Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Great Gifting: More Deliciousness, From Italy

As mentioned in the previous post, there's more than enough goodness to go around this time of year. But this one was too good not to add to the list.

Before I get to the "gift" part of this post, I have to tell you about the mind-blowing factoid I learned while sitting in on Jeff Bergman's presentation to the staff at Nostrana. He's the brand manager of Manicaretti Italian Food Importers in Oakland, California, and was there to educate the staff about just-pressed olive oils from Italy—called olio nuovo in the north and olio novello in the south—that had just been air-freighted in that day.

Cathy Whims (l) and Jeff Bergman.

What Jeff said that countered everything I'd heard was that this newly pressed oil, while it's freshest in its first three months, won't go bad.

"These oils don't go bad," he said as my jaw dropped. "They just settle and soften." Indeed, he said, up to about a year old or so, they will gradually lose that signature peppery quality of new oil and become what he called "a common oil" after the initial three-month period of peak freshness. That is, they remain usable as long as they're kept away from olive oil's three enemies: light, heat and air.

Jeff Bergman of Manicaretti.

My shock was apparent, and he laughed as we proceeded to the tasting portion, where the traditional blue cup of oil—which conceals the color to avoid prejudicing your judgment of the flavor—is held cupped in one hand while the other hand covers the top in order to warm the oil and trap the polyphenols that give the fresh oil its distinct flavor and aroma. After a few seconds you lift the hand covering the top and take a strong whiff. Then you take a sip and inhale it with some air, similar to the way wine tasters do, to aerate the wine and spray it all around the inside of your mouth. If you're not coughing from the pepperiness hitting the back of your throat, something Jeff said even experts sometimes do, swallow and breath out so you can get more of the aroma coming back through your nose.

The three oils we tasted, and here's where the gift part comes in, are all very limited in production, and Cathy Whims is not only using them to flavor dishes on her menu, she's offering them to the public until the supply runs out. They were all flown in under controlled conditions and are as fresh as you would get them in Italy itself, so they're well worth giving to your favorite Ital-ophile or food fan. You can pick them up at the front desk at Nostrana during business hours or, better yet, have a meal and try them from the menu!

Jeff's notes are as follows:
  • Capezzana Olio Nuovo 2015 Toscana This year's Capezzana is unlike any we have previously tasted. The aroma is of fresh-cut grass and almonds. It offers a buttery, mild, fruity beginning—grassy and green—that fills the mouth with a delicate flavor of herbs and green olive. On the finish, there is a spicy note in the back of the mouth that is ticklish, fun, and pleasing. Truly amazing. Suggested Use: Drizzle it all over hearty soups, fresh cheeses, or winter squash. 500ml $51
  • Gianfranco Becchina Olio Verde Novello 2015 Sicilia This extraordinary oil has a fresh, grassy nose with a hint of bay leaf, green apples, green bananas, green almonds (note the trend?) and fresh hay. The taste is buttery and dances in the mouth, and the finish is a spicy thrill—a clean, bright chili pepper without any bitterness or pungency. Suggested Use: Use in green salads with hearty, bitter greens such as kale and collard greens, as well as over steamed romanesco and brussels sprouts. Drizzle over fish and vegetables hot off the grill or over a traditional Sicilian caponata. 500 ml $47
  • Frescobaldi "Laudemio" First Pressing 2015 Toscana What a Tuscan olive oil! This is a sophisticated oil for the connoisseur, with a complex aroma of soft and loud notes held in equal balance. On the nose, there is a hint of cinnamon and eucalyptus. The taste is bitter, green, and spicy—like taking a healthy bite of a raw artichoke heart—and as tannic as a big structured wine. The color is unreal, like an emerald; the cut of the bottle emphasizes this jewel-like quality. Their best in many years. Suggested use: Drizzle on fettunta (toasted bread rubbed with garlic), over warm beans and chickpeas, broccoli and romanesco, or any bitter green salad. Pour generously over grilled meats such as a bistecca alla Fiorentina (grilled sliced T-bone steak). 250ml $35
Read this year's other Great Gifting posts: The Gift of DeliciousnessThe Gift of Class(es) and A Gift that Keeps on Giving.

No comments: