RadarFlorenceSept2014

For three months now there have been stunning reports of the difficult, challenging, and horrible olive harvest in Italy. Decades have passed since such a crisis last occurred, and that, the Tuscan freeze of 1985, did not reach the broad geographical proportions of this one.

During the month of October, we learned of the losses on a daily basis. Each phone call and email told a tale of crop failures and weather issues. Few areas were immune. In general, windstorms, rain, a cool summer, and a hailstorm were the weather issues. A bug and a fungus took hold as well.

Videos of the 18 September 2014 hailstorm in Tuscany can be seen here and here.

As reported to us, the harvests in Sicily were early and small. Problems were noted from The Veneto to Puglia. Producers in Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, and Abruzzo piled on tales of woe.

Outstanding producers chose to bottle no oil in the fall of 2014: Tenuta di Capezzana, Poggio Etrusco, Avignonesi, Fattoria di Monti, Decimi, and others.  We were informed of difficulties among many others who have valiantly produced much smaller quantities than normal. And, need we mention price increases?

There is a human toll that goes far beyond the kitchen table. Families, including farm workers, and bottlers, have experienced reduced wages from the poor harvest. Quality olive oil will likely cost more than ever.

Remembering that there are always variations in characteristics for year to year, the 2014s we have tasted provide a remarkable testament to the skills of the producers. Aromatic, fresh, grassy, bitter, and spicy can all be found in our lucky bottles.

Jan2015Grp

We continue to remain optimistic as we have carefully sourced 30 selections so far this season. Our full line of new olive oils (many shown in photo) can be purchased here.

Frantoi Cutrera, Frescolio and Primo DOP

La Poderina Toscana Organic, Oro and Argento

Gianfranco Becchina’s Olio Verde Novello

Frescobaldi First Pressing

Titone Novello

Santisi Novello

Azienda del Carmine, Ascolana and Olio del Carmine

CantinArte OroPuro

di Giovanna (Gerbino Biologica)

Marfuga L’Affiorante 

Villa Zottopera Bio and Rosso

Fratelli Colletti

Fattoria Ramerino Primus and Cultivar Frantoio

Principe di Mascio, Novello and DOP

Quattrociocchi Olivastro

In the coming months we look forward to arrivals of many more selections from Italy, including favorites such as:

Olio Librandi

Centonze

Gargiulo Sorrentolio Venus

La Pennita, Alina

Castello del Trebbio

Badia a Coltibuono

Our challenge is to continue to bring in the best Italian extra virgin olive oil in quantities to carry us through to the 2015 harvest.

 

For more information on the topic of the 2014 olive harvest, we recommend the following clicks:

New York Times: Amid bugs, hail, floods…

Los Angeles Times: Europe Suffers Olive Oil Disaster

NPR: Olive Oil Producers in Crisis

FustiX

On August 20, 2014, the United Kingdom (UK) disallowed the sale of all unflavored olive oils on tap.

This impacts the “fill your own” shops, stores where bottles are filled or refilled from the stainless steel fusti tanks on display.

From the Olive Oil Times:

“Critics of the concept say the shops are often ill-equipped to handle, store and dispense olive oil, and that they bypass Europe’s stricter labeling laws.”

Shiny fusti tanks are visually appealing, but in the UK these can no longer be used to dispense as the consumer watches.

We believe the heart of this matter is accurate labeling and product integrity. Stop and think. The olive oil does not ship to those stores in those sleek, attractive containers. It ships in a drum, a jug, or some other shippable container. And, then you must trust the cleanliness of the back room where the oil is transferred from one container to another.

Does this matter to the US FDA? There are certainly indications that the Health Departments are beginning to monitor these stores in the U.S.

When a consumer selects one of our authentic Italian extra virgin olive oils, there’s no question that the producer – whose family or estate name is on the label – grew, picked, pressed, bottled, capped, labeled and shipped this authentic and great olive oil to us. And, the best news is that YOU are the person to open that bottle. It has not been opened, repacked, decanted, or relabeled prior to your enjoyment.

Giorgio Franci (top), with Davide Borselli (bottom)

Giorgio Franci (top), with Davide Borselli (bottom)

At the end of June, we spent two days in New York searching through the aisles of the Javits Center looking for new discoveries and old friends — at the premier event in the specialty food industry.

It is always exciting to attend the Fancy Food Show — there are miles of aisles of specialty food products. Luckily for us, most of the Italian producers are grouped together. If you think about it, it is a bit of a dating game for food producers and buyers as we seek the right products for our customers.

For Olio2go, the highlights were time spent with Giorgio Franci and Davide Borselli.

Franci is the master producer of exceptional oils. To sit with him and enjoy a progressive tasting of oils from Fiore, though Villa Magra Grand Cru, is a noteworthy experience. The first oils are direct and flavorful with a clean finish. As the oils become increasingly fruity and complex, the finish extends and lingers.

The Franci 4-bottle Gift Set provides the upper end of this tasting experience with Olivastra Seggianese, Le Trebbiane, Villa Magra dei Franci, and Villa Magra Grand Cru. It’s the perfect way to conduct your own tasting event.

Also, in the Italy Pavillion, Davide Borselli of La Poderina Toscana represented his family’s Biologico (organic) Wine and Olive Oil. There one could taste the organic selections La Poderina Toscana Oro and Argento side by side, while sipping on his Organic Integrona IGT Toscana (white) and Marracone DOC (red) wines. This was a prelude to of our visit a few days later in Washington. (More on Davide’s visit to DC in an upcoming post).

For more information on the outstanding extra virgin olive oils from Frantoio Franci and La Poderina Toscana, see this post.

So, what discoveries did we make?

Be on the lookout for new pasta shapes and packaging, risotto kits, Nutella-like hazelnut spread (made with extra virgin olive oil, rather than mystery fats), Crispy Capers to add a snappy, nutty, savory finish to dishes, beautiful green dried myrtle leaves (think of them as a delicate bay leaf), and with a nod to molecular gastronomy, a new balsamic treat (more on that soon). It was also the first look at the holiday season and time to order Panettone, Panforte, and festive treats. Coming soon.

 

CastellodiBrolio_DM

Following on to our popular guest post on Wine and Olive Oil Tours from Pamela Sheldon Johns, we have even more ideas for Wine Touring throughout Italy.

If you are one who likes to plan everything to the smallest detail, you can do your homework in the US and then map out the wineries before leaving for Italy.  You will find that most wineries now have websites that list information about visits and tastings. The major wineries are very well organized.

For the important wineries, it is wise to reserve in advance to be sure that they will be open on the day you want, and someone will be available to translate in your language. Most DOC and DOCG wines have an informational organization that will list the wineries. Google the name of the wine you are interested in and the word consortium (or consorzio in Italian), and you should be able to find some contact info.

If you prefer someone to do the thinking for you, there are several excellent wine tour companies who will make all the arrangements for you.

Generally, olive oil tours are less common, so don’t expect the same structure as with wine.  Olio2Go can assist with contacting producers that are willing to give a tour, but it is best to check first.  Castello del Trebbio does both wine and olive oil tastings, and is located east of Florence.

Beginning at an enoteca is a good way to sample the region’s varieties and then formulate a plan a visit to the ones you really care about.  Most of the wine producing regions have a primary enoteca in the main town of the area.  Many of these carry both wine and oil to sample.

Some of our favorite wine tastings, tours, and enotecas (enoteche):

Tuscany

Avignonesi (must book in advance)

Badia a Coltibuono

Castello del Trebbio, Santa Brigida

Antinori (beautiful building). For a bit of history on Antinori opening to the public after 600 years, here’s an interesting article from Forbes.

Umbria

Marfuga (olive oil and other products), north of Spoleto

Gusto Umbrian Wine Tours, centered around Montefalco

Barberani (property and tasting room outside of town, enoteca in Orvieto)

Veneto

 Serego Alighieri, outside of Verona

 Enoteca “el loco” in Bardolino, on Lake Garda

Piemonte

Enoteca del Barolo, in Barolo

Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco, Barbaresco

Travel Langhe (organized tours of the entire region)

Sardinia

Ask the staff at Su Barchile in Orosei for suggestions for a really special tour of this rugged area

Sicily

Planeta (Menfi and several other properties), wonderful people

Donna Fugata, Marsala, very impressive story and winery

DiGiovanna, near Marsala, home to Gerbino Olive Oil

Please let us know the highlights of your wine and olive oil visits!

 

Radici_large

It’s time to celebrate our latest Olive Oil of the Month: Radici of Molise.

Radici Italiane means Italian roots and we have found Radici of Molise to be the perfect selection for those seeking their Italian heritage. More Americans emigrated from southern Italy including Abruzzo e Molise (one region until 1963) than any other region. The city of Campobasso is the largest in Molise. Perhaps Campobasso has been mentioned at your grandmother’s table?

Radici is smooth, yet robust, and it is produced in the small town of Larino, from the famous Gentile di Larino olive cultivar. It is wonderfully well balanced among the fruity, bitter, and peppery notes. Very low acidity, 0.19%.

It is recommended for salads, fresh and grilled vegetables, and for bruschetta.

To join our Olive Oil of the Month Club, just click here to send us an email.

Olio2go Travel Guide, Guest Post by Pamela Sheldon Johns

 GrapesbyJeff
 Photo Credit: Jeff Chandler

A word about etiquette for wine-and-olive-oil tourists in Italy, with everything from how to book a tour, what to expect on a tour, what to pay for the tour, and how much you should plan to buy (and possibly ship back).

Bio: Pamela Sheldon Johns

Pamela Sheldon Johns is the author of seventeen books primarily about the traditional and regional foods of Italy. Her recent work includes Silver Spoon Sicily (Phaidon), Cucina Povera, Tuscan Peasant Cooking (Andrews McMeel), and Gelato! (Random House). She is currently working on Silver Spoon Puglia. 

Since 1992, Pamela has led food and wine workshops in several regions of Italy which have been praised by Food & Wine magazine, Wall Street Journal, Cooking Light magazine, and CNN Travel. 

In 2001 Pamela and her family opened Poggio Etrusco, an organic agriturismo/cooking school in southern Tuscany which has been featured in Travel + Leisure magazine. 

You can see more info about her at www.FoodArtisans.com and www.Poggio-Etrusco.com

 
 PSJ_WineGlasses
 Photo Credit: Pamela Sheldon Johns

Q: We’re independent travelers planning a trip to Italy and would like to visit a wine estate. What tips do you have for planning our visit?

A: Most wineries now have websites that list information about visits and tastings. It is wise to reserve in advance to be sure that they will be open on the day you want, and available in your language. Most DOC and DOCG wines have an informational organization that will list the wineries.

Google the name of the wine you are interested in and the word consortium (or consorzio in Italian), and you should be able to find some contact info. You will find that most wineries now have websites that list information about visits and tastings. The major wineries are very well organized.

For the important wineries, it is wise to reserve in advance to be sure that they will be open on the day you want, and someone will be available to translate in your language.

Q: Are there “admission fees”? Should we anticipate a certain fee? Are we expected to buy a number of bottles?

A: This really varies from winery to winery, but nowadays, you can expect to pay a tasting fee, while the visits are often free. There is no obligation to buy.

Q: Should we visit during the harvest? If not, what will we see at other times of the year?

A: You may get more attention when the harvest not going on. Most personnel will be in the vineyards and the cantina at that time!

Q: On our last trip when driving through Tuscany, we noticed hand painted signs advertising wine visits. Can we just drive up the driveway? Should we ask our hotel to call ahead?

A: I would consider those signs an invitation, but if you don’t feel comfortable dropping in, note the name and location, and ask your hotel to set up a visit.

Q: Are there any “don’ts”? We don’t want to be bad guests!

A: Obviously, you don’t want to overdrink. Be mindful of the time allotted for your visit, as there may be other guests arriving for the next tour. Be mindful of the time and try to avoid visiting between noon and 3pm as the family and workers may be enjoying their lunch.

Q: What are the DWI laws in Italy? Should we get a driver for the day?

A: In recent years, the laws have become more strict, and should be considered for your own safety as well. A driver is a great solution, but you can also learn a lot about wine by swishing it in your mouth and spitting. Buy a bottle and enjoy it when you get back to your agriturismo or hotel. If you prefer not to worry about it, you may wish to consider a custom tour.

Q: What will a typical tour include?

Some wineries start in the vineyards and speak about agricultural practices, and most wineries include a walk through the process, from the area where grapes enter and are pressed, through the fermentation and barrel room, all the way to bottling and, finally, the tasting room.

Q: May we ask the winery about olive oil?

A: Of course! Most wine producers also have other products, and will have them available in the tasting room.

 
 PSJ_OliveOilPhoto
 Photo Credit: Pamela Sheldon Johns

On another day, we would like to visit an olive farm. Can you recommend favorites in Tuscany?

I would like to propose my own organic farm, Poggio Etrusco in Montepulciano, where we would be happy to welcome you for an afternoon tasting (we are usually busy with cooking classes in the mornings). I am a certified olive oil taster, and can give you some interesting guidelines for tasting olive oils.  {Note from Olio2go: To join Pamela’s Harvest program, start here: olive harvest program}

Q: On our last trip when driving through Tuscany and Umbria, we noticed hand painted signs advertising olive oil. Can we just drive up the driveway? Should we ask our hotel to call ahead?

A: I would consider those signs an invitation, but if you don’t feel comfortable dropping in, note the name and location, and ask your hotel to set up a visit.

Q: Should we visit during the harvest? If not, what will we see at other times of the year?

A: The olives are usually pressed from mid-October through November or December, depending on the area and weather. It could be interesting to visit a frantoio (olive oil mill). When not working, some mills will let you see the equipment and do an olive oil tasting. One friend of mine in Chianciano Terme (SI) has a video in several languages that shows the entire process.

Q: Will there be a fee? Or are we expected to make a purchase?

A: Every producer is different, but there isn’t usually a fee for a simple olive oil tasting. No one is obligated to buy.

Q: Will food be provided?

A: Bread is sometimes offered for an olive oil tasting.

Q: How do we express our thanks to the host?

Learn to say thank you in Italian. “Grazie” or “Grazie mille” will always be appreciated.

In an upcoming post we will “visit” wine producers and enotecas, so be sure to subscribe to this blog.

As a starting point, for an olive oil tour, consider these producers in Tuscany:

Poggio Etrusco  (buy here)

Oliveto Fonte di Foiano  (buy here)

Badia a Coltibuono (buy here)

La Poderina Toscana (buy here)

Castello del Trebbio (buy here soon)

We hope you enjoy your next trip to Italy. Please let us know of your favorite wine and olive oil visits, by sending a note to Olio2go’s Customer Service

Introducing Ruine…

Ruine_DOP_Cilento

Ruine 2013 Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes to us with the most colorful label we have seen. It is the first, striking, indication of the lively, fresh oil in the amphora bottle.

Produced in Cilento, in Campania, two hours south of the beautiful Amalfi coast. The olive trees have been growing on these hills since ancient Napoli (oldest city in Italy) near and around the town of Pisciotta. The local olive, “Pisciottana” is the primary olive of the blend, grown in the special “Ruine” soil. The olive and the land are indigenous to Parco Nationale del Cilento. Pisciotta is surrounded by 60 other typical little towns and villages (Paesi) each with their unique traditions and specialty food(s).

Ruine olive oil has received the D.O.P. Cilento mark and it is recognized by the European community.

This superior oil is emerald and brilliant coppery with aromatic notes of a fruity, medium intensity with fresh herbal notes that blend well with a deep but very elegant feeling on the palate, along with the spiciness and peppery notes typical of the Italian land and of these Mediterranean latitudes.

Local cuisine includes foods that are just perfect with the local oil, as you would expect. Local vegetables, meats, cheeses, and wine fill the tables, along with, figs, and prickly pears, which all add to fabulous and delicious treats.

Varieties: Pisciottana (primary 75%), Ogliarola, Frantoiana & Rotondella.
Total acidity: 0.29% expressed in oleic acid
Total polyphenols: 566 mg/kg
To join our Olive Oil of the Month Club, just click here to send us an email.