Friday, 4 March 2011

GOURMET WORDS FROM THE ITALIAN RIVIERA: OLIO - EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Its name deriving from the Greek elaion, olive oil reached Italy during the 4th century B.C., but for a long time it remained an exclusive treat of the well-to-do, the other strata of society sticking to strutto (clarified pork fat), nut oil, and a little butter. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the diffusion of oil (both as a condiment and a preservative), popularity being fostered by new technological innovations (i.e. hydraulic presses). Italy boasts a 700,000-ton yearly production and 38 DOPS, confirming remarkable variety and quality. Different acidity and peroxide levels account for the standard classification: extra virgin, virgin, corrente (to be blended with less acidic oils) and lampante (not fit for alimentary use).
In Liguria, oil has never followed monothematic leit motifs: surprises abound in a land where good (in more way than one) food has always represented one of the facet of historical popular wisdom (the hamlet of Varignano, near La Spezia, treasures the remains of a 2,000-year old oil mill…). The healthy qualities of oil (emollient, laxative, protective…).
Aurigo, Borgomaro, Diano San Pietro, Imperia, Lucinasco, Perinaldo, Ranzo, Villa Faraldi, Andora, Arnasco, Nasino, Toirano, Leivi, Moneglia, Pieve Ligure, Sestri Levante, Castelnuovo Magra…, from the ponente to the levante, have I forgotten any of the capitals of Ligurian oil? These few lines fail in containing the production of the whole regional arch. Oil boasts a millenary history and a brilliant future as the emblem of the Mediterranean diet (recent EU regulations call for stricter rules against forgery). Ligurian oil (a DOP since 1997) is the star of a myriad fairs: Apricale (IM) in March, Moneglia (GE) on Easter Monday, Baiardo (IM) in May, Leivi (GE) at the end of July, Toirano (SV) at the beginning of August, Rocchetta Nervina (IM) in November …
The Riviera di Ponente supplies the best Ligurian oil, straw yellow in colour and delicate – its flavor reminiscent of wild flowers, pine nuts and walnuts, sometimes slightly pungent. The darker the oil, the more intense the olive. A niche production (the triumph of quality over quantity), yield suffering the odds of boith frost and drought. Harvesting takes place within the first months of the year. Olives are often processed the old way in ancient oil mills endowed with granite presses.
The best companion for vegetable, pasta and fish dishes, Ligurian oil is the final expression of patiently tilled terraces, the trademark of the Rivere since the Early Middle Ages. The Benedictine monks applied their agricultural skills to the taggiasca variety, which is today’s champion all over the region; yet, do not miss remarkable lavagnina and arnasca - the protagonist of a touching museo Civiltà Contadina ad Arnasco (SV), Piazza IV novembre 8, tel. 0182 761178). Off the beaten gourmet tracks include the Frantoio-museo in Cervo (IM), Via Matteotti 31, tel. 0183 408149, the Museo delle Erbe in Cosio d’Arroscia (IM), Piazzetta Mazzini, tel. 0183 36278, the Museo del Pastore e della Civiltà delle Malghe in Mendatica (IM), tel. 0183 328713, the Museo Etnografico della Civiltà Contadina in Toirano (SV), Via Polla 12, tel. 0182 989968 (phone for checking opening hours in advance).




Luisa Puppo


Ligucibario

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