One of the wonderful things about Italy is its olive oil. Quintessential to Italian cooking, the olive is found from one end of the country to the other. In the lowlands and the highlands, in the mountains and near the sea, in the countryside and in the city. A producer of the green and black olive, this fruiting tree is crucial to the growth of Western Civilization and is linked to the rise of cities, culture and wealth in the Mediterranean basin. It is one of the most written about plants and is featured in many of the great classics of all time.
A beautiful thing happens each year- the olive harvest. Because so many people have olive trees on their land, one is lucky to have many friends who are producing their own olive oil, even if you don’t have your own trees. And one of the greatest things about having friends with olive trees is that they often give olive oil as gifts. This winter we were given 4 different kinds of olive oil from several different areas of Italy, from the hills of the Castelli Romani, Tuscany, Umbria and even the Veneto region. Each olive oil has its own characteristics. It can be more or less spicy, fruity, and aromatic.
Cooking to taste the new olive oil is a specialty in Italy. This means that you use it with food in order to enhance the food as well as the olive oil. Once can serve it fresh out of the bottle with raw vegetables, toasted pieces of bread in the form of bruschetta, drizzle it on top of roasted vegetables or over soups and pastas. The best way to taste the new olive oil is to serve it uncooked, fresh out of the bottle.
We recently received a great bottle of olive oil from our friends in the Castelli Romani and went through it very quickly. When all the olive oil ran out that we had received from friends I felt a sense of panic. How could we have finished it so quickly! We went to the San Teodoro market in Rome, near the Circus Maximus one weekend to buy some supplies. There we bought a gallon of olive oil from an artisan, organic producer from Lazio, just outside of Rome. I was glad to realize that I can buy olive oil of such high quality, from someone whose oil has the freshness and quality of that from a friend. Here you can see it drizzled on a bowl of leek and potato soup with guanciale. Delicious! I use an old Dewars bottle to store it in. The golden stag emphasizes the golden green color of the oil quite well. Visiting an olive producer and taking an olive oil tasting is a wonderful experience, as is tasting as many kinds of olive oil in Italy as possible!