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 word harissa comes from the arabic word "هرس" which refers to the pounding or crushing of sun-dried peppers which is its main ingredient. They are typically mixed with garlic, caraway seeds, cumin, salt, sun-dried tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. Some recipes also include dried mint.
Peppers arrived in Tunisia in the 16th century during the Spanish occupation and quickly become a key ingredient in its cuisine. Today, harissa can be found all over the world and has been fully adopted as a condiment from Europe, the Middle East to the United States. Prestigious chefs such as Yoram Ottolenghi often uses it his original recipes, showcasing the diversity of the South Mediterranean cuisine.
Many harissa recipes have developed over the years. We currently carry three different versions produced by Moulins Mahjoub, our partner from Tunisia in the North of Tunisia. Our organic Tunisian harissa paste is our best-sellers, it is the spiciest of the range and contains 80% baklouti peppers, a particularly hot chili pepper variety. It is very versatile for sandwiches, sauces, stews, soups, fish and meat dishes but given its strength it should be used in moderation. The traditional harissa, is the typical Berber recipe, it has a slightly smoked flavour, a medium spiciness, which makes it ideal for roasts and vegetables. Our mildest one is the sweet pepper harissa and can be used as an anti-pasti, together with pasta or on toasted bread.
Our harissa can be bought on our website, and in some of the UK's best fine food and organic stores such as Planet Organic in London, Dugard and Daughters in Ensfield or Infinity stores and bakery in Brighton.
For its 2020 edition of the Great Taste Awards, we are delighted to have won 7 new recognitions together with our partners.
1. Due Vittorie Apple Vinegar: won 3 Great Taste stars (won by less than 2% of the participants in the competition). Here are some of the judges’ comments: "Beautiful, deep golden vinegar. The aroma is of bittersweet apples. The taste.....wow, the taste. We had to check that there wasn't honey in the ingredients such was the level of sweetness that married perfectly with the acetic, rich, caramel balsamic. The viscosity is that of a darker, older balsamic...the length is unwavering in its balanced purity....What a corker. An aroma of fine old wood furniture and a cellar filled with barrels draws you in. The flavour is both fruity and sharp, beautifully crafted and perfectly balanced. We could drink this product as it is. Quite delicious. There is a roundness and sweetness that harmonises with the acetic tang. This is made by someone who really knows what they are doing. What a pleasure to taste this. Glorious....Caramel and rich in appearance, beautifully clear. A prominent cooked apple aroma. WOW! what a delicious vinegar - sweet “caramelly” notes balanced by the sharp vinegar. Still very much an apple cider vinegar but does have some of the character of a balsamic, which the method of production obviously has created.
2. Oro Bailen Arbequina extra virgin olive oil: won 2 Great Taste stars. The Great Taste judges mentioned :” There is a great deal of character to this oil whilst still being gentle.”
3. Oro Bailen Frantoio extra virgin olive oil: won 1 Great Taste star. Commenting on Oro Bailed Frantoio, the Great Taste judges mentioned “beautiful, deep, green gold oil with a sparkling clear appearance and aromas of warm freshly cut, sweet meadow hay. On the palate it is rich, smooth and creamily textured, fresh-tasting with notes of tomato leaf and bitter herb, followed by a vigorous, spicy pepper impact hitting the senses. High levels of lasting peppery heat, a certain pungency and a vegetal bitterness populate the finish. A gold-green oil with apple and wild rocket intensity on the nose.”
4. Oro Bailen Hojiblanca extra virgin olive oil: won 1 Great Taste star. Commenting on Oro Bailen Hojiblanca, the Great Taste judges ...” What an exquisite colour of golden green, perfectly clear. The aroma of freshly cut grass also has elements of cold buttered artichokes and green bananas. The mouthfeel and texture are silky smooth with a fresh young olive fruitiness, a little bitterness midpalate, and a warm and reassuring pepperiness on the finish….Vibrant in colour with a grassy, citrus nose. Peppery, meadowy and fruity in taste.”
5. Moulins Mahjoub organic hand-rolled wholewheat m'hamsa: won 1 Great Taste star. The judges found : "There was also an array of nutty flavours here that ranged from walnut to hazelnut which we enjoyed"
6. Moulins Mahjoub organic Tunisian shakshuka: won 1 Great Taste star. "This tastes homemade and without any taint from being jarred" said a judge.
7. Moulins Mahjoub organic artisan sauce with black olives and artichokes: won 1 Great Taste star. The judges commented on its "Wonderful vibrant colour with fabulous fresh aroma. A true smell of the Med. The flavour from the olives and artichokes is outstanding. All the ingredients are bringing an amazing fresh zing."
The Artisan Olive Oil Company is a London based importer, distributor and wholesaler serving independent, speciality and organic stores as well as department stores across the UK.
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.