Thanks to the very generous Paolo Pasquali and Nancy Harmon Jenkins, I'm tagging along as an assistant for AmorOlio, a week-long immersion in olive oil culture and Tuscan cuisine. This visit has proved quite timely, as olive oil makes headlines in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
In the past three days, we have inspected olive groves and visited traditional mills where olive oil is pressed. Through lively tasting sessions, we have discussed the taste of great oil, the different ways it can be spoiled (heat, exposure to oxygen, and light), and how to educate consumers without condescension. Of course, we have cooked every day to test food pairings with dramatically different oil styles. It's been a great post-graduation trip to decompress from culinary school while still staying inspired by food.
Here are a couple photographs from our time so far at Villa Campestri.
Green olives one week before harvest
The set-up for olive oil tasting
A meat counter in the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale in Florence.
The market is a great place to learn food vocabulary, like hen (gallina), turkey (tacchino), or rabbit (coniglio.)
It's also reassuring to see that "Hot Dogs" are the same in Italian.
The gorgeous colors of the produce section
Back at Villa Campestri's kitchen, Samuele puts the finishing touches on dessert:
olive oil cake with ricotta and wild berry coulis.
Chef Jerry holds a beautiful example of a porcini mushroom.
In Florence, chocolate truffles come in a too-cute cupola box.
Porcini Mushroom Risotto with a glass of Vernaccia in hand
Villa Campestri Olive Oil Resort, my home for the week.
(I'm still pinching myself!)
I've learned a lot about high quality olive oil; it can be sweet, grassy, peppery or lemony. It can be structured and complex, like wine. It can also spoil rancid or get moldy if it was poorly pressed or improperly stored. Bright green at first, olive oil will lose its color- and its healthy polyphenol properties- as it gets older or if exposed to high heat during storage. If you have a bottle of nice olive oil, use it! Olive oil is best fresh. The longer it lives in the cabinet or by the stove, the less flavor it will bring to your plate.
I'm hoping to bring home a couple cans of high quality oil from Villa Campestri, named Olio di Cosimo for Pasquali's grandson. It's peppery, bright green, reminiscent of artichoke and a freshly-cut lawn. Once I get back to New York (Mon Oct 24th), I'm planning to make salad, some butternut squash soup, maybe even a pizza to find the best pairing with this delicious oil. Give me a buzz if you want to join!
With love, from Vicchio