Valentina's Love of Oil
Here in Calabria, there are many things we hold dear - but there is one thing that trumps all… Food. I was taught to cook before I could walk, it’s like breathing for me. From the moment I wake up to when I fall asleep I think about what I'll eat next. Some have called me obsessive, less respectable people have called me a glutton, but it never bothered me. Why? Because unlike some, I have good taste. And my good taste has guided not only my appetite, but all of my choices in life. Taste is my guardian angel, and she’s never led me astray.
Working in my Papa's café, nearby vendors and farmers would come with the hope of selling us their seasonal goods. It was one of my favorite parts of the day, tasting the clementine's of early fall, cheeses aged in nearby caves, or chili's of late summer. But there was only one thing my Mama always kept in stock... In the late fall every year, Jovanni would come to the café with a cart pulled by his lucky burro, Fiore. Fiore would pull that clunky old cart from the Ionian to Tyrrhenian coast, over 80 kilometers, with a year's supply of the finest olive oil. I don’t use that word lightly, finest. As I said earlier I’m a woman of taste, and to give anything my highest praise requires extraordinary flavor. Mama swore by this oil, calling it a blessing from Mother Mary herself. No other olive oil would do, Papa gave up fighting a long time ago. She said a touch of this oil could bring life to even the most sour of dishes.
The secret to the oil was both its heritage and it's farm. Dolce Di Rossano was a rare cultivar even then. Dating back to Byzantine times, it’s an heirloom olive that requires love and care to offer it’s bountiful bouquet of flavors. Mild, buttery, refreshing and nutty, with a peppery finish, it's balanced profile can only be achieved by using traditional methods.
The plants are watched throughout fall to harvest at the exact moment of peak ripeness. Each olive is picked by hand (an important step in making sure each is ripe), and cold pressed all in the same day. Pressing the same day maximizes nutrient and flavor retention within the oil, any longer and the volatile compounds within the oil are lost. Italy has the highest standards of olive oil anywhere in the world, even the words ‘olive oil’ conjure images of the Italian countryside. Within Italy, Calabrian oils are prized for their peppery finish and buttery texture, varietal styles like Dolce Di Rossano are only found in Calabria and Puglia.
With the care that goes into such oil, it was important for us to take as much care as it’s farmers had. When Jovanni and Fiore came to town, we would all help stowing the bottles in our cellar. Fine olive oil must be kept dark, UV rays damage the olive oil and affect its flavor. This can happen rapidly, so when Nico told us he was bringing our best Calabrian oil to Stati Uniti I told him to buy some nice cans instead of heavy glass bottles. They keep the oil dark and ship much lighter, in Calabria we care about the environment - glass is a foolish choice used for nothing more than the appearance of quality. Yet another example of Valentina knows best. Maybe if he visited once in a while I wouldn’t have to share my hard-earned knowledge via email... or better yet, he could write his own damn blog posts!