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A Gourmet Guide to Oil and Vinegar

We have been greatly enjoying using this wonderful book by Ursula Ferrigno. Full of beautiful recipes and captivating photography, it is a brilliant introduction into cooking with oil and vinegar, specifying what types of oil work well with certain foods, and all presented in an approachable, lively way. The recipes are simple and delicious, encapsulating Ursula's encyclopaedic knowledge of and natural instinct with ingredients. The book has a useful introduction which gives the reader a good background on the history and uses of olive oil through the ages, as well as some lovely tips such as how to combine it into your beauty regime!
We are very excited to have a number of the oils that we import featured in the book, and are grateful to Ursula for selecting them.
Published by Ryland Peters & Small, the book is available from their website, www.rylandpeters.com, on Amazon, or in all good bookshops.

New Season Oils

As we receive deliveries of new season oil from Italy, France and Spain, we can start to breathe a sigh of relief that, although the 2014 olive harvest has been far from easy for producers, the oils we have tasted so far have been of a good quality and flavour. In fact, it has been fascinating to taste the fruits of this catastrophic harvest (one producer has asserted that it is the worst since 1933 for olive oil production in Italy) because, with fewer olives and less varieties to choose from, it showcases even more the skill and knowledge of the blenders who have managed to retain each farm’s individual qualities and characteristics. We have noticed a certain softness to the oils that we have tried, but there is good balance and plenty of fruit too.

There are some oils that we will not be able to taste at all this year; due to the shortage of good-quality, healthy olives produced by organic farming we have a severe shortage of organic olive oil. Colonna in the Molise, Badia a Coltibuono in Tuscany and Viola in Umbria will not be bottling any of their organic oils, though we will have some from Ravida (Sicily) and Castelas (France). L’Estornell in Spain have thankfully not suffered so badly from the same problems as much of Europe so supply of their delicious organic EVOO will not be interrupted.

2014 Harvest (so far...)

There has been much in the press recently about this year’s olive harvest, or the possible lack thereof. Andalucia, which is Spain’s biggest olive oil producer, suffered a prolonged drought over the summer, and Puglia, Italy’s equivalent region (producing one third of the country’s annual crop), has been cursed with a blight - the insect-borne xylella fastidiosa. Horrifyingly, farmers have had to resort to burning infected groves in order to stem the spread of the bacteria, which causes trees to shrivel up and stop bearing fruit. To make matters worse, this epidemic reached a head during August, when many in Italy traditionally go on a month-long holiday. This led to the authorities being criticised for their slow reactions – as one member of the national agricultural organisation dryly put it, ‘Xylella does not go on holiday.’

The latest IOC estimates for the 2014-2015 harvest predict that there will be a drop in production from the 3.164 million tonnes of olive oil produced last year to 2.56 million this. Happily, Greece, at least, is looking to nearly double its output after the very poor harvest it experienced last year.

Our producers have sent some reports of their experiences over the past few months, and though it has not been plain sailing for any of them, we are feeling cautiously optimistic that they have fared much better than many of the olive growers across Spain and Italy.
In Spain, the crop got off to a challenging start in May, when temperatures reached up to 38 degrees celsius during the day. This coincided with the flowering of the olive trees, damaging some of the blossom. Thankfully, during the evenings temperatures dropped and groves on the south west side of the country had the benefit of cooling Atlantic breezes. The rampant drought was less of a problem for those who had irrigation, obviously, and for that reason we are only expecting our Spanish producers to see a 10-15% drop in production, as opposed to the 50% decrease that is predicted for the country as a whole.

Meanwhile, producers in Italy are facing the fallout of an extremely humid summer, and the diseases that inevitably go with that. On writing this one producer was still unsure which varieties they would be able to harvest, and noted that the rumour mill was abuzz with the soaring prices of olives picked so far in Gargano, Apulia.
Many have complained of battles with the olive fruit fly, and there is no doubt that this year has not been an easy one. More news to come once harvests are over…