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.

 

Advertisements

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!

 

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

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.

Grocery shopping in Italy is a fun event – lots to see, different words, interesting dialog in broken Italian

To get started – there are three types of grocery stores in Italy.  First there is the alimentari, which is the equivalent of a neighborhood grocery store, usually very small.  It is common to find a small assortment of items here, but generally you find everything you need:  bread, vegetables, wine, bottled water, pasta, meats, and dried goods.  Next is the coop, or small grocery store, usually found at the edge of the main part of the city, just outside the walls of the old city in many places.  Names you may recognize are found throughout Italy – Conad, EMI, Eurospin are the ones near where I am this week.  These are a bigger version of the alimentari, which means more variety, but these also commonly carry other items such as cheap clothes, cooking utensils, seasonal items, and lots of weird items you would not expect to find in a grocery store.  Conad has some stores that stay open 24 hours now.  The third type is the hypermarket – a very large grocery store with lots of variety and many items that don’t belong in a grocery store, such as cheap power tools.  Many carry electronics either in the store or in separate stores – a sort of mini-mall.  These are usually found in the industrial area, often just off the highway.

Vegetables are found in all three types, and here are some photos of four types of tomatoes, just to give you a sense of what you can buy.  The oblong type is what we would call Roma tomatoes.  The grape tomatoes are pretty big – not what I would call grape tomatoes, but the distinguishing feature is that they are clustered on the vine, rather than loose.  The cherry tomatoes are packed since they are so small.  Don’t forget to weigh the produce before you take it to the checkout!

Of course we checked the olive oil selections.  We are always on the lookout for new olive oils for Olio2go. The neighborhood shops will have the high end stuff.  The big box stores tend to have a wide assortment of good and not so good oil, but not so many very very good oils.  Salumerias also have high end oils as do cheese shops in the tourist areas.  Wine shops carry the high end oils, too.  One of my favorite wine stores is in Verona, and they carry a number of very good oils.  The Marfuga– I first saw in a small alimentari in Spoleto.  In some cases the town has an enoteca that has wine and oil.  For example, the enoteca in Rome near the Spanish Steps that sells Merlano (which we plan to again carry with the 2011 harvest).

As in Washington, DC, if you don’t bring your own bag (a borsa) then you have to buy one or else put the groceries in your pockets (to request a bag, say to the checkout person “ho bisogno una borsa” before he or she slides your items to the end of the checkout lane).  The bags are not expensive – a few euro cents, but after a couple of trips, you learn to bring them with you.  At home, I keep my borsa in the compartment of my Vespa for just such a reason.

If you want a grocery cart, be sure to bring a euro or a 50 cent piece, because the carts are all connected together with a chain.  You just stick the coin in the slot and the lock opens to let you take the cart.  This works much better than in the US because all the carts are always neatly arranged.  You would be frivolous to let your cart roll off toward the cart area because you’d lose your coin.  The Italian method pretty much guarantees that all the carts stay where they should.

Bread in Tuscany and Umbria is usually unsalted, to protest the salt tax imposed by the Pope 500 years ago, or something like that.  Hence the bread can best be described as “insipido”, and it also goes stale very quickly.  So you will need to go shopping every day or get by with eating unsalted, soon-to- be-stale bread.  Or you could go out to eat.

And like everything else in Italy, many of the stores close from noon until 4:oo pm.  The bigger coops and hypermarkets do not close, but sometimes the deli counters are not open during those hours.  It is just part of the culture and rhythm of life in Italy.

Our New Year’s Eve gathering gave us the opportunity to enjoy the foods we’d missed while traveling for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

With wine and champagne, we enjoyed an olive oil tasting with L’acropoli di Puglia Mosto 2007, Castellare in Castellina L’olionovo 2007, Gianfranco Becchina Olio Verde Novello 2008, and Sicilian Gold 2008. The men, in particular, raved over the Mosto, calling it raw, rustic, and even “gutsy”.

Antipasto Platters

Antipasto Platters

 

The antipasto platter was dressed with Olio Verde Novello and Manicardi 12. The front platter served the “grown ups” while the second platter was somewhat simpler for the children.Our dessert featured Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar — divine with Villa Manodori Dark Cherry. My great-aunt Libby’s dessert/coffee (soft) biscotti were made using Castellare L’olionovo. Use our Contact Us form if you would like recipes!

Our pasta dishes included Cavatelli (a ricotta-based pasta) and a thin homemade pasta in which Olio Verde was added to the flour, eggs, and salt.

Award winning olive oil from Azienda del Carmine in Marche

Award winning olive oil from Azienda del Carmine in Marche

As we approach the holiday season amidst an “unusual” economic time, I can’t think of better gifts than food gifts. Food is a necessity, and nice food makes dining a pleasure. Is that too simple? Fine extra virgin Italian olive oil makes a superb gift for several reasons:

It’s different from wine!
Anyone can give wine. OK, anyone over 21 can give wine as a gift, but wine can also be complicated. Do you know your varietals and vintages? Does the recipient? Does the recipient have a medical or religous reason that prevents them from enjoying a nice Pinot Grigio?

It’s good for you!
It doesn’t feature the sodium or cholesterol burdens of other foods, and can add delightfully to many portions of a meal. It’s the best fat — good enough to have a qualified health claim from the FDA. The simplest appetizer — a loaf of bread and a flavorful bottle of olive oil. Add it to soups or vegetables, add a swirl over a steak, begin or finish a risotto….

Your Recipients will appreciate it!
They may think of olive oil as a splurge rather than a necessity, but they’ll try and enjoy your gourmet gift!

You can order it online and have it shipped! At Olio2go, we’re preparing holiday gift selections to make the Winter Holidays easier for you. It’s perfect for Christmas and Hanukkah, and it’s a terrific hostess gift throughout the year.