Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saturday in Frantoio -Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Campania

I had several options of how to pass my time between lunch and dinner at Taverna del Capitano that Saturday afternoon.

  • I could head to the beach since the weather was unusually hot for late October. 
  • I could go up to my hotel room and sleep.  
  • I could go shopping - olive oil shopping.

The last option sounded pretty good since the olive harvest was in full swing.  I was also in Massa Lubrense, part of the Sorrento Peninsula.  An area which is famous for their olive oil.  Famous is an understatement.  Olive oil trees hug the road on the way to Nerano, where I decided to spend an autumn weekend.  Chef Alfonso Caputo gave me directions to Antonio Gargiulio's olive oil mill, Le Colline  Lubrense about 15 minutes away.

When I arrived the frantoio was in full swing. Olives that had been picked that morning were waiting patiently to be pressed and made into that liquid gold we love so much.  On the Sorrento Peninsula, the olives of choice are Minucciolo, Cecinella, and Olivo a uoglio.  Gargiulo showed me around the place beginning first with where the olives are cleaned and the stems as well as any other foreign objects such as twigs are removed.
Next step, crushing.  Gargiulio does it mechanically with the latest equipment. The ground paste is then mixed at a low controlled temperature in a horizontal trough with spiral blades. Gargiulio raised the lid so not only I could see better, but I could smell the aromas of the extra virgin in progress.
Next water and other solids are  separated from the oil before it finally makes its way into the stainless steel container.  But the show wasn't over.  Gargiulo wanted to show me how he tests the acidity.  To be classified as extra virgin it can have no more than 8 % of oleic acid.

Bingo- passed the chemical test.  We just needed to taste.

And I can guarantee it was delicious on bread!  And those who like their extra virgin aromatizzato,  infused with rosemary, oregano, basil, chili peppers, or lemons to name a few, won't be disappointed.  I said goodbye to Gargiulo and made my way back to Taverna del Capitano...just in time for a quick nap before dinner :-).

Fast forward a week.  Lunch with Chef Angelo D'Amico at Le Macine in Benevento.  On the table not only amazing breads made by the chef himself, but even more amazing olive oil produced just the night before.  Stone ground/cold pressed olive oil from his Uncle's olive oil mill, Le Terre di Frasso.  Aromatic, amazing.  I wanted to know more.  Tomorrow morning, why don't we go pay him a visit?  How's 8 am?  D'Amico asked.  Frasso Telesino, about 40 minutes away.

8 am sharp...the chef is more punctual than I am...we pulled up in front of a frantoio already full of excitement.  I could smell the magnificent aromas of freshly pressed olives from across the street.  The small parking lot was full of activity, men unloading olives that had been picked just moments before from the nearby the heart of the Sannio.  Here where the varieties that make their DOP extra virgin olive oil are Ortice,l' Ortolana,la Sprina, and la Racioppel.  So once again, on a Saturday, I found myself in the heat of the action...witnessing production of one of Italy's most prized, but at times, most under rated products.  
Chef D'Amico's uncle, Mario Carofano meet us with a smile and a handshake and led us into his mondo
Chef D'Amico and Mario Carofano
A world where his olives are stone ground after they are washed.  This is done slowly and carefully to ensure that the temperature caused by the friction does not get too high.  
Then what happens?, I wanted to know..My tour continued with D'Amico and Carofano, I watched as the olive paste was placed onto fiber disks and stacked one on top of a huge club sandwhich.  The disks are then transferred to a hydraulic piston and pressed slowly slowly slowly extracting oil and water.  Afterwards the oil is separated from the water and ...we have extra virgin olive oil. A process, which Carofano told me takes exactly 4 hours.

Time to taste...not without first appreciating the hard work that went into it.  No bread this time.  Better. Noting to take away from the aromas and flavor that this extra virgin wanted to share with me that cool November morning.  
That cool November Saturday morning.

Two Saturdays,two different parts of Campania, two different processing methods.  One thing, however, remained the same.  Quality...
I learned quite a bit on those two Saturdays. After seeing what goes into producing a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, I can't imagine paying less than 8 Euro a bottle.  

  • Quality takes time.
  • Quality has a price.
  • That price is worth every Euro.
My 13 year old son agrees....

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Back to Montemarano (Av) - Vineyard Hopping with Mastroberardino Winery

My schedule wasn't very cooperative this year, but  luckily I was able to schedule my third consecutive harvest season vineyard tour with Mastroberardino Winery.  Yes, the third year on a quest to eventually visit all of Mastroberardino's vineyards which are scattered throughout the Campania region.  So a couple of weeks ago, I put on my vineyard boots and sat shotgun alongside Antonio Dente, Mastroberardino's grape grower.  My tour was intense and informative as usual, and  between photos and note taking I learned quite a bit as we toured Mirabella Eclano (Av) , Montefusco (Av), and Apice (Bn).  But as the grey SUV headed towards Montemarano, I couldn't help but feel a little nostalgia.  Yes, I'd been before, but there is always something about seeing these particular  rows of Aglianico vineyards that  take my breath away.

The winery's vineyards are basically divided into two parts; lower and upper.  The lower section of the vineyard, 500-550 meters above sea level, is dedicated to growing grapes for its Radici Taurasi DOCG (black label).  These grapes, which had been harvested just a few days before my visit would be blended with the Aglianico grapes from Mirabella Eclano to produce a wine that repeatedly receives high acclaim and recognition.  Most recently, Its 2009 vintage was awarded the 5 Grappoli from Bibenda .  Yes, the grapes here were gone, but that didn't make the view any less spectacular.  And after strolling through the rows of vines, Dente and I looked behind us towards the upper part of the vineyard.

Andiamo? He suggested.  Then we were back in his vehicle towards Contrada Cortocorbo, made a quick left and parked the car.

 Here we were, 620 meters above sea level to a vineyard that still had its grapes.  Grapes that would be harvested soon for the prestigious Radici Taurasi DOCG white label wine.
The Aglianico grapes in this area were also perfect for the winery's two dessert wines.   I looked closely, and yes, tasted a few of these grapes to see how they were well on their way to becoming the right level of sweetness to produce their passito.  Some would be harvested very soon after my visit and be used for Halconero.  The rest would hang out a little longer to form noble rot, and for the more complex Antheres.  
I've always been impressed with this section of Montemarano.

Apart from the amazing colors that are on display this time of year, Montemarano for me has always been Aglianico's playground. And as often as I've been, I always look forward to my next trip.
Like maybe during the dry pruning season, Dente suggested...
Let's hope my calendar is cooperative...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Snapshot of a Territory – Di Meo and D’Agostino’s Irpinia

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 
Veritas Restaurant
 Corso Vittorio Emauele 141 Naples, Italy

Snapshot of a Territory is back and this time it focuses its lens on Irpinia with the wines of Cantine Di Meo and Chef Gianluca D’Agostino’s cuisine.

Cantine Di Meo, located in the hills of Salza Irpina in the Avellino Province has been producing wines since 1986.  Their inventory includes a wide variety of wines from various vineyards in Irpinia and the Sannio.  Wines such as Aglianico, Taurasi, Falanghina, and Greco di Tufo, Coda di Volpe, and of course, Fiano di Avellino.

Snapshot has decided to focus first on the territory that embraces the winery in Salza Irpina.  It is here where the Di Meo family has its Fiano di Avellino vineyards.  We’ll have the opportunity to taste 3 different interpretations of Irpinia’s favorite white led by wine maker Roberto Di Meo.

 Selezione Erminia Di Meo Fiano di Avellino DOC 2000  The official presentation of a wine with a long tradition. A wine which can only be compared to itself.  From the outset, it was clear that the grapes from this vineyard were capable of producing wines of the highest quality, which could bring out the best features of the variety (After careful manual selection in the vineyard and meticulous grape selection upon arrival at  the winery, the grapes are vinified with maceration for two days with the skins at a low controlled temperature. Aged for 14 years in stainless steel and the bottle)

Cole dei Cerri Fiano di Avellino DOC 2005 (Selected grapes, aged 10 months in barriques, then  10 months in the bottle before released)

Alessandria Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2010. (Vinified traditionally then aged for 12 months in stainless steel, 12 month in the bottle before being released.)

Snapshot will then focus on Aglianico.  Taurasi to be exact, with one of Di Meo’s traditional hand-made liqueurs – Ratafia’ di Nonna Erminia.  Raftafia’ is made from a family recipe that has been lovingly passed down for generations.  Taurasi wine infused with a special variety of leaves and herbs, and then aged 2 years in barrique before being bottled.

Chef Gianluca D’Agostino of Veritas Restaurant has strong family ties in  Castelvetere sul Calore, not far from Cantine Di Meo.  Chef D’Agostino will treat us to menu that will bring his interpretation of Irpinian classics to pair perfectly with the wines of the evening.  A menu to include classics from the Irpinian winter holiday menu. Details soon.

Snapshot of a Territory will also feature a photography exhibit by blogger/photographer Karen Phillips and a presentation of Cantine Di Meo’s 2014 calendar which was recently presented in Warsaw.

The cost of the wine tasting and dinner is 45 Euro.  .  

Reservations are necessary and can be made only by email or telephone to Veritas Restaurant at , 081 66 05 85.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Don Alfonso 1890 - Reloaded

Chef Ernesto Iaccarino
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself seated at one of my favorite tables in the world.  The one next to the window, with the perfect lighting, with a clear view of the kitchen, of Chef Ernesto Iaccarino and the staff of Don Alfonso 1890.  I decided to have an end of season lunch and chat with the entire team before they head off to various places around the globe before reopening next spring.
After a sip or two of spumante, I glanced over the menu.  Many items I recognized and instantly I got a feeling of nostalgia.  Several had special memories for me for various reasons so I thought that it would be neat to try them again...My version of a Don Alfonso 1890 - Reloaded...

I reloaded a few dishes from my visit back in the spring of 2011.  Has it really been that long?  Deep fried lobster with a sweet and sour sauce, a dip of citrus fruit, and a julienne of spring vegetables. It was just as I, the batter was much lighter, letting the lobster take center stage....

Then there was, what I described back then asmoked Mediterranean yellow tail. The light pink color of the fish enjoyed its contrast with the colors of the sauces on the side; wild orange, and a fennel seed and grapefruit mayonnaise

Trying it again, it brought back old memories, new memories...

Then I reloaded a favorite from the spring of  2012.  One that I wrote about here and here...
Tre baci-three kisses from the chef...
Back then I described it in this manner... A pasta dish that wasn't pasta, but thinly sliced squid stuffed with fresh fish.  A sprinkling of curry...a bed of basil.

This time I noticed the same smooth squid 'pasta', less spices, but power packed with clams instead of fresh fish.  A testimony to the chef's desire to use what is fresh and available that day, that moment.

But my visit was also a chance to try somethings that I haven't tried before...such as
an arancini appetizer, a fried rice ball  with clams, mussels and a bottarga sauce...

pumpkin gnocchetto with truffles, fried leeks, and sausage...

Pasta?  I skipped on the spaghetti, though it was tempting, and tried this dish.  Paccheri di Gragnano pasta cacio and pepe style...

Also a flavorful tomato soup with marinated palamita, capers and green olives.  New to me, but the 20103 a re visitation of a Don Alfonso 1890 dish...

Did I mention the wines?  No reloaded here, since sommelier Maurizio Cerio is very attentive in educating me on the wines and spirits of the world...
For my appetizers... Derbusco Cives Franciacorta Brut 2007

My lunch... La Creatura 2003, Andi Fausto  

My desserts...Single Malt Whisey Caperdonich 1966

Desserts...the usual splendid array of piccoli pastries...starring a pink and green macaroon that made me smile...

Pink and the dining room's interior.  A piccolo reminder of a special afternoon spent at Don Alfonso 1890.  An afternoon reloaded...

Ci vediamo nella primavera I told theChef Iaccarino as  I left.  I was already curios about what would come out of the kitchen next March.  What influences he would pick up from his time in Dubai as Don Alfonso 1890 opens up yet another restaurant?
We'll just have to wait...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Autumn on the Table - Le Macine Ristorante with Chef Angelo D'Amico, Benevento (Bn)

With the temperatures still in the mid 70s (24 degrees Celsius ish) here in Campania, we are still enjoying our short sleeve t-shirts, light jackets, and in some cases, still going to the beach!.  But I was reminded right away that autumn has arrived on my way to visit Chef Angelo D'Amico at Le Macine Ristorante.  Le Macine is located in the magnificently modern Una Hotel Il Molino- a 5 minute walk from Benevento's historical center.  As I drove down Via dei Mulini, all the signs of the changing seasons were there. Red, yellow and brown leaves on the trees and on the ground, a light breeze...yes, it was autumn.
Chef Angelo D'Amico

I was reminded again as I chatted with D'Amico while he showed me around the large kitchen...his kitchen which he helped design when the hotel/restaurant was being developed 3 short years ago. And though it was only 11 am, the kitchen was in a full comfortable swing preparing for the lunch service which would begin in a couple of hours.   A kitchen full of aromas including freshly baked bread, crackers and bread sticks.  D'Amico grabbed a bottle of olive oil from a nearby counter. Olive oil that had been pressed just the day before at his uncle's oil mill.  Oil that was fragrant, still in the process of 'settling'...perfect for a pre-lunch spuntino, snack, on a piece of pane cafone.  My eye caught another glance of autumn.  White truffles.
Truffles that I'd get a chance to try later, D'Amico lunch.  But first, he suggested, why don't you take a late morning walk over to Benevento's centro storico?
An autumn passeggiata...great idea, I thought.  I could stretch my legs after the hour ish drive and burn some calories before an amazing lunch which I could tell that the chef and his staff had in store for me.
A lunch which began an hour or so later in a small intimate dining room (28 places max) with a glass of Folius Falanghina Blanc Extra Dry spumante from Cantine Del Taburno.  Followed by bread sticks, a plate of warm bread, and a small bowl of that fragrant olive oil that I had the pleasure to meet earlier in the kitchen.

bread with rosemary

squid ink panino

D'Amico joins me in the dining room, we look over the menutogether, discuss a few of the items. Then I placed myself in his hands remembering the aromas from our pre lunch briefing. 
Flora Falanghina 2012 from Ocone was my wine of choice... I took a tip or two as I waited.  I didn't need to wait long.
A series of appetizers soon arrived at my table, beginning with a slowly cooked egg , creamy potatoes, friarelli greens and white truffles from nearby Ceppaloni.  My first of a series of dishes with thin slices of  white gold sprinkled on top.

Polenta with bite sized cod, olives, capers, peppers, broccoli and white truffles...

A vegetable broth lightly flavored with licorice was poured over home made 'cockscomb' shaped pasta  filled with bollito misto, boiled beef.  Also a shower of white truffles, which I must say at this point were pleasantly addicting...not overpowering, but complementing each dish.  The truffles played a supporting role, so to speak...adding its slice of autumn to the table.

Slices that accompanied my next dish,  spaghetti with broccoli, pumpkin, clams, and squid.

Next up, a risotto, maybe one of the most flavorful I have tasted in recent memory.  D'Amico' risotto with saffron, potatoes, and mussels.  On top, he placed dehydrated lemons and eggplant.

It was time for the second course.  Yes, there was still a little room...
Rabbit was next.  Wasn't it just a couple of hours ago that I saw D'Amico boning one in the kitchen?  When it arrived on my table, it was served in three ways.  Slow cooked, low temperature, and fried.  A creamed carrot sauce (of course) and a piedirosso mosto cotto, grape must.

Next, Carne 'e puorc e papauli con mosto di Piedirosso e mela annurca.  Pork    surrounded by bite-sized chunks of autumn; caramelized onions, friarelli greens, peppers, and an applesauce prepared with Campania's famous annurca apples.

D'Amico joined me at the table alongside his dessert.  A small warm chestnut tart, chocolate ice cream, and chocolate ice cream.  Coffee followed by a tower of small pastries reminiscent of  his time spent as a young cook in Paris.

My autumn lunch was over...I said my  goodbyes to D'Amico and his staff...well, more like I'll see you later.
We had an appointment early the next morning to check out his uncle's olive mill.  Stay tuned!

Le Macine Ristorante
Una Hotel Il Molino
Via dei Mulini 48,
82100 Benevento (Bn)
39 0824 311213