To enhance your enjoyment of our Italian olive oils, each from a separate region in Italy, each produced in limited quantities by a family estate, each born of different varieties of olives, a brief tutorial …
LIGURIA, THE ARMATO FAMILY AND THE TAGGIASCA OLIVE
The principal olive grown on the Ligurian hillsides that overlook the Mediterranean along the northwestern coastline of Italy is the Taggiasca olive. Its reach extends into the Alpes-Maritime region of France where it is known as the “Cailletier”. It is used both as an eating olive and also is pressed to produce an olive oil. The Taggiasca is a smaller, ovoid-shaped olive the color of which ranges from light brown to maroon with an occasional purple highlight. At its best, when cold-pressed by stone in the traditional manner and left in its natural state without filtration or other manipulation (as the Armato family has done for many generations), the olive oil of the Taggiasca is fine and elegant with a golden hue, buttery texture, subtle in its fruitiness without any bitterness or heat in the finish. It offers the perfect marriage when drizzled on freshly caught fish from the sea, perhaps the “bianchette” (tiny whitebait that school in the Mediterranean in springtime) or the “nasello” (hake that swims off the northern Mediterranean coast), just steamed or quickly baked in the oven. Of course, we use the Armato “Sc-iappa” (first run, free run juice from the press … the finest of all) for just about everything in our kitchen from dressing salads of fresh greens from the summer garden or to toss with just-picked haricots verts or to sauté almost anything and as a key ingredient when making our flat-bread focaccia. The Armato “Taggiasca” extra virgin olive oil “Sc-iappa” is our “go-to” oil not only because it tastes so good but because it is the best value amongst our offerings, providing sensational quality for the most reasonable price.
UMBRIA, THE BEA FAMILY, AND A TRIO OF OLIVES
The family of Paolo Bea in Montefalco, a hilltop town in Umbria, produces an extra virgin olive oil vastly different than that of the Armato family in Liguria. The Bea farm has olive trees of three different varieties: Moraiolo, Leccino and Frantoio, all grown according to the most strict organic methods. Production is miniscule (total production from the 2017 harvest is 894 bottles of 500ml size!).
The Moraiolo olive is small, round and intensely green in color and is prized for its oil. It can be an abundant provider but is sensitive to temperature extremes. It is fruity and herbaceous when pressed with notes of artichoke and slightly bitter and spicy; the Leccino and Frantoio olives supplement the Moraiolo to provide a more delicate element to the ultimate oil but reinforcing the particular “terroir” of this high-altitude part of Umbria. This combination in the hands of the Bea family produces a sturdy oil of deep green color with a grassy aroma, high-toned savory notes backed by cinnamon-spice. It is quite full-bodied and concentrated. Again, we use this in many ways in our kitchen (because we can!) but drizzled on a thick steak just off the barbecue or used in preparing the earthy legumes of the Umbrian fields, e.g. the ancient Roveja pea or the lentils of Castelluccio (both of which will be available from us in the coming months, again produced by Giampiero Bea as a complementary crop to the grapes grown in his vineyards) it shows its strong character best.
SICILY, “IL CENSO” AND ANOTHER TRIO OF OLIVES
Gaetano Gargano is in the process of reviving his family’s ancient estate “Il Censo” in the south central part of Sicily in the lofty hills outside the hamlet of Bivona near Palazzo Adriano (the site of the film “Cinema Paradiso”). There, beside the vineyards bearing the Cataratto, Nero d’Avola and Perricone grapes, and along the hills planted to the ancient Tumminia grain (a type of durum wheat), Gaetano cultivates organically several varieties of olives: Biancolilla, Ceresuola, Murtiddara. Thus, the Il Censo olive oil derived from this triple olive threat reaches our shores. It is perhaps a cross of the preceding two oils, not as dramatic and masculine as the Bea nor as delicate and suave as the Armato.
The Biancolilla is an oval-shaped olive with a pale green color that provides body and delicate fruit flavors; the Ceresuola lends spice and true olive aromatics mixed with almond and hay; the Murtiddara is a rare variety, almost extinct, susceptible to disease but one that provides complex aromas and flavors to the oil: ripe pear, a touch of almond, cut grass, artichoke, green tomatoes. The “BI-CE-MU” from Il Censo is a revelation, a one-of-a-kind olive oil that will surprise and delight you. Again, very limited production: 750 bottles of 750ml size were produced from the late October 2017 harvest.