Monday, March 24, 2008

Italy Part 11: Olive Oil

As the culmination of our Italy series, we thought it fitting to end on the one thing most influential and essential to all of Italian cuisine…Olio di Oliva.  We had decided, months before even departing for Italy, that if we brought only one thing back, it would most definitely be a collection of olive oils.  We certainly did our homework prior to leaving, so as to be fully informed on this most fundamental gastronomic accessory.

The most important thing to remember about olive oil is how different one oil can be from another, depending on its region of origin.  Almost all Italian dishes, including some desserts, call for olive oil; therefore Italian-produced oil hugely influences the recipes from a given region.  The Food Lover’s Guide to Florence, mentions that Italians even occasionally use olive oil to cure a baby’s diaper rash!

When Italians speak of olive oil, they are always referring to extra virgin.  I don’t even think we saw anything else offered.  And Tuscany alone produces approximately 20 percent of Italy’s oil.

One indicator to look for, especially if you’re in the market for fine, estate-produced oil, is the stamp, ‘prodotto e imbottiglioto nel…’ which translates to, ‘bottled product in/from’, with the region listed after.

So after much comparison-shopping and contemplation we chose four olive oils to bring back home, and here is our list:

Il Latini House Oil

Il Latini’s house oil was our first choice.  Every table at the restaurant had a bottle for dipping bread or whatever.  The flavor is faintly bitter with a slight fruity edge and a slight spicy aftertaste.  Also, the color is a bit murky, unlike most of the oil that reaches American shores.  We liked it so much; I asked our waiter if they’d sell us some.  We walked out with four bottles for a mere 10 Euro each!  Il Latini’s oil comes from Barberino Val d’Elsa, Italy, approximately 25 miles south of Florence.

Giovanni and Barbara Andreini Oil

The next oil we acquired was from a local stand at the Piazza Santo Spirito flea market.  A husband and wife, Giovanni and Barbara Andreini, produce it at their home estate in Lucca, Italy, 44 miles west of Florence.  The flavor is a round, clean taste; a bit milder than the others we bought in Florence, but still stronger and better tasting than anything you’d find in American grocery stores.  I think we paid about 10 Euro for a one liter bottle.

We procured the last two oils from Conti’s, a quaint, family-run gourmet food shop located inside the Mercato Centrale (Central Market).  The man who helped us, a member of the Conti family, was very informative and seemed genuinely interested in sharing two of his favorites with us.  Conti also very conveniently ships some of their products, such as oil, balsamic vinegar, pasta and spices around the world through their website,

The first one they sold us was Azienda Agraria Sole (or simply ‘Sole’), which translates to ‘Agrarian Company Sun’.  The oil is excellent for dipping, as it has a relishable piquant tang, but without any additional ingredients other than the pure, organic olives of Trequanda, Italy. Definitely an essence unlike any oil we’d ever tasted before. 

The other olive oil, sold to us at Conti’s, was the multiple award-winning Franci, Villa Magra oil, produced by the Franci family since the 1950s, in the Tuscan hill town of Montenero d’Orcia, near Grosseto, Italy.  This oil definitely lives up to its reputation and I can’t think of a more appropriate description than the one from Conti’s website:  “Intense fruit, fresh, grassy, pungent, complex; decisively bitter and peppery, harmonious, elegant and well structured, with a fresh rich finish of spicy grass.”  At 23 Euro per 0.750 liter bottle, it had better be good – and it undeniably is.

Thus concludes the highlights of our magnificent trip to Italy.  There is so much more we could have expounded upon, but I guess at this point, over a month after returning, there are many other things happening in our lives to share with you all.  Italy was unquestionably the best vacation we’ve ever taken.  As Faith mentioned in one of the earlier posts, this was actually our first real family vacation and it will definitely be very hard to top the experiences we had there.  We’d like to publicly thank the Bellettini family for their wonderful hospitality at the Hotel Bellettini, including the fabulous breakfasts prepared by their son at the hotel bistro.  Because our stay was so long (13 nights), we got a significant discount on the price of our room, which was by far the cheapest place we found anywhere in the city.

Florence is stunning, Italy is exquisite, and we can’t wait to return and explore other remarkable cities.

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1 comment:

a.susie said...

I have just now gotten around to reading through the olive oil expose'. Being an olive oil lover who eats olive oil literally every day of my life, I wanted to give it my full attention. I loved all the details. Olive oils would definitely be my purchase as well if I ever get to Italy.