Tuesday 22 December 2015

OLIVE OIL FROM SABINA - The Green Gold of 2015 is Fresh, Green, Grassy, Peppery, Pleasantly Bitter, absolutely Delicious and Available at a Store Near You!

This is a follow-up from my previous post on Sabina's olive oil harvest of 2015. Since our forays out into the oliveti in the valley below Casperia to help our friend Pino, we have had a number of opportunities to taste and buy excellent oil from the region. 

Remember, last year's olive harvest in central Italy was a complete disaster. Up until a couple of months ago, we have had to get by with oil from elsewhere, and that usually came in bottles with labels that read "100% oil from the EU". It was olive oil, but it was not of the quality we were used to from our time here in Sabina. When you read our friend Giuseppe Bizzaro's tongue in cheek history of the rise and fall of ancient Rome and its connection to ancient Rome's desperate obsession with Sabine olive oil, you will find stories that echo our sense of disappointment and depression having to go without Sabine olive oil for so long. 

At this point, however, we have in our possession the largest amount of olive oil we have ever had at one time, all from different producers in Sabina. We have amazing oil from Montebuono, Farfa, Cantalupo, Vescovio, and a number of different oils from Casperia.   

Many of you who are reading this post have likely read, or at least heard of, the book called "Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil" by Tom Mueller, and if you haven't read the book, you have likely read similarly themed articles in magazines and newspapers about the terrible olive oil fraud scandals here in Italy and elsewhere. Remember though, that these inferior, sometimes doctored oils are brought to you by big name producers that foist their fake product on an interested but uneducated public via grocery stores and supermarket, all over the world.

It is a whole other experience though to face a producer across a table at a country fair and look him in the eye as you taste his oil and then buy product directly from him. This is what we did last weekend at the annual winter Fiera at Farfa Abbey.

We have been friends on Facebook for a while now, known each other through our mutual love of Sabina and our love of photography, but had never had the chance to meet face to face. 

In the spring I had stumbled upon Fabrizio Mei's farm during a visit to Farfa Abbey. I had noticed some signs up advertising fresh cherries and was surprised to find that the beautiful red cherries being advertised were from Mr. Mei's farm. 

Anyway, when Richard and I visited the Winter Fair at Farfa, there was Fabrizio with a table just inside the Abbey grounds selling not only his oil but some of his honey as well. His oil, which he advertises as "the only olive oil from Farfa," was exquisite. It had all the qualities we look for in a Sabine olive oil: fresh, golden green, peppery, with a lovely bitter tingle in the throat aftertaste, evidence of a healthy high polyphenol count. So of course, we bought a tin and expanded our growing collection. 

I think I wrote about this in some previous posts. In past years, when we were visiting Casperia for short visits, we were shocked to find that local Sabine oil didn't seem to be available at the local Conad supermarket. Here we were in the heart of Sabina D.O.P. country, with signs at major intersections proclaiming Casperia as the home of Sabina D.O.P. and the only shopping outlet available to people without a car didn't carry Sabine olive oil. 

We of course found out later that all we had to do is ask Massimo, the owner of the local franchise, and he would be able to sell us some of his own oil. We also found out later that the G.S. Market in neighbouring Cantalupo sells some spectacular oils, some made in Casperia and others in Cantalupo, but for the first couple of visits here the only good local oil we were able to source was through Massimo at Casperia's Conad. 

The good news is that there are lots of opportunities to buy very good oil here in Sabina. And for those visitors who are interested in experiencing this local delight, here are some sources we can heartily recommend.

In Casperia: 
        Conad Supermarket
        Via Roma, 7
        02041 Casperia (RI) 
       This little market is our go to place for every day shopping. They have a great deli counter and fruit and vegetable stand. The owners and staff are very friendly and have been instrumental in expanding our culinary horizons while living here in Italy. As of this year Massimo has started selling his delicious olive oil in bottles. Look for the squat 500ml bottles labelled as Sabinae Naturalia Extra Vergine d'Oliva. The labelling is a bit confusing as it is actually for an oil from Poggio Nativo to the south of us, but it is indeed Massimo's delicious oil from Casperia. If you cannot find them on the shelf, ask one of the staff working behind the deli counter. If you are interested in buying larger amounts, the oil can be bought in larger tins as well. It is sometimes a good idea to ask ahead for the larger sizes as they are not always in the store. 

        Ortofrutta di Sara e Paolo
        Via Tomassoli, 20
         02041 Casperia (RI)
         Tel: 329 232 5996
        In May of 2015, I wrote a post in my blog about this great little shop located on the main street linking Casperia's Porta Romana with Piazza del Comune. Since its opening, we have enjoyed buying delicious organic produce, both fruit and vegetables, at Paolo and Sara's shop. 

Right now we are in citrus season and we have used their organic lemons and clementines to make Limoncello and Clemoncello, and their lemons to make our famous herbed salt. I'll write more on that in another post. 
     Sara and Paolo's shop is usually only open on Friday's, Saturdays and Sundays and their hours fluctuate from season to season. Here is a link to their facebook page which will give you up to date hours. Remember, most shops here close for the afternoon lunch and siesta between 13:00 and 16:00, sometimes as late as 16:30 and reopen in the late afternoon. Paolo and Sara have two different types of organic Sabine olive oil pressed from different cultivars of olives harvested from their oliveto below Monte Caprignano. These can be bought in tins of various sizes. The one we particularly like is the one labelled "Luma Frutti Antichi".

In Cantalupo:

       G.S. Market
       Km 21.400 SS 313
       02040 Cantalupo in Sabina (RI)
    The G.S. supermarket located below and to the west of Cantalupo's historic centre on the Via Ternana, also known as SS 313, is a great place to shop if you have access to a car. It is larger than the Conad in Casperia so there is a wider variety of things to buy. I wrote a post on Amadeo, the owner and the market's chief butcher, and his prize chianina bull Scirocco a number of years ago. Amadeo lives on a beautiful farm a kilometre or so south of the market, close to the recently restored Church of Sant'Adamo. Besides raising cows, sheep and goats, he also has extensive olive groves around his farm. The Galena and Sant'Adamo brand olive oil for sale at the G.S. Market is his. We have tried both in past years and they are wonderful oils. This year so far we have had a couple of bottles of the Galena, and it is spectacular. Besides these two oils from Cantalupo, the G.S. Market also sells an oil from Casperia labelled "Casperia". How simple is that? All of these oils are available in a number of sizes, from 750ml bottles to three litre tins.

       Azienda Agricola Biologica Settimi Dante
       Vocabolo Fonte Taverna 57/B
       02040 Cantalupo in Sabina (RI)
       Tel: 347 456 5660
       E-mail: dantesettimik@gmail.com 

If you have ever had the pleasure of staying in Casperia's signature B&B, La Torreta, you will most likely have tasted this delicious oil. 

Dante Settimi, the producer, is the owner's son-in-law. Dante's delicious oil is used in the meals served at this historic B&B and is also used in their very popular cooking classes. Dante's oliveto is located just west of Casperia in neighbouring Cantalupo and is certified organic. His oil is a full flavoured blend made from mostly the Carboncella cultivar with some Leccino and Frantoio as well. Dante also grows organic produce. Here is a little vimeo video to give you an idea of what his property looks like.

At Farfa:
      Olio Mei
      via di Porta Montopoli, 31
      02032 Fara in Sabina (RI)
      Tel: 0765 277156
      Web: www.oliomei.it
      E-mail: info@oliomei.com
This Sabine olive oil touts itself as the only olive oil from Farfa. 

If Fabrizio says so, it must be true. Beyond the history and the caché though, I can assure you that Fabrizio Mei's oil is delicious. It has all the wonderful freshness, fruit, tickley pepper and pleasant bitterness typical of the better oils of the region. If you are visiting the Imperial Abbey of Farfa and are looking for a delicious souvenir of your visit, a bottle or tin of Olio Mei is a perfect solution. Remember to swing by in cherry season for some truly spectacular cherries!    

In Montebuono:
      Frantoio Oleario Minicucci Cairo SRL
     1, Via Sargnano, 2
       02040 Montebuono (RI)
       Tel:0765 607059
       Fax: 0765-609021
     Web: http://www.frantoiominicucci.com.spazioweb.it/
      I wrote about this frantoio in my previous post. It was one of two modern, very clean and busy operations we visited during our very informative and memorable motorcycle olive oil and culture tour hosted by the Pro Loco of Montebuono and the Sabinacci Motorcycle Club in November of 2015. 

It was here that we ended our tour with a BBQ lunch and bought two litre tins of the golden green fragrant oil produced at this mill. Olive growers come from as far away as Casperia and possibly farther to mill their olives here. It is one of a select number of olive mills licensed to mill organic olive oil. Our friends Sara and Paolo take their organic olives to be milled here. If you are planning a tour of the Montebuono area and have made arrangements with the Comune to have a tour of the historic San Pietro ad Muricentum Church with its breathtaking frescoes, this frantoio is a hop, skip and a jump further along the road leading to the church from the town centre.

      Olio Sapora
      Azienda Agricola D. Di Mario
      Via S. Andrea, 7
      02040 Montebuono (RI)
      Tel: 0765-607663
      E-mail: oliosapora@libero.it
      Web: http://www.oliosapora.com/
         I wrote about this modern, clean, and very busy frantoio in my earlier post as well. It was the first olive mill we visited during our memorable "Andar per Olio e per Cultura in Motocicletta" motorcycle tour of the area around Montebuono and Cottanello. It was here that we enjoyed our first taste of this year's freshly pressed olive oil on a piping hot bruschetta. 

This frantoio sells their own certified organic extra virgin olive oil in three size options: bottles of 500 and 750ml and in five litre tins. The oil is uniquely fruity and comes from a blend of four cultivars: Moraiolo, Leccino, Frantoio and the local favourite, Carboncella, which adds a pleasant light bitter element to the oil. Remember, if you are looking for not only a delicious but a healthy extra virgin olive oil, that it is this bitter, almost peppery flavour of the high polyphenol content that you should be looking for.

In Poggio Mirteto:
       E Non Solo Carne
      via Giacomo Matteotti, 23
      02047 Poggio Mirteto (RI)
      Tel: 0765 22197
      The name of this very highly regarded butcher shop situated one floor above Poggio Mirteto's popular La Chianina Restaurant means, "And Not Only Meat", and it's true. This remarkable little store is a dream for the buon gustaio. First of all, yes! Their meat is truly excellent, from their fresh beef, veal, pork, and lamb to their sausages and cured meats. 

Recently we were treated to one of their specialties. This is a beautiful herb and olive oil dressed pork loin wrapped in a long bread loaf, most likely a baguette, then wrapped in pancetta, and tied up in string. You roast it on a baking pan covered in parchment paper at 180 C for 60 minutes turning it over after 30 minutes. Let it rest for 10 minutes or so before slicing and serving. Mamma mia! My mouth is watering just writing this. This store also sells all sorts of artisanal pasta, polenta, jams, marmalades, compotes, lentils, farro, cheeses, as well as an amazing sourdough bread produced from a 90 year-old starter!

They also sell though delicious Sabina D.O.P. Olive Oil produced by the Sabina D.O.P. Consortium in tins of various sizes as well as some bottled Sabine olive oil from select individual producers. There are so many amazing things in this store make sure you have enough cash on you or your credit card handy as you will walk out with more than you intended when you went in. Here is a link to their Facebook Page.  

      Ecofattorie Sabine
      Via Ternana, 2
      02047 Poggio Mirteto (RI)
      Tel: 0765.26016
      E-mail: info@ecofattorie.it
      Web: http://www.ecofattorie.it/index.html

At the other end of Poggio Mirteto, more to the west and closer to the Tiber River and the Poggio Mirteto Scalo railway station, you will find another gourmet's paradise, Ecofattorie Sabine cooperative. We have been going to Ecofattorie Sabine for 10 years now. They have excellent local cheeses--the first time I tried their ricotta al forno I thought I had died and gone to heaven--salumi, local organic meat, pasta, and the best rye bread you will sink a tooth into this side of the Tiber. They also sell honey, marmalades, jams and wine. We recently visited their newly expanded operations and were very impressed with what we saw, tasted and bought. 

Ecofattorie Sabine offers two different extra-virgin olive oils: "Capofarfa", which is fruity, sweet, traditionally pressed in the ancient family mill, and "Podere Moricelli", which is medium fruity, from handpicked organic olives, traditionally milled.

In Torri in Sabina:
     Colle Magrini
     Vocabolo Carpinete, 30/B
     02049 Torri in Sabina (RI)
     Tel: 076562381
     Web: www.collemagrini.it 
         E-mail: info@collemagrini.it
       This producer in Torri makes oil of extremely high quality pressed in a modern clean mill. Their oil is a blend of three types of olives: Frantoio, Leccino and Carboncella and comes highly recommended by our friend and internationally renowned olive oil expert, Johnny Madge.

In Vescovio/Tarano:
       Fattorie San Biagio di Marcheggiani Marco
      via Palica Tiburzi, snc
      02047 San Polo di Tarano (RI)
      (Available at L'Oasi Restaurant in Vescovio) 

This amazing oil has a funny story behind it. Some years back we discovered the amazing restaurant called L'Oasi situated beside the beautiful romanesque former cathedral church of Sabina at Santa Maria in Vescovio in Torri in Sabina. It was a beautiful warm March day in 2012. We were in awe of the beauty of our natural surroundings and were very hungry. I remember sitting outside in the beautiful courtyard beside the church and enjoying an amazing meal of trofie con salsa di noci which was a Ligurian twisted short pasta with walnut pesto (white, not green) followed by a dish of perfectly grilled sea bream. 

It had to be one of the best meals of my life. The following year when we visited Sabina again we wanted to repeat this experience. This second time we visited, it was cooler outside so we opted to dine inside. There was a welcoming fire burning in the fire place. As we were going over the menu, a man, we found out later he was the proprietor, Marco, came by with our wine, water and a plate for freshly toasted bruschette. We were so focussed on deciding what to orderShould I risk something new, or do I order the delicious trofie again?—that we did not eat the bruschette right away. All of a sudden Marco comes by and whisks away our uneaten bruschette replacing them with some fresh from the fireplace. "These should be eaten while they are still warm!" he reprimanded us in Italian then walked away. Richard and I looked at each other, astonished, then burst out laughing. Of course, Marco was right. The oil on the beautifully toasted and salted bread was his own, Fattorie San Biagio and it was delicious. Later we went over to talk to Marco and I explained why we had committed the unforgivable error. I explained that I we were huge fans of his restaurant and that I had written a blog post about our experience. That seemed to mollify him. As we were standing talking, we noted a display of his olive oil and bought some bottles to take back to Canada. Every time we shared some of his precious oil on freshly toasted bruschette with friends in Vancouver we would tell the story, laugh, and order them to eat the bruschette while they hot!

Marco stands proudly beside his beautiful oil. Eat his bruschette while they are hot!
There are a number of other producers which should be featured and will be soon. In the meantime, I would like to announce that the English language version of my friend Giuseppe Bizzaro's book on the history of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and its connection to Sabina's olive oil is now printed and will be for sale in a number of places including Osteria Vigna and La Torretta B&B in Casperia. I will add other information as it becomes available. Be on the lookout for this title: Sabine Divine Nectar: The Hidden History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and the World's First Oil Crisis.

The Italian language version, which is named Delizia Sabina, Maledizione Romana: Il Ruolo Nascosto dell'Olio d'Olive Sabina nel Destino dell'Impero Romano is available in a number of places in Sabina including E Non Solo Carne at Poggio Mirteto.

For those of you wishing to explore further the wonderful world of Sabine olive oil, there are a number of options including Johnny Madge's highly rated Olive Oil Tours, as well as the recently reopened Sabine Olive Oil Museum at Castelnuovo di Farfa. 

An antique olive press

I recently had the opportunity to visit the museum after a special reopening ceremony a few weeks back and I was very impressed with the antique olive presses and other related paraphernalia. 

There are some interesting art and musical exhibits as well. 

This exhibit concerns music created by the sound of dropping olive oil

This revolving olive tree actually creates an eerie type of music

So far the museum is only open on weekends and other days by special appointment. 

This olive crushing stone wheel was once powered by mules or donkeys who were much stronger than the average Canadian
If you were planning to visit the museum, a good idea would be to combine it with a visit to Farfa Abbey. Nearby Castlenuovo di Farfa is the ancient church of San Donato built on the site of an old fortress. The ancient Roman spoglia incorporated into the church's walls are interesting.