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.

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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

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In May we visited Italy and the theme of this trip was “chilometrezero” or “Km 0” for short. This is a trend in Italy that promotes the use of entirely locally produced products, not to be confused with the movie “Km 0” or the mile markers throughout the world. See the Wikipedia entry Chilometro Zero for more on this trend.

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Tortellini Three Ways at Km0

Meat & Potatoes - Emilia Romagna Style

Meat & potatoes Italian style.

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Appetizers – Km0

In the US, we might call this farm-to-table or extreme locavore, but Km 0 seems different.

First Stop: Osteria Chilometre Zero by Tom e Ciccio

This trip, we ate at the restaurant northeast of Reggio Emilia near the Autostrada called “Osteria Chilometre Zero by Tom e Ciccio”.  See reviews and location here.

The directions using our iPhone map app took us within 1 Km, but not 0 Km.  We ended up on a farm road that went nowhere (thanks, Siri.)  Using our pre-iPhone skill of reading the actual signs on the road, we backtracked and followed the little white sign (clearly pointing the way in the opposite direction of what Siri said we should do) and found the place easily, except they apparently have recently renamed the restaurant, so the neon sign didn’t exactly match (it was actually a caricature of a Mexican guy advertising coffee – ??)

When we opened the car door after parking in the rear, we had a clue as to the extreme localness of the products based on the smell that made us think we had landed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, if you get my scent.  Yes, fresh, locally produced pork products are the theme here.  But there was much more to the menu on this day.

We had no reservation, and arrived about 8pm.  We had no problem getting a table way in the back, but the other two open tables quickly filled up.  The place might qualify as a “dive” in the US, but it was pleasant, friendly, and packed with locals.  The staff spoke no English, and there is no printed menu.  Instead, a chalk board gets parked next to your table, and you see the full menu of the day.  Also on the board on the wall is the list of where exactly each item on the menu came from.  We had no trouble interpreting the items with ample help from our cheerful waitress and our command of “restaurant Italian.”

The antipasti were an outstanding selection of salumi, lardo, and puffy fried bread.  In this area of Emilia, the word for the puffy fried bread is cresciontini, but we had previously found them in the Romagna area to the east just called gnocco fritto.  In any case, they were great with the meats. For the wine, we chose the local Lambrusco, which goes perfectly well with the somewhat fatty food.

The primi course consisted of three different ravioli dishes recommended by the waitress.  One vegetable stuffing, one beef stuffing, and one cheese stuffing.  All were better than what we’d had in a fancier restaurant in Bologna the previous day.

For secondi, we were a bit filled up, but dove in to maiale and manzo dishes.  The freshness of the meat and the preparation of each were simple, but really good.  We skipped dessert.

Cheesemaking at Fattoria Montelupa

Cheesemaking at Fattoria Montelupa

 

Next stop:  Fattoria Montelupa near Città di Castello east of Arezzo, north of Perugia for some fresh cheese. Yum.

The owners moved 40 water buffalo to this part of Tuscany some years ago from near Naples, where Tuscany juts its finger way northeast up into Emilia Romagna.  The buffalo seem to like it here just fine, versus the hotter climate in Campania.  The farm has accommodated the buffalo with a low spot to wallow in the cool mud.

Our host explained that the buffalo don’t like stress, and produce the best milk when free from stress.  Based on the taste and consistency of the resulting mozzarella product, we think these are pretty happy animals.  The farm is outside of town, but there is a retail store in town.  Whether it is because the cheese we tasted was made today from milk collected yesterday from a bunch of happy water buffalo, or because it is made with a different technique, the end result is a product that can’t get any better.  We were fortunate enough to also have fresh ricotta made from the whey byproduct of the mozzarella process.  The ricotta, too, was as good as it gets.  Total distance from buffalo to table – about 300 meters.

Tempting Salumi

Tempting Salumi

Al Fresco at Ghiandaio

Al Fresco at Ghiandaio

 

Next stop:  Il Ghiandaio

North of Città di Castello, a bit further east of Arezzo, but still in that little tip of Tuscany that juts up into Emilia-Romagna and Umbria, there is a tiny little store-slash-restaurant on the side of the highway. (Click here for a location map and reviews).

The proprietor of Il Ghiandaio  is a man who takes his craft very seriously and produces his own cured meats to sell in his tiny store.  The restaurant consists of a couple of tables in the yard next to the store.  The store sits behind his house, just off the Autostrada, exit Pieve Santo Stefano (Nord).

We feasted on six types of cured meats (actually, I lost count) including the one he called the “eel” because of its shape and size.  Also on the menu was the typical Tuscan crostini selection of green pesto made with celery leaves instead of basil, chopped liver, and a new one – fresh sausage, uncured, made on Monday (we were there Thursday).  It tasted like tuna tartare – really different.

The pigs are raised nearby.  Giuseppe Ferroni is the proprietor, but the pigs are raised by another farmer.  Signore Ferroni is a master at making sausage, salami, prosciutto, and anything that can be done with pork.  We highly recommend this man and his work.  Distance from curing room to table – about 50 meters.

If you take a trip through Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, and Umbria, let us know if you visit these establishments!

–Jeff

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!

 

Celebrate the Best Olive Oils from Italy!

AwardWinnersMarchApril2014

 

2014 Los Angeles Award Winners at Olio2go

2014 Los Angeles Award Winners at Olio2go

 

 

(Updated June 2014)

Just as with wine, there are international olive oil awards. The most recent award presentations can be found through the links below, and these very rare olive oils, available for purchase in the U.S. at Olio2go, are listed here.

BIOL International, March 2014

Olio Capitale: Annual Competition held in Trieste, March 2014

SOL/Vinitaly: SOL is held in together with Vinitaly in Verona, April 2014

New York International Olive Oil Competition, April 2014

Los Angeles International Olive, April 2014

 

The following award winners are currently available at Olio2go. All are extra virgin olive oils from the most recent harvest.

Centonze Extra Virgin Olive Oil

BIOL, Gold, Silver

Los Angeles: Gold Medal

Crudo Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Los Angeles: Silver Medal

DeCarlo Arcamone

BIOL, ExtraGold

Olio Capitale: Finalist, Intense

Fattoria Ramerino Primus Extra Virgin Olive Oil

BIOL, ExtraGold

Los Angeles: Gold Medal

Fattoria Ramerino Dulcis  Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Los Angeles: Gold Medal

Fattoria Ramerino Cultivar Frantoio Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Los Angeles:  Marco Mugelli Prize, Best of Show, Best of Class, Gold Medal

Fattoria Ramerino Cultivar Moraiolo Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Los Angeles: Gold Medal

Fonte di Foiano “1979”

Los Angeles: Gold Medal

Frantoi Cutrera Primo DOP

BIOL, ExtraGold

NYIOOC: Gold, Robust, Tonda Iblei

Los Angeles: Bronze Medal

Fratelli Colletti Extra Virgin Olive Oil

NYIOOC: Gold, Robust, Biancolilla

Los Angeles: Silver Medal

Frescobaldi Laudemio

Los Angeles: Bronze Medal

Gianfranco Becchina Olio Verde

NYIOOC: Silver, Medium, Nocellara del Belice

La Poderina Toscana Oro DOP Seggianese

BIOL, Gold

La Poderina Toscana Argento

BIOL, Gold

Marfuga L’affiorante

BIOL, Gold

Ascolana, Azienda del Carmine

Los Angeles: Gold Medal, Best of Class

Olio Librandi Nocellara del Belice (Tenute Librandi Pasquale)

BIOL, ExtraGold, 1* BIOL Calabria

Quattrociocchi Olivastro

BIOL, Gold

NYIOOC: Gold, Medium, Itrana

SOL: Bronze, Organic

Tenuta di Capezzana

NYIOOC: Gold, Medium

Titone DOP Extra Virgin Olive Oil

BIOL, ExtraGold

NYIOOC: Silver, Medium

Villa Zottopera (BIO sold out 6/24/14)

Los Angeles: Gold Medal

Don’t miss out! Some of these are already in short supply at Olio2go.

Olio2go:  Internet Purveyor of Italy’s Finest

OliveOilTimesCover

Celebrating our 15th year of selling Italy’s authentic olive oils to discerning consumers! We’re thrilled to have been interviewed by the Olive Oil Times for our role in bringing authentic Italian extra virgin olive oil to the U.S.

Here’s our mini FAQ:

Olive Oil: The juice pressed from fresh olives. The quality is depends on the ripeness and condition of the olives at the time of pressing. Olives that are just ripening and have no bad fruit, when crushed promptly, produce the highest quality olive oil, extra virgin.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Acidity level below 0.80% and a professional organoleptic taste test indicating no faults. This is the best quality of olive oil, and those with the lowest acidity levels are considered Super Premium.

Olive Oil Benefits: Many of the known and researched benefits of olive oil are tied to the Mediterranean Diet and issues related to Inflammation (The Zone Diet). The FDA allows a health claim to be included on the labels of olive oils.

Italian Olive Oil: We’re passionate about Italian olive oils because of the craftsmanship and care – and centuries of traditions. To us, others are fine, but Italian olive oils are the best. While any olive oil bottled in Italy can carry the Product of Italy label, we work with carefully selected producers to ensure authentic production and quality.

Crush Dates and Labels: It is important to read an olive oil label, but we recommend that you read it carefully and with thought. A Tuscan olive oil will simply be labeled as Raccolto 2013, because Tuscan olives are only harvested between late October and early December each year (with slight variations for weather conditions). You may also be interested to learn more about organic certification and labeling for olive oil.

How do Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oils Differ? Northern olive oils tend to be exquisite and less intense than those from other regions. Tuscan selections tend to be intense and flavorful and peppery; those from Umbria are slightly rounder than the Tuscans in flavor. Those from Lazio (the region of Rome) bring forth essences of green, while those from Puglia (the heel of the boot) finish with a strong pepper kick. The extra virgin olive oil selections from Sicily are grassy and some offer elements of tomato. There are many differences, but that’s the quick list of characteristics.

Cooking with olive oil: This is a favorite topic and we look at it simply. The producers do not buy olive oil to cook with. They use what they have carefully nurtured and crafted. A home, we keep 2-3 bottles in the cool, dark cupboard and choose the bottle with the least if we need a couple of tablespoons to roast vegetables or sauté chicken cutlets.

How to Store Olive Oil: In a cool, dark place. We do not recommend a refrigerator as some may get too cold. (And the refrigerator test is not valid).

For more information on quality extra virgin olive oil, we recommend the Olio2go Olive Oil FAQ and this piece on the Anatomy of a Great (Olive Oil) Label.

Sign up for our email list to stay up to date on new olive oil arrivals and the latest in olive oil news.

 

Jan2014Large

We love it when visitors come into our shop in Fairfax, Virginia. First time visitors are inquisitive about the differences from the “extra virgin” olive oil they know and use every day (the common grocery store type). For a distinct experience, we provide a first taste of an intense, robust selection, most often from Tuscany or Umbria. Cough, cough.

Immediately, they grasp: there’s something better than the olive oil they have purchased elsewhere. True, authentic, artisan-produced extra virgin olive oil from Italy. (Yes, we are all about Italy).

Our online customers have already become fans of great olive oil. They’ve been buying the good stuff for almost 14 years!

What are the characteristics of fresh olive oil?

Zingy, layered aromas, and distinct flavors. Some possess aromas of fresh leaves, such as crushed olive leaves, or the scent of tomatoes leaves as you brush by them in the garden. Others exhibit the rich fruity smell of an orchard or fruit market. Sicilian oils in particular bring forth grassy aromas, and others may note herbaceous scents.

Take a taste. Does your olive oil evoke symphonies of flavors — a melange of artichoke, tomato, herbs, and grassy notes? Notes of apple, bananas, almonds, walnuts or flowers may come forth. Next comes the finish. It may be pungent and peppery (insert cough here) or milder and buttery–and still full of flavor.

How is fresh olive oil made?

Top quality extra virgin olive oils are harvested from just-ripening fruit. The olive fruits release relatively small amounts of oil at this early stage, but they are bursting with the healthy chemical properties many are seeking. The olives are picked when young, and bruised fruit are discarded. They are pressed within mere hours of picking, in carefully controlled conditions. (Those same trees, if picked weeks later, would yield significantly more oil, but it would be of lower quality, and likely sold in a mass market operation).

Why are there so many extra virgin olive oil labels at Olio2go?

Just as there are many wine selections to pair with food, there are many olive oil matches. If you know wine, you know that the grape varieties, micro-climate, year of harvest, and the winemaker’s skill make a great difference. There are significant parallels in the world of olive oil. (And, many Italian wine makers also produce excellent olive oil). Whether you are purchasing a Tuscan olive oil for your grilled steak, or a Calabrian for your grilled vegetables, or a Sicilian for your fennel salad, the pairings will be perfectly matched.

What else should I know? 

By tradition, some producers decant, while others bottle quickly after harvest. Early bottlings are most often unfiltered, yielding oils that appear cloudy or even milky. Some producers label their first bottles as Novello, meaning new oil. Whether labeled or not, all extra virgin olive oil, promptly pressed, bottled, and (first) released is Novello.

Just as there are many wine competitions with producers striving for top quality recognitions, there are important olive oil competitions and awards.

Does olive oil get better with age? 

No! All olive oil will degrade in time. If you start with a top quality olive oil, store it well, and use it promptly once opened you will best enjoy this culinary magic. Some varieties of olives yield oils that last longer than others. Selections crafted from Frantoio olives (known best as a Tuscan variety) and Moraiolo olives (known best as an Umbrian variety) are among those with the best lasting power.

As an olive oil ages, those distinct flavor characteristics fade. In time, the olive oil will taste flat and fatty–and eventually rancid.

Our goal is to sell the current harvest olive oil as soon as it is available — and to sell out long before the “best by” date.

What should I know about olive oil storage? 

Extra virgin olive oil is best kept in a cool, dark place. The selections on our shelves are for show. We prefer to “pull” your oil from our cool, low-light, temperature-controlled warehouse, where the oils has been kept in the dark, in shipping cartons.

Where can I learn more about great olive oil?

Click these links for more information on the anatomy of a great label, authenticity, organic certifications, and the most recent olive oil awards.

How can I purchase great olive oil?

You can purchase online at Olio2go. There’s no minimum purchase and we offer a 10% case discount on six or more. Orders are shipped promptly! If you would like auto-shipping or an Olive Oil Club, please complete the form below to provide your address and budget. We will respond via email.

New2014

With the arrivals of the new harvest olive oils comes the first of the new awards and recognitions for high quality extra virgin olive oil.

The 2014 Flos Olei, published early in the harvest year, is the well regarded Marco Oreggia review of olive oils. In general, Flos Olei 2014 awarded the 2012 harvest selections. It is seen by many as a watchdog of consistent quality in the industry with the idea that the recognized producers provide consistently exceptional olive oils from year to year. You can see last year’s list here.

In the 2014 edition, Flos Olei’s Top 20 awards three of the olive oils we regularly carry. Most notably, we already have Quattrociocchi’s Olivastro Bio 2013, awarded Best Olive Oil from Organic Farming by Flos Olei’s Marco Orreggia.

From the Top 20

Farm of the Year: DeCarlo (new harvest coming soon)

Best Olive Oil from Organic Farming: Quattrociocchi Olivastro Bio 2013

Best Extra Virgin Intensely FruityFrantoio Franci Villa Magra

The Flos Olei guide lists an abundance of well-regarded olive oil producers (we will carry harvest 2013 selections – they are in stock or on order):

Trentino Alto – Adige

Frantoio di Riva, 2013 in stock!

Emilia Romagna

Tenuta Pennita, Alina in stock

Toscana

Tenuta di Capezzana, 2013 in stock

Oliveto Fonte di Foiano, samplers in stock, more expected in early January

Frantoio Franci, selections

La Poderina Toscana, Oro and Argento in stock

Fattoria di Monti, three selections in stock

Fattoria Ramerino, Guadagnòlo Primus in stock!

Marche

Azienda del Carmine, arriving January 2014

Umbria

Az. Agr. Marfuga, L’affiorante in stock

Lazio

Società Agricola Colli Etruschi, arriving soon

Az Agr Bio Americo Quattrociocchi, in stock

Campania

Madonna dell’Olivo, Raro and Itrans selections available

Puglia

Az. Agr. DeCarlo, restocking soon

Calabria

Tenute Pasquale Librandi, selections arriving January 2014

Sicily

Azienda Agricola Antonino Centonze, Arriving January 2014

Frantoi Cutrera, in stock

Planeta, selections available

Azienda Agricola Ravida, selections available

Azienda Agricola Biologica Titone, 2013 coming soon!