Given the vast number of brands, farms and producers available to the British consumers, we have selected 3 of our favourite books about the world of extra virgin olive oil.
The first one is Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller, an American journalist who lives in Liguria and a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and National Geographic and who has done extensive research about the production and marketing of olive oil. A truly fascinating book. Here is a review by the Guardian.
We are delighted to announce the launch of a new product from our partner Due Vittorie from Modena: Dolceto white condiment with balsamic vinegar.
Dolceto is produced from a blend of aromatic and sweet grape must and fine Italian wine vinegar. With a density of 1.2 and a low acidity, it is best used with fresh salads, steamed vegetables, delicate fish, berries and fruit salads. Its taste is well-balanced, fresh and sweet.
It comes in the round 250ml glass bottle.
The new 2020/2021 harvest is finished and we had the opportunity to taste many news oils. Whilst there have been significant changes in volumes of production around the Mediterranean, we continue to find real gems of carefully crafted premium olive oils from our partners.
Frantoio Franci, the award-winning artisan producer based in Tuscany, with the highest score of 100 points in the 2021 edition of Flos Olei, has launched a single variety coratina which we highly recommend for lovers of intense olive oils. It displays a powerful and elegant taste, complex with well-defined bitter and spicy notes of long persistence and good harmony. We have thoroughly enjoyed it drizzled over a butternut squash soup. The Toscano IGP has won another Gold Medal at the 2020 New York International Olive Oil Competition. This medium fruity Tuscan is particularly well suited to a tomato and mozzarella salad.
In Spain, our partner Oro Bailen is back with their 4 monocultivar extra virgin olive oils, hojiblanca, arbequina, picual and frantoio. Whilst picual continues to be regarded as one of the world's finest olive oils, winning year after year gold medals in the most prestigious competitions, we have been delighted to discover the new 2020/2021 hojiblanca, the mildest oil in the range. It has a beautiful fruitiness and is great to embark on a journey into the world of premium olive oils.
In Tunisia, after a particularly warm fall, our partner Domaine Fendri had to wait until the second half of November to start the harvest. A drop in temperatures is crucial to give the mild chemlali variety its fruitiness. We found the new 2020/2021 oil to be balanced, complex in flavours with a long finish and a slight degree of bitterness. We enjoyed it on fresh vegetables and sourdough bread. Domaine Fendri was a finalist in the 2020 edition of the Mario Solinas International Olive Oil Competition.
The high street is full of products with the word balsamic, from glazes to 100 year old balsamic vinegars which range from £2 to £200. To better understand what drives price and quality of balsamic vinegar, it is important to understand its provenance and production process.
Balsamic vinegar provenance
Balsamic vinegar is produced in the province of Modena in the North of Italy in small quantities and through a long ageing process. The consortium of Italian balsamic vinegar producers has set a very detailed set of rules and parameters which need to be follow in order to obtain their stamp of approval. This includes the use of local wine grapes such as Lambrusco and Trebbiano. Balsamic vinegar is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO or DOP in Italian) which confirms its provenance. Traditional balsamic vinegar bottles also contain a numbered seal which allows to trace the origin of the product and monitor production volumes which tend to be very small.
Taste and aroma of balsamic vinegar
Balsamic vinegar has a dark colour, a dense syrupy texture, a complex aromatic profile often referred to as the bouquet and a balanced sweet-sour taste.
Balsamic vinegar production
The pressing and cooking of the grape must happens at the same time. It is subsequently cooked in an open recipient for several hours to start the concentration process. This leads to the aging process which takes places in wood barrels of decreasing sizes, starting from the largest one initially and ending with the smallest which will be used to extract a small quantity of balsamic vinegar. 12 to 25 years are necessary for the product to reach the appropriate profile to qualify for the DOP certification. As a rule of thumb, only about 10% of the liquid remains after 25 years and this is one of the main drivers of the price of aged balsamic vinegars.
Food pairings with balsamic vinegar
The 12 year-old balsamic vinegar is referred to as "traditionale" and is best suited to warm dishes such as a caponata, risotto, salads vegetables or ice cream and strawberries. The 25 year-old balsamic vinegar referred to as "extra vecchio" is ideal on parmigiano reggiano, meat and fish dishes. In all cases, only a few drops may be sufficient to enhance your dish.
Balsamic vinegar: a popular Christmas gift
Similarly to fine wines, aged balsamic vinegars, through its complex and long production process, has naturally become a popular Christmas present. A product which used to be confined to the Italian aristocracy has become more democratised. Its shelf life also means that it can be enjoyed over a long period of time with friends and family and used as a rare ingredient for those special occasions.