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The Good Oil

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September 30, 2014 / Italian / By
Anna

My friend Mac is a pretty versatile sort of a guy. He’s an artist turned Italian farmer and olive grower, and he’s an entrepreneurial eco-tourism operator as well here in Umbria. I’ll talk about the art and the niche tourist business he operates in another article - they are both food-related - but for now, we’ll concentrate on the olives, and the wonderful oil they produce.

I came to Italy twelve years ago a bit of an ignoramus as far as olive oil was concerned. It’s not as though I’d never had or used olive oil in my own cuisine in the Middle East - I most certainly had - but as far as I was concerned, if the bottle said “Extra Virgin” and it wasn’t the cheapest on the supermarket shelf, then that was pretty much the last word on olive oil. Or was it?

I can’t recall exactly when the scales fell from the eyes - maybe not even on that first visit - but certainly on my second visit to Umbria in particular, three years later, I’m sure the revelation came. It was the colour. and it was the smell and last and most important, it was the taste. Who would have thought a small roughly cut chunk of bread, dipped in just pure, olive green oil could taste so good! Mac markets his oil under the Chiacchiarini label - a tip of the cappello to his Italian wife’s family. Sadly, though not for him, it’s getting pretty hard to obtain, because he’s selling a very large part of his annual pressing outside of Italy. Luckily, he sets aside enough for the family’s own needs and mates who buy on a regular basis, but right now I’m eking out our very last five litre can until the new oil becomes available in mid-November.

I’ve learned that Italians are every bit as picky and choosy about olive oil as they are about pretty much every other aspect of the food world. The people I talk to about oil don’t much care about whether it’s extra virgin, or cold pressed, or picked by hand or by the variety of mechanical devices used in large olive groves. Of prime importance, it seems, is where the olives came from, because here in Bevagna, as in most of the olive growing regions of Italy, everybody knows someone with an olive grove and everybody has an opinion about whose olives are best and whether this year’s crop is as good as last year’s and so on.

So, if you’re in this part of Umbria, and you’d like to get to know the local olive oils a bit better, where to start? I’d recommend a lunchtime prosecco at the excellent Bottega di Assù. Assù always provides a plate of toasted bread dripping with her first choice olive oil to accompany the wine. Now if that isn’t a revelation to you, I don’t know what will be! After that, hot-tail it up to nearby Montefalco and either go for an oil tasting at the very cute Oleum - a shop which started just a few years ago as a specialist retailer of olive oils, but has since blossomed into a very successful little light lunch spot as well. No surprise in guessing what features pretty heavily in the dishes of the menu!

Finally, if you decide to take some Umbrian oil home with you, just be aware that it will almost certainly have to go in your checked-in luggage. You can buy little 250ml. bottles or 750 ml to 1 litre bottles. The larger the container, the more carefully you’ll need to pack. Finally, you could go the whole hog and buy a 5 litre can, but be aware that while the can itself weighs a lot less than glass, a 5 litre can will add around 4.6kgs to your checked-in luggage weight. I’ve done it quite a few times, and I haven’t had a disaster yet, but, oh dear, seeing oil dripping from your suitcase as it comes down the baggage carousel to you - that just doesn’t bear thinking about at the end of a long flight.

N/A

Country: Italy

Province/State: Umbria

City: Bevagna

Address: N/A

Zip/Post Code: N/A

Location Tips: N/A

Phone: N/A

Website:N/A

Price Guide:N/A (What's this?) N/A = home cooked meal,etc
$ = street food, fast food,etc
$$ = bistro, cafe, pub, bar,etc
$$$ = fine dining,etc

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