Not Your Grandmother’s Olive Oil

You may be use to olive oil that your grandmother served, the kind that stays under the cupboard and comes in tin cans, too often rancid and adulterated. The oils of IL Fiorello are single varietal, early harvest for good pungency and certified extra virgin. At the New York International competition our oils were awarded Gold Medals and we were named as one of the world’s best olive oil producers

Individual varietal oils have distinctive flavors and are paired with foods that complement each flavor. Many Americans are not used to the distinct flavors of excellent olive oil and may not understand how to use freshly milled 100% olive oil with a robust taste and full flavor. At IL Fiorello we teach guests how to taste oil, how to use oil, and what extra virgin olive oil really tastes like.

 

As an olive miller and grower there are many factors to consider when producing oils:

Variety of Olive. There are many varieties of olives. We are growing eight varieties, each with its own distinctive flavor. Before we planted a tree we tasted many oils, both in the US and in Europe, and then made a decision which variety to plant. Each olive has a unique taste and many mature at different times. During harvest time we are always out in the grove making decisions about when to harvest and which varietal to harvest. Our varieties are Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino, Mission, Taggiasca, Moraiolo, Aglandau and Bouteillan.

Time of Harvest. The general rule is to harvest early for robust oil and harvest later for a more mellow oil. Early harvest tends to produce oils that last longer and a later harvest tends to make oils that are mellower but lose their flavor profile more quickly. But, this is also very varietal dependent. Our olives are hand harvested and are milled within 2-4 hours of being picked. Some olives can rest after harvest for 12-24 hours. No longer should you harvest during the week and then bring the olives to the mill on the weekend.

Method of Milling. We mill, we do not press. Centrifuges have replaced presses. Today there is no such thing as “first cold press”, which you will still find on labels. We don’t press olives; we mill olives, 14 hours a day during harvest. Heat is necessary to extract the oil. We use gentle heat very carefully to help extract oil, without damaging the quality. The term “first cold press” is from long ago and far away and not relevant to olive oil milling today. We use Pieralisi designed centrifuges with very little oxygen exposure. The efficiency of the centrifuges allows for better extraction of the oil from the olives.

Method of Storage. After milling, perfect storage is critical to olive oil. The oils are stored at a temperature of 62°F covered with an inert gas and left quiet. Decanting occurs after 2-3 months.

Olio Nuovo and Extra Virgin Oil. Olio Nuovo is new oil, oil that has just been milled, fresh robust and very intense. This is special oil but it only lasts a few weeks as this robust oil. This is our favorite oil. After milling in November and December, we allow the oil to rest. The sediment settles and then we decant the oil in January and February. Decanting prevents the defect of “winey”, as the sediment may ferment and taint the oil.

EVOO Extra Virgin Olive Oil certification. Certification from the COOC (California Olive Oil Council) and UC Davis Olive Center, ensures that you purchase only olive oil, no additives, no adulteration, and the oil meets specific International and California standards.

Olive oil is one of the few foods that must pass both a chemistry test and a taste test.

The chemistry panel tests for components that indicate the oil is fresh and has no decomposition before milling, and it is only olive oil. Tests for polyphenols and DAGS indicate oxidation or degradation of the oil.

The taste test involves a master taste panel using organoleptic methods to detect flaws in the oil.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil can only contain olive oil. So labels saying “100% EVOO” or “Pure EVOO” are redundant and confusing. Co-milled flavored oils cannot be extra virgin by law. This is a buyer beware or buyer be aware business.

Tasting Olive Oil. Each oil must be balanced with the taste of olive fruit, bitterness, and pungency. If the oil is not in balance it may not be certified extra virgin. There are many tasting evaluation scorings cards, but fruitiness and balance are extremely important. You also cannot discuss olive oil without talking about the food. In our tasting room we discuss the balance of oils, the unique characteristics, and suggestions as to the use of the individual oils. Color of the oil is irrelevant to the taste profile.

Presentation to guests. Take the opportunity to explain what variety of oil they are tasting. The taste diversity of oils is similar to the taste diversity of wines. This discussion gives everyone another opportunity to interact with guests. When preparing food with oils, the addition of acidity while using oils may be equally important in the overall flavor profile. Use the balance of spice, sweetness, acidity and richness (Mina 2006) with the addition of bitterness and pungency to make a balanced presentation.

What Do You Eat When You’re Alone!

I collect cookbooks and one of my favorite books is What We Eat When We Eat Alone, Stories and 100 Recipes by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin. Deborah Madison is the author of many cookbooks; all are very good. Deborah is the former owner of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco and a Chef who, when we were talking about cooking, described herself to me as a vegophile.

This book was published in 2009 and the forward reads “This book is dedicated to all who find themselves alone at the table. May your solitary meals be delicious and the company just as good.” What a wonderful statement! Madison goes on to say, ”Our relationship with food is one of the defining and intimate relationships of our lives; it says a lot about who we are and how we live.” This book is a sneak preview into the private lives of people, all kinds, some who cook and some who don’t, but the book is more of a thoughtful, funny, presentation of human behavior surrounding food. The illustrations are wonderful and done by her husband Patrick McFarlin. This is a really good read, not unlike another favorite author MFK Fisher. But I will write more about MFK Fisher and her tangerine segments on the radiator in another blog.

So why am I eating alone?

Last week Mark went to a private financial meeting in San Francisco and I got to eat alone. Rather, sort of alone, but for the company of 8 cats and one dog, all of whom follow me everywhere. But the crew aside, I do love a solitary evening just to relax and think and cook. Just follow the pictures and you will have a nourishing dinner. So away you go into my solitary meal. Enjoy.

Take Three ingredients out of the pantry.

Take three ingredients out of the pantry.

And a very good olive oil!

And a very good olive oil!

Don't forget the good wine to also keep good company while boiling the water and cooking the pasta

Don’t forget the good wine to also keep good company while boiling the water and cooking the pasta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the pasta is cooking make a salad or just have perfect tomatoes for a snack.

Delicious speckled trout lettuce gift from a friend

Delicious speckled trout lettuce gift from a friend

Fresh tomatoes

Fresh tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now back to the pasta

Open the cans and get the bowl ready

Open the cans and get the bowl ready

Drain the pasta and add the two cans, have a sip of wine

Drain the pasta and add the two cans, have a sip of wine

Add the seasoning, salt pepper, basil, parsley and red pepper flakes OR NOT!

Add the seasoning, salt pepper, basil, parsley and red pepper flakes OR NOT!

 

 

 

 

 

Toss together add cheese if you so desire

Toss together add cheese if you so desire

Sit down enjoy dinner in silence or dance to the music of good food and good company

Sit down enjoy dinner in silence or dance to the music of good food and good company

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Cooking at Il Fiorello

The garden is in full gear and we need to use some of the Bright Lights Chard and fresh sweet tomatoes: add goat cheese and life is good.

IL Fiorello hosted Keith and Kathy, Kathy’s Mom, and Brandon for a visit and tour on Sunday. Keith and Kathy are friends of IL Fiorello and we have been San Francisco Symphony partners since 1981. A long time. They live and practice ENT in the peninsula area where they grew up. We first met at UC Davis when Keith was in the ENT residency program and we worked very closely together. They have heard all the stories about the olives and the mill, so an actual visit to our Olive Farm was long overdue.

Sunday brunch is such a fun meal where everyone is relaxed, happy, and can drive home early to watch baseball, play golf in the afternoon, or in teen age Brandon’s case play computer games. After a walking tour of the hospitality center, the groves, the culinary gardens, and our new olive mill, everyone needed food. As Kathy says exercise is for people who want to chow. Yes! Yes! Yes! We agree.

We began brunch with Girl on the Hill Malbec Rose’ perfectly chilled light and fresh. This wine is my definition of a classic summer Sunday Brunch wine. We served puff pastry tarts, with goat cheese. One tart had chard and leeks and the other fresh very sweet tomatoes from our culinary garden. The chard and leek tart was finished with our International award winning Frantoio oil to balance the tartness of the chard. The tomato tart was finished with our other award winning Leccino oil. Not a crumb was left and everyone was satisfied.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with strawberry-rhubarb compote finished with our Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar Reduction. This is an easy sweet and tart combination that works with any fruit and our balsamic vinegar reductions.

 

Bright Lights Chard and Leek Tart

Pre boil the sliced leeks until tender, about 6 minutes.

Sauté the Chard in the olive oil until tender.

Prepare the goat cheese the same way as for the tomato tart

Spread it on the pre- baked puff pastry

Add the leeks and the chard and bake at 425 F for 22 minutes or until leeks and chard are tender.

 

As I was making quite a few tarts and the oven was hot, I just added all the extra left over ingredients into a tart for my dinner. After a long day at the Olive Farm coming home to a lovely dinner and a glass of crisp white wine is the prefect ending to a perfect day.

Buy Local to Avoid Economic Adulteration

JOIN US AT THE GREEN VALLEY FARMERS MARKET TODAY

BUY LOCAL! BUY CERTIFIED!

KNOW YOUR PRODUCER!

KNOW WHAT YOU EAT!

 

This Spring we attended a conference at the UC Davis Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, titled Fighting Economic Adulteration in the Market Place. The Secretary of California of Food and Commerce was the key note speaker. Secretary Karen Ross defined that “economic adulteration is the fraudulent, intentional substitution or addition of substances in foods or beverages to increase the apparent value of quality of the product, while reducing the cost of its production”.

In California, as it pertains to olive oil, anyone who uses the term Extra Virgin Olive Oil on the label must have the certification seal on the bottle. This is an industry standard that has international implications as much of the oil in the US is adulterated with seed oils that are chemically and high heat refined oils. According to Secretary Ross, “this is an illicit activity for economic gain”.

The top adulterated products according to the speakers at this conference are olive oil, lemon juice, honey, maple syrup, saffron, milk, orange juice and apple juice. Extra Virgin oil can have no additives, and in modern times there is no such thing as first cold press. Most of the producers are milling with centrifuges and not pressing and making olive oil requires some heat for the chemical reaction to take place to produce oil.

So buyers beware, but more importantly buyer BE AWARE.

Buy local, talk with your producers, and trust but verify.

Visit us at IL Fiorello 2625 Mankas Corner Road Suisun Valley where we grow and mill our own olives.

Beyond Bread and Salad

More innovative uses of IL Fiorello Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

We all love dipping fresh bread in olive oil with a little vinegar. We all love olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a fresh salad dressing. But think beyond bread and salad and expand the uses of bread, olive oil and vinegars.

Try toasting slices of bread in the broiler or outside over the hot grill, rub with a raw garlic clove and sprinkle with olive oil. When we are milling olives, we always have a fire in the outdoor grill and dinner is toasted bread and fresh oil. If we are lucky Joe from across the street joins us with his wine and roasted chestnuts. Other options are a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil Italian variety on red or white gazpacho or Tuscan bean soup. Or just bake or sauté beans and drizzle with oil at table.

We all love extra virgin olive oil on salads but let us think beyond salad greens. Try sprinkling olive oil on freshly grilled zucchini or tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil over a fresh avocado, sprinkle with salt and a drizzle of mission lemon oil and a sprig of fresh thyme.

Sauté spinach or collard greens with lemon and garlic and drizzle with Mission variety oil at the table. See the recipe section for how to do this dish in ten minutes.

At the end of a long day just cook spaghetti, drizzle with olive oil and the zest and juice of one lemon. Open a bottle of Girl on the Hill Red Wine blend and enjoy life. Simple, easy, healthy and delightful.

Saving the best for last is olive oil ice cream made for us by Executive Chef Marvin Martin. We especially like his vanilla bean made with Leccino variety oil and chocolate with tangelo. Just melt in your mouth wonderful.

Think beyond just dipping bread in oil and expand your horizons to further enjoy the many uses of extra virgin olive oil. Look ahead in the next blog for expanded uses of balsamic vinegars beyond just salad greens.

The Owls of Il Fiorello

We have an owl! There are lots of owls in the valley but this one has chosen to grace us with her presence. Earlier this year we had an eagle and then found remnants of an owl that became dinner. We did not think that we would have owlets this year. BUT! On Saturday June 29, I walked around the corner to water our roses and wisteria. To my surprise found a very large and not so friendly owl on the ground facing in my direction. It was clearly a teenage owl as it had full feathers and some pin feathers. He was very hot and in distress from the heat. After consulting Wildlife Rescue and Bird Rescue we ran a hose with a water mister close to the bird and within an hour it was obviously much better.

Owls can be dangerous birds as they are predator birds with large beaks and large talons. Do not approach the birds as they will be aggressive, even if they are ill. We have owl boxes on the property to control rodents, and support good agricultural practices. We would rather have the owls control the little critters that eat our trees than use pesticides.

On Sunday morning we arrived to find the owl in the tree branches and much happier, the wings were closed and eyes shut just riding the branches of the tree with the wind.

Today Jenny and I went out to check on the birds and there were two on the perch outside of the box. We were very happy to see them healthy and enjoying the Suisun breezes. Mark then went out and declared that there are three teenage owls. So of course we named them Olive, Olivia, and Oliver.

I hope you enjoy their pictures. They are very wary and move back into the house if I get close. We do not want to disturb them as they need the breeze to cool off. We are taking pictures with a very long lens so as not to disturb them.

We treasure the presence of the owls and respect that they are wild and aggressive birds. We hope sharing these pictures will give you a sense of what it is like to live on a working farm.

Italy and Scotland Part 3

PART THREE SCOTLAND

 

MONDAY MAY 20, 2013

Again we woke up early to the sounds of the geese, dogs and doves of the castle and surrounding area. We had another lovely breakfast in the morning room, and delicious cappuccino courtesy of Pierro. With many fond goodbyes and thank yous to the family, we were on the road to Milan. What a lovely drive through the center of the Langhe made very easy by our GPS. The entire drive was punctuated by a castle on each mountain top.

Linate airport in the South area of Milan is small and very easy to find. Then on the plane to Scotland and our friends the Hoggs. The Hoggs met us at the Edinburgh airport. We were late in arriving because of a huge storm in the area and it indeed was pouring rain. Jim and Liz are special people and Callum is wonderfully healthy and happy. We had dinner and talked late into the evening. They live in a touchingly beautiful small town about ten miles from Edinburgh.

Linlithgow has a canal where you can rent a flatboat and float to Glasgow. If we had a month you can bet that we would be floating.

 

TUESDAY MAY 21

Sightseeing in Scotland. This is so lovely and restful. Finally I can read the street signs but the challenge is driving on the opposite side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right side also. Mark did a great job keeping things straight and only a few minor times did we wonder what we were doing.

We walked the dogs up to the moors and delighted at the greenness of Scotland. It was Spring again! How lucky am I to have Spring three times this year, California, Italy and now Scotland? We picked up Elisabeth at the airport. She had traveled over 5 hours just to get to the airport in Milan, then a two hour flight. We were all ready for some Scottish whiskey at that point.

 

WEDNESDAY MAY 22

We spent the day in Edinburgh walking around town seeing the castle, walking down main streets. We had Indian food for lunch and walked some more. We toured shops and walked around some of the old areas.

Everyone was excited as some member of Royalty was at their home in Edinburgh, as the Royal flag was flying. We never found out who that might be, and they did not call us for tea. Off to a pub for a pint, I had refreshingly good hard cider. My friend Laura has this as her usual afternoon spot of pick me up. Now I really know why. Then off to dinner at Café St. Honoree. This is a place that was recommended by Elisabeth’s friends from Scottish Slow Food. It is a small restaurant with great atmosphere and delicious local fresh food. Then home via train and a short walk up the hill to bed.

 

THURSDAY MAY 23

We drove from Edinburgh to Glasgow then to Taychreggan Inn near Oban on the West Coast of Scotland.

Check out their web site at www.taychregganhotel.co.uk. The road to Taychreggan is one lane with little tiny passing areas. You have to be patient and give way to oncoming cars. Everyone waves and smiles as you pass by inches. There is much to see long haired, long horned Scottish highland cows.

There are lots of white and black sheep with new babies, some with twins. I could not take enough pictures to do it justice. Just as you have had enough of the tiny road you turn into the driveway of this old drover’s inn, originally from the 18th century, to perfect peace at the side of Lock Awe. The water is crystal clear, the lake flat with the reflections of the old inns on the other side of the loch and the total silence of nature. Our rooms looked out over the lake and with wide open windows you smell forest and water.

In the common rooms tea is served every afternoon, we opted for a unique scotch as we did not have to drive anywhere. Peaty scotch with a lake view at the conclusion of a long drive is perfect.

Dinner was superb served in an impeccable dining room, kind service and extraordinary food. The Chef has a Michelin One Star Rating. All the food is local, fresh, and prepared very well. This Chef has a way of presenting food that is not overly fancy but artistic and soul satisfying. Great flavors, colors and combinations. We concluded dinner with coffee, tea, and some sweets.

 

FRIDAY MAY 24

We had a typical huge Scottish breakfast, duck eggs, sausages, bacon bread and haggis. Then off to Oban about 20 miles away. We wound our way back through the very tiny road and then directly west toward the ocean. Oban is a tiny fishing village, now packed with tourists from all over. Ferries go in and out as do tourist tours of the nearby islands. We had the obligator fish and chips but not wrapped in a newspaper as they used to do. Just a normal take away carton. Tasty but fried and a little greasy to my taste, but it did not stop us from sampling. We walked the city and watched the ferry boats go in and out. We visited the Oban distillery, took the tour and sampled the whiskey. Great tour, lots of history and information, plenty to purchase. I can highly recommend Oban.

Then back to another very special dinner at Taychreegan Inn. This time we were able to meet the Chef and applaud his talent. He really has a gift.

 

SATURDAY MAY 25

We had a late breakfast and said goodbyes to the staff with absolute promises to come back. Taychreegan is one of the perfect places in this world to rest and recover and enjoy life. I will definitely try to come back again for a much longer stay. Our friends from LA Hank and Harva are planning a visit with us next Spring. What fun!

We then drove from one side of Scotland to the other; our route takes us through the highland mountains to Inverness. The landscape took us by surprise via huge mountains with waterfalls and high mountain meadows and beautiful Lochs.

We followed the Lochs, Loch Awe, to Loch Linnhe, to Loch Lochy, to Loch Ness and Inverness. We stopped in Fort William at the top end of Lock Lochy. This is a beautiful area for fishing and boating and tourists. We visited Urquhart castle, a historic very old place on Loch Ness. We did not see the elusive Nessie, but tried hard to watch for her as we drove along the way.

We arrived at Culloden house in the late afternoon. Stunning is hardly the word, huge front lawn, long drive way and a history to the 1400′s. The Georgian Mansion was built in 1788. Please take a look at www.cullodenhouse.co.uk. As we have been involved with both Taychreggan and Culloden house for years, we were greeted with warm handshakes and Scottish hospitality. Each night the guests were piped to dinner each by a kilt clad bagpiper, very romantic. His bagpipes announce dinner and the evening activities. It made for a special introduction to the history of Culloden house and Scotland. Dinner is served by gregarious Scotsman who are always happy and make you feel very welcome even in these very formal dining rooms. I had a traditional Scottish dinner with haggis and venison and blood pudding. Mark had pigeon; a wild game bird done in a wine sauce, Elisabeth had fresh caught scallops. This was quite a lovely meal to remember. We had a wee nip of scotch before bed and slept again with windows wide open.

 

SUNDAY MAY 26

Up early to a Scottish breakfast with farm fresh eggs and local sausage, toast always on the table for jams and sweet cream butter. Great coffee and teas. We took a walk in the walled garden of Culloden, five acres of manicured flowers and trees. After having spring in California, we had another two weeks of spring in Italy and now being so far north another Spring in Scotland. The tulips were gorgeous, and the fruit trees just beginning to bloom. We drove North and stopped at a sweet farm shop to have tea and sandwiches.

It was hard not to buy every plant and seed in the place. I found a lovely tree with pink and green leaves; I will have to locate it at home. We then drove on to visit the Black Isle Brewery, with a super tour and a great tasting. They bottle 50 thousand bottles of beer each month and are growing fast. They have a cow, chickens for eggs, and a herd of black sheep that all had little woolly black babies. Each pasture had many tiny kids or twins bleating for their mom’s and dinner. So very beautiful.

We had dinner by the River Ness and took a long walk to the castle and then back to Culloden. Still quite light at 11 pm as we are so far North.

 

MONDAY MAY 27

We visited Fort George the current home of Black Watch. It is right on the River Ness as it runs into the Firth of Forth then into the ocean. The currents are strong and there are often dolphins playing in the changing tide. We unfortunately did not see any today, but wasn’t for the lack of looking. On the way back we stopped at a sign that said CHEESE! Of course we would. We drove up a tiny road, barely a one lane hoping that we could make it to the cheese place before their farm tractor heading our way blocked our way into nirvana. This is the home of Connage Highland Dairy, fully organic, with their own herd of Holstein and Guernsey cows. Owners Callum and Cameron are master cheese makers and dairy farmers. This cheese shop makes their own and ages for themselves and other local dairy farms. They were just finishing making cheese in their impeccably clean cheese production plant. In the shop they had just installed an aging area with a wide assortment of lovely local cheese. We purchased their crowdie a soft cheese for spreading. On the wall in their tasting room is a picture of a huge cheese wedding cake they had just delivered. This wedding cake was beautiful, and according to the owners many people have ordered this “cake” instead of the traditional wedding cake. What a marvelous idea. View them at www.connagehighlanddairy.co.uk.

Back to Culloden House for a rest and then our last dinner in Scotland, being piped to dinner again, magnificent!

 

TUESDAY MAY 28

We sadely leave Inverness, drive three hours back to Edinburgh and then on to Paris to stay overnight and catch the Air France flight home to San Francisco. The drive from Inverness down to Edinburgh is green with huge mountains and more castles. Time is our limiting factor but we explore some of the small towns. Unfortunately we did not have time to tour the Dalwhinny Distillery, one of my favorite whiskeys. It is situated in a deep green valley next to a river for their water source. The buildings are painted pure white, I presume white washed with black lettering. Check out their web site and by all means try their product which is available here in the US.

So off to Paris, Elisabeth is staying in Edinburgh on a few more days to meet with friends from Slow Food. She will have friends all over the world because of her study at the University of Gastronomic Science. We landed in Paris at Charles de Gaulle airport and only my bag arrived. So off we went to lost luggage to track Marks bag. Everyone was very nice since we were not yelling at them as some people were doing. They have put a tracking number out and will call us at the hotel. We stayed at the Golden Tulip just outside of the airport with free transport by the CGD Black transit bus. Very easy! We were up early in the morning, but still no bag. We walked around the small French town surrounding the string of hotels that are hosts to all the world travelers using CDG. Ah France, I wish we could stay here longer. We went to the airport early to find the bag which had been located at the airport and just had it put on the plane to San Francisco.

Or so we thought.

Upon boarding I happened to look out the window only to see Marks bag sitting on the tarmac with 5 French baggage handlers looking suspiciously at the bag. We contacted the Air France steward who ran down to the group and explained to them that we identified the bag from the plane and they needed to put it on the plane. A very French discussion took place, airport security was called, and the bag was screened again, and finally put on the plane. This bag held our gifts of Scotch whiskey and we were not going to let anybody loose it! Many thanks to the steward and we took off with the bag safely on board.

 

WEDNESDAY MAY 29

Home arrival safely only to realize how lucky we are to have been able to travel to such wonderful places and meet such wonderful people. Now back to work on the farm and the business of growing olives and making oil.

Italy and Scotland Part 2.5

PART TWO AND A HALF

THE ANIMALS OF THE SERRA LUNGA

There was a very special day in the Serra Lunga de Alba. A day of celebration of agriculture, and it poured rain. Elisabeth, Mark and I went to Cerasco for a lovely lunch and Barolo wine and walked to the Castle. We had been told that the Castle was open today, a rare occasion and we wanted to take advantage of it. But alas no it was not. What was there was a wonderful show of animals, plants and views.

 

Italy and Scotland Part 2

PART TWO

THE CITY OF BRA WHERE SLOW FOOD WAS BORN, CHEESE, WINE AND GRADUATION.

 

Tuesday May 14, 2013

We set the GPS to Bra and headed to meet Elisabeth and begin the celebration of her graduation from the University of Gastronomic Sciences. We can still see the mountains and the snow but we are following another river toward Bra. It has now begun to rain and is getting colder.

We drove through Bra to get to Verduno and our hotel. Well not a hotel but an old castle, the castle was first built in the 10th century. It was restructured in the 1700′s to its present configuration. And it was once owned by the King of Savoy. We were greeted by a lovely lady who informed us that our room was up 70 steps! We bag dragged as the hired man for luggage did not come until 3 pm. The rooms are recently redone, and we have a gorgeous sitting room, a lovely bed room with a huge door out to a tiny balcony, and a very modern bath. Thankfully the heating is great and the rooms are cozy. We open the balcony doors and cuddle up under wool blankets and take another nap.

We cannot see anything of the surrounding area because of the dense fog and rain. But the birds, geese, and occasional dog barking is the only noise around. The doves are cooing and add to the restfulness of the whole day. Mark got two glasses of their wine, Verduno, and we ate our sandwiches and croissants looking out over the grapes growing below. A long walk to find the restaurant we are going to tonight, turned out to be a short walk from the castle. Just down the little hill, how lucky. We plan to have wine and walk home to the 70 stairs waiting for us. Our host made us cappuccino and a little sweet cake after our rainy walk. Just perfect! I am vowing to get our cappuccino maker fixed and enjoy such treats at home. Each of the hotels we have stayed at provided sweet little pots for coffee and tea. Another promise to use a few of my pots at home.

 

WEDNESDAY MAY 16

Restaurant Ca del Rey

So we met Elisabeth and three of her classmates for a great dinner at Ca Del Rey. We had a clean white wine, Vermentino, and of course a Barolo from the local area and great country food. I had the best lentil soup that should have been my entire dinner, but we persevered and had pasta and meats that were equally lovely.

 

THURSDAY MAY 17, 2013

Alba and Barolo. Pouring rain but we went exploring to the city of Alba. With a GPS and Mark as a good driver we rounded the old city, parked the car, and walked up the hill to find an enchanting old city full of great shops for wine and their specialty truffles. Lovely old homes, houses side by side that you pinch yourself that it is real. Great arches for walkways and shopping, so even with the rain you can stay dry. Gaggles of tourists listening to the history of Alba. I am so glad that we are just exploring. Went to the tourist office and got great information about private tours and local wines. They were gracious and very helpful.

Liz called and said she had arranged a cheese tasting tour with her local cheese shop at 5 pm. Perfect! We drove from Alba to Barolo for lunch. A tiny town and castle and museum. Again just beautiful and almost unreal. We stopped into a lovely trattoria for a light lunch, spinach timbale with cheese topping, and roasted peppers with bagna cauda sauce. Bagna cauda is a sauce of garlic, olive oil, anchovies, capers all blended together in a heavenly sauce. Of course served with two different Barolo wines, an 04 and an 06. Quite lovely aromas and I liked the 06 better because it was fresher.

We then went to the corkscrew museum. An interesting collection of over 500 different corkscrews, with explanations of the era they were made. The most interesting were the tiny horn and bone handles used for ladies perfume bottles, delicate and of course handcrafted. Then to the wine museum, cute but hokey. But the views from the castle were great and the people accommodating. They presented the history of wine with some free license but covered all the main points, especially that wine made water safe for drinking.

Now off to Bra to the cheese tasting, parking in the Piazza Roma and walking to the shop is yet again a lesson in architecture and age. I am constantly amazed by the history of these towns.

The Cheese store is so much more than a store. They source cheeses from all over the Piedmont area and then sell it fresh or age it in their cheese caves. The owner is the principal buyer and consultant for the new series of stores, Eataly. We toured the cheese caves tapped on huge wheels of real Parmesan Reggiano, and took pictures of each cheese. The tasting started with fresh cheese then to cheese aged 30 days, 60 days and year old cheese. We sampled wine and a lovely assortment of jams and honey that pair with cheese. The owner is the fourth generation of cheese mongers. We purchased three different cheeses, my favorite Bra Tenero was flavorful fresh and made here in Bra. The Bra Dura is the same cheese but aged 60 days. The peppito is Bra Tenero with black peppers. The most surprising was the pear Senape marmalade. Delicious and very spicy hot. I have been looking for Senape for a long time to make mostarda. Then the cheese owner said go to the herbalist down the street, she has some powdered senape. Elisabeth then said that this was the very same shop where she got all her spices. Small world, and wonderful. We trooped over to the spice shop and sure enough, there was powered Senape. We bought 2 bags and the owner could not believe the amount as it is very, very strong.

Elisabeth was off to a private graduation dinner with just her classmates. This was a very special time for them to say their last goodbyes, and talk about their futures. We had dinner at Trattoria dai Bercau in Verduno within walking distance of the castle. The dinner was spectacular, simple local foods prepared very well lasting 3 hours with Verduno Pelaverga,a DOC wine. We had a tasting of many different dishes, zucchini stuffed with beef and cheese, crudo with thinly sliced baby artichokes, eggplant caponata, spinach frittata with Bra Tenero cheese, risotto with white truffles, raviolini stuffed with herbs and vegetables in olive oil, and roasted chicken with spring vegetables. Basta, enough! We declined dessert and waddled back up the hill to our castle and the 70 steps to our room.

 

FRIDAY MAY 17 2013

Graduation Day

We woke up early again by the crowing of the rooster and the honking of the geese. Did you know that geese are very nosy and noisy? They are like guard dogs that hiss. I would love a pair around the farm to keep the snakes away and entertain everyone. But they might keep away people also. Maybe next year. Breakfast is served in a lovely room with very high ceilings. In shades of yellow blues and peach. Due cappuccini every morning that is hot and delicious. The usual sausage and cheese but always fruit and cereal. Juice of orange and apricot. But the coffee is what makes a great Italian breakfast.

Off to pick up Elisabeth for her graduation ceremony. We took the scenic route to the school by mistake and still ended up early, Italy is on its own time zone. The sun is shining and the skies are clear blue. The graduation ceremony was well done, 18 people were announced, about half including Elisabeth have extended their time to finish internships and to do a more comprehensive project for their thesis. Elisabeth has been accepted into the Slow Wine program and she will intern in Bra until early September to learn more about the program and finish her written thesis on The History of Roman Wine, an Anthropological Study. Other students are doing their thesis on cheese, butchering practices, agricultural effects, and communication in changing people’s perspectives on food and agriculture.

The Deans were very complimentary to this class as it is the first class to graduate with the emphasis on culture and communication from the University of Gastronomic Science. We then had a lovely reception with the faculty, graduates, and families. Such a diverse group, delightful and smart. Pictures all around with smiles and tears as this small group of students have become very close.

In the evening we attended a dinner with the graduates and all the families at a house that Slow Food uses as a private meeting place, The Gastronomic Club. This started with a true Italian experience; we picked up 10 liters of wine for 24 Euro, from the local Enoteca. Straight from the stainless steel tanks. We got sfuso or the local table wine, a Nebbiolo and a Barbera. Next door fresh burrata for the cheese plate for dinner. The dinner was magnificent, as you would expect lots of wine and lots of great food prepared by everyone in attendance. Great people and home to bed by 11 for us but the students stayed and celebrated together for a very long and fun night. The weather cooperated and we had a view of the entire valley with a multitude of glowing light from the valley as we viewed from our perch atop the castle in Verduno. You truly do not realize how many houses there are until their lights glimmer in the dark. A cool still evening with clear skies. This is the way a graduation day should be for the students.

 

SATURDAY MAY 18, 2013

Tonight we dine at the Real Castle de Verduno. It was pouring rain again and Mark and I drove from Bra over the River Tenero to see it overflowing its banks. This amount of rain is unusual for this area and even the residents are complaining.

Dinner at the castle was at 8 pm. Elisabeth arrived around 8 pm having had to take a different route because of the heavy rain. We had her dry off and we were seated in a beautiful room painted soft red with a ceiling painting of a spray of roses. Throughout the castle there are prints from the Napoleonic era, and pictures of all the owners and rulers of the castle. This is area where Napoleon began his Italian campaign. In the dining room there are similar portraits. Very elegant but traditional service. We began with lovely champagne from the local area, stunning because it was slightly orange but had an aroma of roses and freshness. We celebrated her graduation yet again! Thank goodness Elisabeth speaks perfect Italian and understands the local foods. She chose our dishes thoughtfully. We enjoyed a Barbaresco wine from Castello di Verduno, Rabaja Riserva 2007. This is a local favorite made by the current owners of the property. We had a local pâté, and then baked onions simply stuffed with cod. I had the freshest prosciutto that was perfectly placed on the plate. For a main dish I had tagliatelle with carne meat and a Barberesco sauce. Mark and Elisabeth had tiny raviolini with herb stuffing. We shared a dessert that was a dense chocolate cake but had a hint of yoghurt sour cream taste.

Interesting, very rich and beautifully presented. A tiny espresso to complete our meal. This was a special dinner in a special place. Then after dinner up to our room, up 70 stairs to show Elisabeth the sights from our castle window. The view was lovely as the rain was steady but now no low clouds so you see the valley below. True to themselves the geese were talking and the doves cooing. We then sent Elisabeth home by taxi as it was very late for the bus.

 

SUNDAY MAY 19, 2013

I work up in the middle of the night to see stars, amazing because at 11 pm it was still pouring. At 7 am it was bright and clear and we could see the snow covered Italian Alps. After many pictures and breakfast. with perfect cappuccino served by Pierro, perfectly dressed in his dark blue pants light blue shirt, dark blue vest, and wine colored Castello Venduno apron. We walked to the top of the drive to a church park that looked down over the entire Serra Lunga de Alba valley.

This perspective gave us a much clearer understanding of the “long greenhouse of the sun “the literal translation. We drove to Serra Lunga de Alba castle taking pictures all the way of the crystal clear snow covered Alps. Each view was better than the rest. The castle was huge and quite a walk up and down. Amazing pictures from each curve in the road. The entire drive was only 14 miles from our castle including all the winding curves. Then off to help move Elisabeth. We packed her up and with a stuffed car made trips to her new house only 3 blocks away. Sweet new house with friends from school, a large field in the back with donkeys, quiet and a perfect place to write a thesis. We then went to dinner with her schoolmates, at a local restaurant just a few blocks from her new home. Again beautiful presentations of simple but stunning foods. Tagliatelle with ragu, gnocchi with local cheese and a cheese plate for dessert. Elisabeth said goodbye to her classmates with all the promises to visit each other. These are promises to keep as they are all so connected with school, food, and travel adventures.

 

MONDAY MAY 20, 2013

Up early to again the sounds of the geese, dogs and doves of the castle and surrounding area. A quick breakfast, cappuccino from Pierro and on the road to Milan. What a lovely drive made easy by our GPS. The entire drive we saw the lovely red poppies of the Italian spring.

There is a castle on each mountain top. Linate airport in the east of Milan is small and very easy to find.

Italy and Scotland Part 1

PART ONE

MILAN, GENOVA, IMPERIA, ITALIAN MARITIME ALPS, CUNEO

 

Wednesday May 9

San Francisco to Milan was an easy flight. As was our transfer from Paris to Milan. Traveling is so much easier when you make connections and planes are on time. We then hopped on the bus from Malspensa airport to downtown Milan. It was only 10 Euro and we could see everything as we were on the second level up high. The bus went directly to the Centrale Station, the most beautiful train station in Italy. Our hotel is next to the train station so connections, taxies, and walking are easy. We have stayed at this hotel before and they make the strongest Negronies, of course served with potato chips. I highly recommend starting your vacation this way.

The wine was lovely, the balsamic was quite good, but the olive oil rancid, what a shame. The fish was fresh and well prepared. We had a lovely wine from Tuscany that was light enough to go with the fish, Mantellass Mentore. The Chefs grandfather made the Limoncello and the Noccino. Both were beautifully made and had deep flavors, the lemon was lemony and green. I shall try to duplicate the depth of these flavors when we make both liquor at home this spring.

 

Thursday May 10

Today we are on the train to Genova to meet Elisabeth and attend Slow Fish. Each town on the way is lovely with town centers or piazzas and my favorite spots perfect secret gardens next to the railway. A good night’s sleep and a nap on the train dispel the effects of time changes.

 

Genoa May 10

A wonderful port city. Home of Christopher Columbus and where Marco Polo was imprisoned. Beautiful entry archways to each part of both the new and the old town. The Porto Antica is where Slow Fish is being held. We are at the Hotel Bristol Palace near the central piazza. Great hotel very good location. Historic place with the most beautiful oval stairway ending in a stain glass ceiling.

Slow Fish is dedicated to sustainable fishing and protection of the overfished Mediterranean. As of today the Mediterranean Sea is severely overfished, some say almost dead. Dead because of overfishing and pollution. Hard to believe because it is so beautiful but very little fish left. We had dinner at the Sicilian pavilion and heard a presentation on sustainable support of the sea. It was in Italian, but between our limited Italian and a lovely Italian lady who sat with us, we got the key concepts.

Conserve fish and make it last for the future. They served fish with eggplant and mozzarella cheese in a gratin, use some fish but pair it with vegetables. The main course was two sardine fillets, one stuffed with bread crumbs and herbs and the other with anancia, oranges and herbs. Dessert was of course Limoncello sorbet and Limoncello liqueur, from Sicilian lemons. A very loving way to present food typical of Sicily and sustainable.

All the lectures were given in Italian so that limited our ability to truly participate but we listened to all the students of the school and their discussions were very lively.

 

Thursday May 16

The next day we met with producers of all foods throughout Italy. Each pavilion was from a different area and each vendor displayed their products. We tasted salt cod, bottarga (salted roe), preserved fish in olive oil, dried fish, and many things that accompany fish.

Cheese was in abundance, as were preserves of every fruit you can imagine. There was a pavilion of hundreds of different wines from all over Italy. Pay your 2, 3, or 4 euros and you could sample your way from top to bottom of Italy. A really amazing selection of spectacular wines and vintages. Stuffed mussels and seafood pasta to help you enjoy the wines and still stand upright.

It was great fun comparing wines with the students of the University of Gastronomic Science from Slow Food in Bra. They are young very smart and definitely opinionated from good experience and study. It is a joy to meet such personable and smart individuals.

 

Sunday May 12

On Mother’s Day, Festa del la Momma, we took a ferry from the Port of Genova down the coast to the beautiful and often pictured town of Portofino. Absolutely beautiful weather, clear skies, calm seas, rugged coast, with a castle on every mountain top. We docked in Porto Fino which is just a small cove inside a bigger bay. We docked next to a huge private ship of British origin, probably 100 feet long and gleaming in the sun, four decks above water level, and four domes for communication.

We walked around, upstairs, around small walkways and found a lovely restaurant with creamy yellow table cloths and superb service. We had one of the best meals of the trip with a bright mineraly Vermintino wine.

The restaurant has two fishing boats that go out every day. The catch they bring back is selected by the Chef for presentation that day, hence the menu changes depending on the catch of the day. The waiter told me when he runs out they are done for the day. We also had the best basil pasta in an area known for basil pasta.

The Chef is very careful with the catch as he said he is aware of the depletion of the fish in the sea. We finished the meal and coffee and ran to the boat and jumped on with one minute to spare. On the way back to Genova I saw a huge school of jelly fish and a shark skimming the waters. I recognized the straight fin and the sharp tail, skimming alone in 200 feet of water even the captain of the boat slowed down to protect him.

Back to the hotel for a well-deserved nap then we walked to the wharf for dinner. We ate pizza in sight of a modern French frigate destroyer. Very interesting, very grey and very enclosed. Home via a gelato shop, this time, cocoa and crema.

I would go back to Genova. It is a welcoming city with lots to see and do. We did not have time to go to the aquarium or the maritime museum. The boat used in Pirates of the Caribbean starring Johnny Depp was docked at the port. All the children loved crawling all over the decks. It looked real but probably was not very seaworthy.

We rented a small car, Fiat Punto, and after a short tutorial started down the Italian Riviera. Leaving Genova was fairly easy just following route 10 on the coast heading toward Monaco. The highways are very well built and the drive was easy, with glimpses of the Mediterranean on one side and terraced olives and grapes on the other. It took us only one hour to reach Imperia.

This is an amazing town, old, seaside village with historic churches, and a very large port for private yachts. Some of the yachts are well over 200 feet long with crews of 10. All just sitting and waiting, being shined and polished and kept in pristine condition. So much money just sitting and from all over the world. These are similar to some of the yachts in the harbor of Genova, but even larger.

The ocean is so blue and the wind mild and soft. We walked along the breakwater for over a mile. No wonder everyone loves the Italian Rivera. For an afternoon treat we had another gelato, I had violetta, perfectly scented with violets an amazing flavor, lightly colored violet and scent of my favorite flowers. Mark had cioccolata, deep and rich. Then home for a long nap. Delightful way to spend the day. I am thinking I like vacations.

Tonight we went to the restaurant l’Osteria dai Peppi. I had the gnocchi with ricotta, four pillows of soft light dough and cheese in a light cream sauce, mark had lasagna con spinache. We then shared rabbit with potatoes, olive oil and olives and a seafood salad with octopus. For dessert we had pistachio Brule, and a chocolate cake that was decadent.

The wine was an Aglianico del Taburno from around Naples, full bodied that was delicious, but fresh and paired well with our meals. Then another long walk down to the wharf, the wind is still and the water beautiful. I could spend a few more days here, or a month!

Tomorrow we go to the Olive Oil Museum in Imperia to learn some history about what we are doing.

 

Tuesday May 14

A sweet breakfast in a darling open room with greats pots of coffee. Then a short walk up the hill to the Cathedral in Imperia. The piazza is large with the police station on one side, a children’s hospital on the other and a grand church high upon the hill overlooking the port. Extravagant inside, completely covered with gold decorations and paintings and sculptures. Pictures and sculptures by Brunini. High domes with stained glass to let in all colors of light. We were very glad to take that walk up the hill. On the top near the Rectory for the Cathedral is a lovely pruned olive tree in the shape of a “O”, or a halo. I prefer to believe the latter.

Now to the Olive oil museum in Imperia. Named as one of the best museums in Italy in 2012, they charted the course of oil from the Greeks and Romans. Great dioramas with miniature working olive mills, demonstrating the history of “pressing” olives with rush mats.

The collection of oil vases and oil lamps are of Greek and Roman origin and are treasures. The displays of amphora were very accurate and gave a clear description of the way oil was transported by ship. Some of the more recent oil lamps and vases are from the Venetian glass blowers. All delicate, all beautiful, and all hand made. Pure oil or extra virgin was used for food, second level or virgin was used for cosmetics, and lampante, was used for lights.

We signed the guest book left our card from IL Fiorello and bought a copy of their museum book and sat outside in the sun for a few minutes before continuing our trip. The Mediterranean sun is perfect today.

Most of the oil in Liguria is a variety called Taggiascca. They harvest late in November and the resulting oil is buttery, mild and luscious. We plan to harvest our Taggiascca earlier to add some bitterness for better balance and also to make it last longer. Except for the restaurant in Milan all the oil served is made in Liguria and has been wonderful.

We then hopped into the car and drove toward Monaco, heading to Cuneo. We decided not to stop in Monaco as lunch may have been too expensive. At Ventimiglio we turned north and headed to our next city, Cuneo. We did not truly realize the size of the mountains that we were to drive through. The Italian Maritime Alps were magnificent. We followed a river of blue glacial water almost the entire way. Steep cliffs, rock cut to form the road and a small railroad also. Very small towns, part Italian and part French. Signs in French then Italian, then French again guided our way. We traveled through France for quite a distance, up, up into the mountains. French Swiss architecture surrounding each bend in the road. Very long tunnels sometimes thankfully with one way traffic.

Leaving France entering Italy again the summits were still covered in snow. The ski areas were deserted and the hotels and apartments were boarded up until summer season or perhaps till next ski season. Coming down from this extraordinary drive we entered the area of Cuneo. Again following rivers we drove past tiny towns, Albergos at the very side of the road, and fields of grapes, kiwis, hay, and tiny gardens just now being planted. The clear blue skies and warm weather is not to last but we are loving it now.

The GPS guides us into the center of Cuneo the capital of this region known for cheese, chocolate, and wine. We run smack dab into the huge Tuesday market and have a heck of a time getting to the hotel. I run through the market spying gifts ideas, on to the hotel for directions to their parking. Sometimes in Italy it is hard to believe that very tiny streets are actually streets. Parking both ways on both sides of the street makes it difficult to understand which way to go. Oh yes and be careful of the true one way streets. We negotiated our way around the market, via tiny streets and dove into the steepest underground parking spot. We had just come through huge mountains and this parking entrance made us both hold our breath. Checking in was easy and our room looks out to an old church, of course with bells every hour, during the day. Off to the market to buy gifts for friends, it is so fun to watch market day. We ate at the hotel that night and had what they call a “local” dinner sourced from 36 k surrounding Cuneo. I had herb ravioli with sage and olive oil, Mark had steak tartar, followed by a boiled dinner of different meats with three local sauces from the area, pesto, pepper, and eggplant. Very interesting dinner. Ending with local cheese, we went for another walk and then fell in bed.

I dreamed about redoing the olive fields at our farm with terraces that I had seen all day, so I woke up tired from digging the terraces. We had a light breakfast at the hotel and then off for a long walk around the old city of Cuneo.

We stopped in every church, there are many, but my favorite was completed with an interior of green marble. Green dome and a center dome surrounded with glass. It gave the interior a deep rich green color that was unusual and quite amazing. We walked around for over two hours just looking in windows of dark chocolates, beautiful cakes, and perfect cookies with cream frostings. The butcher shops had all sorts of meats, from prosciutto, to sliced meats, to a special shop for just chicken and ducks. Another shop with beautiful mushrooms. The duck shop had hand carved chickens and ducks in the window. It smelled fantastic. In another patisserie, we bought two sandwiches, one with ham and mozzarella, and the other with Parma and lardo. Lardo is ham fat that is cured and very thinly sliced, a melt in your mouth treat. We added a chocolate croissant and lunch was solved.

Custom Milling

Bring us your olives to be crushed in our state of the art Italian mill.

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Tastings

Taste extra virgin and co-milled flavored olive oils.

read more...

Il Fiorello Blog

Keeping you up to date on all things olive and olive oil.

read more...

Custom Milling

Bring us your olives to be crushed in our state of the art Italian mill.

read more...

Tastings

Taste extra virgin and co-milled flavored olive oils.

read more...

Il Fiorello Blog

Keeping you up to date on all things olive and olive oil.

read more...