp young wine wine scents of peach and hawthorn flower, Montefalci Rosso DOC 2009 a medium to light bodied red that was a little harsh on the tongue but has great balance and is their #1 selling wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG a full bodied well balanced wine that was heavy on the tongue with flavors of black berries and pepper and their Pasito 2007 which they dry the grapes for 3 months before pressing, making it a thicker wine that they can get 14.5% abv. It tastes like a Port but is not fortified and it is great as a dessert wine. All the wines were paired with their delicious food that was all organically grown on their property! Right up our alley! The wheat for the pasta, tomatoes for the bruschetta, it was incredible! We sat with Cindy and Leslie, mother and daughter from Houston, Texas, and we loved them! They were so nice, we had a great time swapping travel stories and ideas! They were leaving the next day, so hopefully they had safe travels back to the US! Making new friends while trying new wine is definitely one of the things I love about Italy. I can’t wait to try and find their wines at home! This was our busiest but at the same time the most relaxing weekend we’ve had, I think the familiar faces had something to do with that!

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