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....

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