Category Archives: Random Thoughts

October Musings From IL Fiorello

OCTOBER MUSINGS FROM IL FIORELLO

As the events of the past two weeks, the Great Fires of California, have affected all of us, I want to take a minute to pause and thank many people for all their efforts.  Staff who drove down the vineyard dirt paths to come to work.  Staff, who even though they were evacuated from their homes, still managed to be online to try to keep the business working.  When you come to our Visitors Center, please say hello to our staff and tell them thank you for their efforts.  Kindness is powerful.

Thank you also to our neighbors, who posted pictures of our home so we knew it was safe, even though we were evacuated ourselves. A huge thank you of course to all the thousands of people who helped quench the fires, and kept thousands safe. I know it is their job, their passion, but let them hear us all say thank you.

As we enter the milling season this year, the olives are abundant.  We hope to make great oil, and enjoy the company of so many wonderful growers.  Some have lost their crop to fire, which is tragic, but the olive tree is hardy, and will regrow, and again be productive.  Many people are calling in to schedule milling appointments, and we greet them with happiness that they are safe.

The mill is improved this year thanks to much work by our milling staff.  We look forward to milling tons of olives for IL Fiorello, and many, many returning and quite a few welcome new clients.  Soon, we will film a movie about how olive oil is made,   focusing on the perspective of an olive from harvest to oil.  Just think if you were an olive, what would happen to you to become international award winning oil.  This will be fun for us, and help our visitors understand the milling process.

We are harvesting from our organic garden, and have gallons of tomato sauce and dried tomatoes to make sun-dried tomato pesto with new oil, Olio Nuovo. (The recipe is below) Because of the bounty of the garden, this great pesto will be our signature crostini for entire coming year. We also have been preserving tomatoes in olive oil. Just delicious.

Delicious sun-dried tomato pesto with fresh, warm crostini!

The back area of our Visitors Center is expanding to accommodate more events.  It will be the perfect place to sit, taste Olio Nuovo, and have a glass of wine with a charcuterie board.  A lovely covered area open to the Olive Grove…you can sit in peace, and watch the olive trees grow.  We look forward to many events this Fall season at IL Fiorello Farm, and hope you will be able to join us in the celebrations.

Ciao!

Ann and Mark

 

Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

Ingredients

2 cups sun dried tomatoes

⅓ Cup pine nuts

2 cloves garlic (optional) raw or roasted

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup of IL Fiorello’s Green Valley Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • Blend all the ingredients except for parmesan together.
  • Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto cannot absorb any more.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.
  • Process until smooth or leave slightly chunky if you prefer.
  • Stir in Parmesan.

How to Oven Dry Tomatoes

  • Preheat oven to 225°F.
  • Slice cherry and plum tomatoes (Roma, Juliette, or San Marzano are best) in half lengthwise. (For larger tomatoes cut into ¼ inch-thick slices.)
  • Place cut-side up on a baking sheet with a wire cooling rack or lined with parchment paper.
  • Dehydrate for 4-6 hours or to desired dryness.
  • When finished drying, let cool before removing from pan.
  • Dried tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator, freezer, or packed in a jar with olive oil and seasonings.

Cooking is Simple * Eating is Rewarding

 

At our Visitors Center people are always interested in why and how we prepare food, create recipes, and match oils with food. Here are some of my simple tenants for IL Fiorello.

 

  • Use good, clean, and fair ingredients. This is also the hallmark of Slow Food and sensible eating
  • Don’t complicate your life by making complicated dishes every day
  • Use only certified extra virgin olive oil, enjoy the wonderful aroma, bitterness, and pungency
  • Try all the different varieties of our Extra Virgin Olive Oil, expand your palate
  • Don’t combine lots of ingredients as this tends to muffle each one
  • Use ingredients that are simple, clean, and fresh
  • Organic if possible
  • Seasonality is very important, eat with the season
  • Shop at farmers markets, as much as you are able
  • Plant a garden in your backyard, on your back porch, or in your window sill.
  • Eat lots of vegetables and fruits
  • Eat with color – red, orange, yellow, green, and purple
  • BALANCE – acidity, sweetness, savory, bitter, salt
  • BALANCE – grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, and oils
  • Ignore the current food fads
  • NO pre-packaged foods or pre-prepared foods
  • NO fast food
  • Enjoy well prepared fresh foods
  • Let fresh food speak for itself
  • Use your garden as your pharmacy

 

 

Ciao

Ann

 

 

What People Say

 

What do people say? What questions do they ask in an olive oil tasting experience?

The other day, a group of visitors were talking with me about the experience of running a tasting room for olive oil. They asked me what questions we get during our olive oil tasting events.

Last year we presented over 4,300 tastings at IL Fiorello. Granted tasting olive oil is a new experience for most people and we try to give accurate, but fun, information about olive oils, growing olives and food pairings. Sometimes the questions are spot on and sometimes they take my breath away. Most often we all end up laughing together, which is even more fun.

Here are some fun questions and facts about olives and olive oil that our tasting room staff is prepared to answer.

 

Q: Do you grow green or black olives?

A: All olives begin green and mature to black. This is the natural ripening process, just like most apples turn from green to red.

 

Q: How do you grow the olive with the red thing in the center?

A: Those olives are brined salt cured olives and the pimento is grown separately and placed inside the olive at the Factory.


Q
: What does extra virgin mean?

A: That is a standard of quality which requires that only olive oil is in the bottle and nothing else.  This means each oil has passed both a strict chemistry analysis and has passed a master taste panel taste test. This is a yearly certification and each production of oil is required to pass this test.  In California, oil cannot be labeled Extra Virgin without passing this certification. Look for the seal of certification.

 

Q: What is this? A woman at the Farmers Market was holding a fresh lemon. She asked “is this an olive?”

A: No, That is a lemon……

 

Q: Can you eat an olive off the tree?

A: Only once. Fresh olives off the tree are impossibly bitter. Not a good taste…

 

Q: First Cold Pressed is only a PR term now.

A: Long ago and far away in an ancient land with donkeys and oxen, olives were ground up by stone wheels and pressed between mats. Today we use large mills and huge centrifuges to mill our oil.

 

Q: Can you cook with our extra virgin olive oils?

A: Of course, just use lower heat to preserve the flavor and health benefits of our oils. This is true for all oils. We make our oils with a big flavor, called finishing oils. Pour on the oil at your dining table.

 

Q: What is olive oil wine?

A: We have two flags in the front of the main driveway. One flag says olive oil and the other says wine. We make olive oil from our olives and we serve and sell bottles of wine made from grapes.

 

 Q: Where is the bread?

A:  We do not serve bread, ever. Bread masks the flavor of oils. Our motto is expand your palate to beyond bread and salad. Look for our recipes for crostini and bruschetta online. A beautiful presentation for our oils.

 

Q: At a tasting event in Southern California, a lady tasted our Award winning Leccino Organic Olive Oil and said: “This does not taste like Chardonnay!”

A: I could not utter a response.

 

Q: When do you add the pepper to the oil?

A: No pepper is ever added to our extra virgin oils, the sensation you are feeling is pungency. That is an important part of tasting early harvest robust olive oils.

 

At IL Fiorello we are all about enjoyment and education but you really can’t make some of these things up.  We all have our moments.

Come and taste our oils and ask any question you want. We are sure to have some answers.

 

Ciao,

Enjoy the certified extra virgin olive oil

Ann

 

 

 

All About Tomatoes

 

August is tomato season in Suisun Valley and let me tell you- It is Everything Tomato at IL Fiorello! We have a lot here at the Farm. We’ve had to chase the mockingbirds away from them! Our chickens love the little red and yellow cherry tomatoes. They chase each other like little kids to catch the sweet ones. Hilarious to watch.

Tomatoes from the garden, tomato cooking class, dried tomatoes in the kitchen to pair with oils, Tomato Festival Cooking Contest and the Fairfield Tomato Festival! Did I mention Everything Tomato?

Our suggestion? Pair fresh tomatoes with our Mission Olive Oil or Green Valley Blend-beyond wonderful! The fresh tomatoes are perfect, the oil divine, the combination even better.

At the 26th annual Tomato Festival VIP tent, IL Fiorello will serve house made Polenta and organic Sun Dried Tomatoes with our Green Valley Blend organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which won a Silver medal at the State Fair. It will be an honor to present this pairing.

Last Saturday, we hosted our Everything Tomato Cooking Class. Executive Chef Gloria Ciccarone-Nehls and Sous Chef Genevieve Upp presented an outstanding, delicious, marvelous, fabulous menu. Larry Balestra, from Larry’s Produce, was kind enough to provide us with some heirloom tomatoes to round out our supply of large size tomatoes for “The Stack”.

 

Photo of “The Stack” courtesy of Michael Morris, Vacaville Reporter Sunday August 13, 2017

Our guests were greeted with Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts, they made the stacks of mozzarella, zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. It was finished with our oils and balsamic vinegar reduction. We had Tomato Tini’s, Tomato Water with Signature Balsamic Vinegar Reduction. We finished with Tomato-Basil Sorbet, a sweet and savory concoction from Chef Gloria and a delicious finale to the cooking class.

That same day, we also had 30 food and wine writers from San Francisco taste our oils and tomatoes and there was a resounding shout of joy at the pairing! They were a wonderful group to speak to and lots of good questions and discussions.

Last month I presented our oil with food pairings at UC Davis Olive Oil Sensory Class. One of our presentations that our Chef Gloria and I developed were tomatoes and olive oil. We presented both store bought tomatoes and our garden tomatoes with a beautiful oil. It is no wonder consumers are confused because the store bought (most likely green house) tomatoes tasted bad, and the garden tomatoes tasted brilliant with the oil! Food pairing is about balance and knowing your products.

This Saturday, August 19,  we will host the Cooking Competition for the Fairfield Tomato Festival in our Kitchen in the Groves. Judges will be judging from 10-12 am. Finalists are announced and the overall winners will be presented on Sunday, August 20th at the Tomato Festival. We will also serve tastes of garden tomatoes with Mission oil and Green Valley oil in our Kitchen in the Grove as a comparative tasting experience from Friday August 18th-Sunday, August 20th.

So stop by anytime from 1 to 5 to experiment with tastes.  Come and enjoy!

 

 

Ciao

Ann

 

 

Nocino

Making Nocino, Italian walnut liquor, usually this is made on June 24th, St John’s day.

But as you can see these walnuts got a little large very early.

The alcohol turns bright green from the walnuts, as do your hands. Cut the walnuts in quarters and soak in alcohol for a few weeks or longer depending on the strength you want.

I add a few flavor elements but pure walnuts are fine. After they are finished extracting, drain and mix the liquid with simple syrup to taste. Simple syrup is usually a 1:1 combination, one cup sugar and one cup water.

Nocino is an acquired taste but wonderful. Enjoy. I will post a picture of the finished product in a couple of months.

 

 

Cut the walnuts into quarters and add to a very clean mason jar. Fill with Everclear liquor.

 

 

Cut walnuts with seasoning, cinnamon, lemon, and coffee beans.

 

 

After 3 weeks showing the dark green color

 

 

 

 

 

Nasturtium Capers

Capers come from the Caper Bush, Capparis spinose and we are growing these at the Farm. But until the bush becomes large enough to produce capers, we are using Nasturtiums seed pods, by the thousands. The Nasturtium flowers are edible and are on our tasting plates, the leaves are delicious and hold little zucchini tastes. But the Nasturtium pods are delicious when pickled and taste very similar to brined capers.

 

Recipe for Nasturtium Capers

2 cups water
4 tablespoons salt
1 cup green nasturtium seedpods
1.5 cup white wine vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
4 fresh laurel leaves
4 springs of fresh thyme

 

Prepare the brine, the brining process

  1. Bring the water and salt to a boil
  2. Pour the boiling brine over the seedpods in pint or quart canning jars.
    1. Make sure the jars are freshly cleaned and hot
    2. Cover the jars and let sit at room temperature
  3. Soak the seed pods for at least 3 days

Prepare the pickling

  1. Drain the seed pods through a sieve and return them to a freshly washed hot jar
  2. In a small non-reactive sauce pan, bring the vinegar, sugar, bay, and thyme to a boil
  3. Pour the vinegar mixture over the seedpods and allow to cool to room temperature
  4. Cover the jar and refrigerate for at least 3 days, before using
  5. These prepared pods will keep for 6 months in the refrigerator
  6. Use brined capers with charcuterie or mixed into mayonnaise for salads or sandwiches

 

Fresh capers just in a salt brine (L)   Capers after brining and infused with seasonings (R)

 

 

 

Fresh capers

How we Change Palates & Minds at IL Fiorello

 

IL Fiorello grows and produces international quality, certified extra virgin olive oil. We also help our guests to expand their palates. This is called edible education, and palate expansion.

We host our guests with a comparative tasting of our extra virgin oils and present a tasting plate of healthy food. Much of the food for our tasting plates are grown on our organic farm. We also discuss fraudulent oils and just plain bad or adulterated oils.

We are changing minds by explaining the importance of comparative tastings. By using our own motto: “beyond bread and salad” we attempt to change habits, a very difficult but interesting task. We do not serve bread with our tastings, often we use plant based healthy foods. Everyone knows that you can use extra virgin olive oil and good balsamic vinegar on salads, but think beyond this premise. An example, extra virgin olive oil drizzled on warm asparagus soup. The aroma is enchanting, the health benefits fabulous.

 

 

By presenting oils with food pairings, guests can enjoy aromas, flavors, bitterness and pungency. Then they better appreciate differences in our oils, and differentiate from generic oils, that may not even be olive oil.

 

 

Most people understand and appreciate this idea, but do they change their habits?  Do we really change their attitudes or palates? We don’t know. Our business growth has been exponential, people come back time and time again to taste and buy our oils.  Our olive oil club has increased 200% from just two years since its inception. People love our products and hopefully this means we are slowly and carefully educating customers to use better oils and eat better foods.

Our culinary classes emphasize good, clean, and healthy food, the motto of Slow Food. Our Chefs are exploring wonderful ways to pair oils and foods for our tasting plates and our events.

One of our goals is to help people understand what good food really is. If our oils cost more than generic oils, it is because of the intense flavor and purity of the product. Better flavor; use less oil, enjoy it more.

Change is difficult and hard and causes people to question and sometimes distrust. I often hear, but this is what “grandmother” always used to do. Well, Grandmothers are always right but this is a different time and we are faced with different food challenges.

Food used to come from the backyard family garden plot.

 

 

Today, you cannot be sure where your food comes from. Let’s go back to that premise of the family garden plot.  Some people do not understand that a radish grows in the ground, and that artichokes are huge plants. That tomatoes are really deeply red and sweet and delicious. Food choices are important, chose an apple not chips and a “health food” bar.  Don’t eat pre-packaged foods. Read labels and contents. Make good healthy decision. Pair good food with excellent oil. Food is your sustenance and your pharmacy, use it well.


I just listened to a presentation by Marion Nestle PhD who said that, eating is an agricultural act. If farmers don’t grow consumers do not eat. This is really simple and so powerful.

Hope this blog is food for thought and action. Speak and eat in a powerful voice.

 

 

Ciao

Ann

 

 

 

Tea Party

20 guests were treated to an adventure to Alice in Wonderland’s tea, by Executive Chef Gloria Ciccrone-Nehls, also known as Alice, and Sous Chef Darren Porter wearing the Mad Hatter’s Hat.  The kitchen was decorated with a Cheshire Cat peering down from the upper shelves of the kitchen supervising the class.
Roses and flowers imitating the Queen’s garden were part of the decorations.

 

At the beginning of the class, tea was served with cream puffs filled with whipped strawberry mascarpone and homemade scones. The class made three types of finger sandwiches, dipped beautiful strawberries in chocolate and drizzled them with tempered chocolate and crunch instructed by Chef Gloria and Chef Darren.


 

Rose and flower petals were coated in egg white and dipped in sugar for a beautiful topping for a citrus olive oil cake. A tour of the edible garden at IL Fiorello, where they were served mint tea.

The class then constructed their towers of tea sandwiches, strawberries, cakes and flowers.

Formal tea was served and everyone delighted in the sights and tastes of our Chefs instructions.

A take home gift of citrus olive oil cake sprinkled with house made Limoncello completed the day.


Mock Clotted Cream recipe:

Ingredients:
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup Mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

Directions:
– In a medium mixing bowl, combine cream, mascarpone cheese and confectioner’s sugar
– Beat at high speed until thickened and desired consistency is achieved
– Cover, refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days


Earth Day 2017

 

IL Fiorello celebrated Earth Day/Weekend, in a big way, with 650 people visiting our Farm on Passport Sunday!

Thank you to all who visited, everyone had a wonderful sunny and delicious time. Thanks to Slow Food for a display and information, to Denise Revel, Girl on the Hill for her beautiful lavender, and to the Erickson’s for their wonderful jams. Thanks also to Napa Valley College Oenology program for making great wine and pouring with such support. Chef Gloria and Chef Darren presented a wonderful food pairing of our oils, Sicilian meatballs and ancient grain salad for everyone.

Thank you also to our staff who smiled all day long.

We celebrate the actual Earth Day by working on the Farm.

 

Harvesting favas, shelling favas, cooking favas, and eating favas. Our harvest was abundant and we will be serving fava beans in many different ways.

 

We are watching for bugs in the grove, planting more trees, expanding our garden, our grove, and putting in more fruit trees. Figs, apples, cherries, pears, much more citrus, and apricots. The big girl chickens (4) and little girl chickens (10) do have a pecking order. The big girls Henrietta, Millicent, Winifred, and Hyacinth are now out in the grove in Nick’s mobile chicken coop, already eating weeds and bugs and fertilizing the grove. The little girls will now be happier in their chicken palace, and not “henpecked”.

 

 

We are watching herons, eagles, owls and quail. The ever present killdeer are busy defending their ground nests. The quail are in their usual spring panic, for food and friends.

In the grove the trees are almost in bloom. The buds are fat and tight but we are finding some blossoms that are open. A week of sun and no hail and we may have blossom. LOTS of blossoms. Even the Aglandau, which was in a heavy production last year, is loaded and very heavy set this year.

We are looking forward to our Growers Meeting this week.  We are meeting old friends and making new ones. Lots of information to share and discuss.

Eat well, be well and plant a tree, or a lavender plant, or a fruit tree for jam.

 

 

Ciao

Ann

 

The Health Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

Great Taste and Great for You!

Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the highest quality in California, has significant health benefits.

Antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonoids all mean improved taste and health. Look for the seal of certification and the harvest and mill dates. The fresher the better. The main type of fat in vegetable oils, polyunsaturated fat, encourages oxidation. Excessive oxidation increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, and general aging.  In contrast, certified extra virgin olive oil, contains a rich amount of monounsaturated fat, preventing oxidation.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil also contains a number of phenols that act as antioxidants which will lower oxidation and therefore increases the health benefits. A study from Spain, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, evaluated the prevention of cardiovascular Disease with the Mediterranean Diet. The results of the study concluded that “in this primary prevention trial, it was observed that an energy-unrestricted Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, resulted in a substantial reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events among high-risk person. It supports the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.” The interventions were intended to improve the overall dietary pattern of the study groups.

SIMPLE:  Consider your food choices. Eat good, fresh, colorful food, with variety and balance, and use good certified olive oil. A plant based diet is best and supported in research. Avoid prepackaged foods, and “noise” from the media. There is no single magic bullet to health. But the simple action of eating good food with certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil, can make an impressive difference.

There are “foodie gurus” who are proponents of healthy nutrition. Mary Flynn, Marion Nestle, and Alice Waters.

Mary Flynn, Ph.D. from Brown University, says that Extra Virgin Olive Oil may be the one true super food. Not by itself but with a plant based or plant centered diet. The Mediterranean Diet is a subsistence diet with foods, fruits, and vegetables that you can grow in your back yard or buy at a local farmers market. Meats are usually very limited, because of the expense and availability. Flynn has taught that the cornerstone foods of the Mediterranean Diet are Extra Virgin Olive Oil, vegetables (with particular emphasis on those with deep color and those from the cruciferous family), and starches/grains, whole grains, with minimal lean animal protein.

Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H. Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, is a professor of Sociology at NYU and a visiting professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University. Her degrees include a BA (Phi Beta Kappa) a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, all from the University of California, Berkeley.  She is the Chair of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, and has nutrition at the UCSF School of Medicine. She was a senior nutrition policy advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services and editor of the Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health. She is a very important supporter of healthy plates for children and adults, and an outspoken advocate of good balanced nutrition.

Alice Waters, from Chez Pannise restaurant in Berkeley, and her involvement in the Farm to Table movement (an ancient way of eating) and Slow Food has guided people to address the importance of fresh and healthy food in their everyday diet. A vision she presents daily at her restaurant.

Healthy nutrition with great olive oil may be one of the best recommendations from these gurus. But here are reasons to be wary when you are purchasing olive oil.  Olive oil is one of the most adulterated foods bought here in the United States. These, mainly imported oils, are refined and adulterated with vegetable oil. The vegetable oil is refined with high heat and chemicals and then added to lower quality olive oil. Most of the oils sold in the US in supermarket shelves is fraudulent oil and is rancid. My staff and I taste tested some of the “supermarket oils” and were not surprised by the rancidity of nearly all.  Follow the numbers, it costs less because of the adulteration. Usually these oils are owned by huge multinational conglomerates.

Fraudulent olive oil is a great problem in the United States. Oil that is labeled as extra virgin oil, without certification, with unknown herbs and vinegar in the same bottle is illegal and is an inferior quality oil.  Adulterated oil is bad for you as a consumer, bad for your health, and bad for your pocketbook.

Today, I tasted an oil that espoused the health benefits of olive oil but was not certified, was not olive oil and was beyond rancid. There were no harvest and mill dates, and was bottled in a clear bottle. The taste and the aroma was horrible.

Certification is an important documentation on each bottle, harvest mill date tells you when the oil is made. At IL Fiorello, we have chosen not to use “Best by” dates as each oil is different. Again fresh is best.

In summary use Extra Virgin Olive Oil for improved taste profiles, learn varietal differences, and enjoy the health benefits of certified oil.

Choose healthy foods with great taste that will result in a better you.

We challenge you to explore different food choices and Extra Virgin Olive Oil parings to expand your palate.

Ciao to good health

 

Ann