Recipes and News
2013 Harvest Report
We have now received the last of the new season oils from the 2013 harvest. It has been fascinating to taste each one, and note any differences that the conditions of the year have bought to the flavour of the oils. In general, happily this appears to have been a very good one in terms of quality.
The harvest started during our summertime for Morgenster in South Africa, who had the biggest crop to date. Also exceptional in quality, it lead to their oil being awarded 98% in this year's Flos Olei Guide, about which they are understandably delighted.
Many of our producers in Europe have had a bumper harvest too; Badia and Frescobaldi in Tuscany have enjoyed exceptional production, and the quality of olives that the wet spring and the warm - but not too hot - summer produced can be tasted in their wonderful oils. We thought that Badia's Albareto oil was particularly good, with surprisingly little bitterness but a rich, aromatic flavour.
Colonna also had an abundant crop, and luckily the year appears to have been marked by and absence of olive fly and disease for all of our producers. Over in Spain, Vea saw a significant increase in production compared to last year, thanks to heavy rains during the spring, as well as a better quality, fleshier olive than they had in 2012.
Valdueza (in the south-west of Spain), however, did experience a lower yield of oil from their crop, though it was still good. The area suffered a long winter and a consequently delayed flowering, followed by a very hot summer. Luckily they are prepared for this with good irrigation systems, and so avoided most of the problems a drought of this kind can bring.
France has had a successful year in some parts, and not so much in others. Lulu de Waldner, in the Vaucluse, saw a 25% increase in their crop, while Castelas was down on their production by nearly 40%. This has had no effect on the quality of the oil, however, which is tasting even better than last year, if possible.
Click on the links to read each producer's harvest report in full.
I have in front of me a Press Release, dated 28th April 1990 for “The first public tasting of a wonderful new oil –Colonna Granverde” at The Conran Shop, London. The previous year I had visited Marina Colonna and her parents at their farm in the Molise, and Marina had poured a little oil out of a can over some grilled fish. It tasted wonderful, and Prince Francesco explained that it was a family recipe; a few lemons were chucked into the press along with the last of the olives at the end of the pressing season, which had a double propose: to produce this zesty citrus oil, and to start the cleaning process of the machinery. It was easy to persuade the Colonnas to produce a bit more the following year, and that was the start of it: the first Lemon Oil to be sold in the UK. Simon Hopkinson created a couple of recipes using it, one subsequently published in Roast Chicken and Other Stories.
In November Sika and I went to visit Marina and the production of Granverde it much as it has always been, just on a larger scale. The lemons are not picked from the tree outside the front door anymore, but are bought in from Sicily. They are, however, still peeled by hand, by the harvesters on a rainy day when they cannot get out in to the fields. The lemon rind still goes through the machinery as it used to. We pour it over asparagus, we mix it with good balsamic vinegar, and, of course, we pour it over grilled fish, like Marina did 23 years ago!
Here you can find a link to a short film Marina Colonna's son, Eugenio, has made about the farm. Very informative, and beautifully shot.
Visit to La Vecchia Dispensa
We recently took a trip out to visit our balsamic supplier, La Vecchia Dispensa, at their home in the village of Castelvetro di Modena, about 20 minutes outside the town itself. As the newest member of The Oil Merchant, it was fascinating to see where my favourite product comes from.
Aside from the warm hospitality, wonderful food and beautiful scenery that we were lucky enough to experience, the trip was an opportunity to cement our understanding of Balsamic Vinegar, how it's made and the sometimes complicated rules and regulations which surround its production (due to its now 'protected' status). The understanding of the latter was definitely helped along by the former! We cannot recommend the area enough, and ate some completely wonderful food, made all the more delicious, of course, by the exceptional Balsamic Vinegar that finished many of the dishes.
One of the most breathtaking (and knee-shaking) moments of the trip was the very steep ascent up the old prison tower which stands overlooking the checker-board square in the village centre. This is where the family keep their oldest barrels; its warmth in the summer and coolness in the winter make it ideal for balsamic production, and most of the batteries have lain there for generations. You can see us in the photo above leaning down to sniff some of the 60-year-old barrels, which release a rich, musty and highly acidic aroma.
For me, the most striking element of La Vecchia Dispensa is the consistent family narrative which surrounds the whole production. Historically, when a daughter became betrothed, her father gave a battery of balsamic vinegar barrels as a dowry. Consequently, many of the older batteries in the tower are inscribed with a daughter's name and a date. The Prison Tower walls are hung with old family photos where Simone, our guide and the son of the current Master Balsamic Maker, Signor Marino Tintori, was able to point out the corresponding namesakes. Balsamic Vinegar only started to become a commercial venture in the last half-century, but on this visit we were able to see how long and significant its history is to the region of Modena.