A Slippery Tale
Chef Yvonne and I have recently been reading a book called “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil” by Tom Mueller. It’s a good combination of the “sublime” and the “scandalous” - the former being the stories of people who care deeply about the remarkable fruit juice that is extra virgin olive oil, the latter being how huge industrial conglomerates have diluted, adulterated and down-right faked a product that should be flavorful, healthful, and an integral part of living the good life. Did you know that Bertolli is owned by Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch corporation that also brings us Dove soap, Hellman’s mayonnaise, Knorr soup mixes and Lipton tea? Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but when it comes to extra virgin olive oil (EVOO in the trade), the manufactured high-volume product is just not the same as the lovingly produced family estate stuff. It’s very much like wine. There is an obvious difference in quality between the slickly produced and grocery store marketed product and that which is made with care on a particular piece of the planet.
An interesting story, but it needs to be told against the background of some bad news from the olive groves we recently heard from three of our vendors. The Haw River Wine Man just returned from Tuscany where, he said, both the wine grape crop and the olive crop have been “devastated” by a summer of heavy rains that have brought hordes of pests. Our cheese purveyor, who also supplies us with our Greek and Spanish olive oils, said the Greek olive oil producers have lost 85% of their crop and the Spanish olive groves are suffering with too much dry heat. And Kevin, our Country Vintner wine guy, returned from a working vacation in Italy with tales of the good, the bad...and the beautiful. The bottom line is that the price of good EVOO is going to go up...a lot and soon.
But Kevin also brought us a story of the De Marchi family who combined the two mediaeval villages, Isole and Olena, to form a producer of fine Chianti Classico and Vin Santo wines, as well as true, organic extra virgin olive oil. Isole e Olena is in the Tuscan hills, halfway between Florence and Siena, at an elevation of 400 meters above sea level. Kevin, who likes to travel alone so he can meet people along the way, ended up at the kitchen table of Paolo De Marchi and his wife Marta talking late into the night...over great food, olive oil and wine. Kevin says these people are “the real deal,” passionate about their land and its products. And best of all, the Country Vintner carries those products. A couple of years ago we brought in some tasty Isole e Olena Vin Santo, the heavenly dessert wine of Tuscany. Now we’ve brought in some of their “green gold” extra virgin olive oil.
Here’s a review from Giuliana Direct Olive Oil, importers in Boulder, Colorado: This may be the best oil from the Chianti Classico zone in Tuscany. Owner Paolo De Marchi is revered for his work as a farmer and winemaker. His production of Chianti Classico and the iconic Cepparello are among the best wines to come out of Italy. He treats his 90 year old olive trees with equally as much care and produces just a wonderful green gold oil that is to die for. Paolo says his family is raised on olive oil and are the first to consume it, so it must be 100% natural and organic. It's a mix of old trees, early harvested Frantoio, Leccione and Moraiolo varieties. Bottled unfiltered.
This is a beautiful oil that’s best used raw in salad dressings (with some of our Balsamic Vinegar...Chef Yvonne can show you how) or for dipping bread. I like to use it like the Italians do...drizzled over the top of any food like we would use ketchup or mayonnaise. Its health benefits are legendary and the flavor is sublime.
But what about my warning of price increases? Not to worry...yet. We’ve got a case of the 2012 vintage Isole e Olena EVOO in 500 ml bottles, packed in a decorative box that will make it a fine gift...for just under $30. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the price double at the next vintage.
The best things in life are...well, not free...but available at Wine & Words…& Gourmet.
James the Wine (& EVOO) Guy