|Frances Mayes' Bramasole Extra Virgin Olive Oil. All photography except where noted is property of EuroTravelogue™. Unauthorized use is prohibited.|
If you know me, you know how much I love Tuscany with its golden hills of olive groves and vineyards punctuated by picturesque Tuscan villas and charming hilltop towns that await around every turn in the road. Despite my many visits to Tuscany, I have yet to stop at one of the vineyards or olive groves ripe with sun-drenched grapes and hearty fresh olives for a tour and tasting. Until such time comes, I must settle for imported wines and olive oils that bring those sweet tastes of Tuscany to life for me back home. With that said, I bring to you an olive-oil tasting that has changed forever the way I think about this elixir of life—a savory oil so full of the flavors of Tuscany.
|The sublime Tuscan countryside as seen from Montepulciano with fields of olive groves and vineyards.|
I've never really given much thought about olive oil other than the fact that it had to be extra-virgin or EVOO and imported from Italy and Spain mainly, and most importantly not a bargain brand on the shelf that could last until the next millennium. All of that changed when I received a small package of Frances Mayes' Bramasole EVOO, a small can plus a bottle from the year prior.
Fresh from this year's harvest in October, the small can of Bramasole Extra Virgin Olive Oil, whose name comes from Frances Mayes' historic and now very famous farmhouse in Tuscany, was the greenest oil I've ever seen and tasted. I couldn't wait to pour it liberally onto a plate, add my favorite dipping spices and then soak up my toasted bread like a sponge. And so I did! It was sublime and pardon the cliché, love at first bite! The rich and fruity flavor of the fresh picked olives burst inside my mouth and sent my taste buds reeling! I couldn't wait to use it for cooking and in my salads as well! The only other time I remember an olive oil tasting this good was when I was in Venice at a small café in Castello, and that became the standard for all oils since. Until now.
|Fresh from the harvest, these olives are destined to become a most savory oil. Photo: Giancarlo Dess, WikiMedia.org.|
|Olive grove in Tuscany. Photo: Alessandro Antonelli.|
After my initial tasting though, I had the most unexpected and peculiar reaction to the oil—a slight choking in the back of my throat which made me cough—but don't worry, after a little research, I found this to be a most welcomed reaction due to the oil's freshness. "How wonderful" I thought. Let me share a couple of paragraphs from an article I read that describes in more detail this reaction and its causes.
Harold McGee, "Extra Virgin Anti-Inflammatories," The New York Times, June 6, 2007
I also learned a lot about the not-so-delicate side of olive oil: the bitterness, the drying astringency and especially that peppery pungency that hits the back of the throat and provokes a cough. Some oils were so strong that they seemed more medicinal than delicious. But the Italian and Spanish judges consistently rated the most peppery, throat-catching oils at the top, nodding in admiration even as they gasped for breath.
The sensations of bitterness, astringency and pungency are caused by members of the phenolic family of chemicals. Phenols also have antioxidant properties and so help to protect the oil from going rancid. Whenever you taste an especially peppery oil, it’s an indication that the oil is rich in olive extracts and relatively fresh.
To read entire article, visit TheTuscanSun.com/AboutTheOil.
|Sublime Tuscan countryside replete with rolling hills of olive groves and vineyards, dotted by villas and this church. Photo: Guillen Perez.|
Following my sublime introduction to this fine oil, I couldn’t wait to drizzle on my bruschetta and even more so, use in my favorite dish—linguine or angel hair pasta with shrimp and garlic. As you can probably imagine, the meals were scrumptious and the fresh oil makes all the difference in the world! My mouth is watering just typing this.
So how does the olive go from tree to bottle? Thanks to some notes from Frances and Ed plus a little research online, I learned a lot about the cold-press technique employed for Bramasole EVOO.
|A variety of olives are mixed together to produce the savory extra virgin olive oil. Photo: Rainer Deml, WikiMedia.org.|
Let's take a closer look into how the oil is made. Of course we need to start with the raw ingredients—hand-picked olives from Tuscany, specifically, Frantoio, Moraiolo and Leccino olives from the Mayes' groves at Bramasole (Frances and Ed have been hand picking olives for more than 20 years) as well as the groves from the mill owner near Cortona.
The Cold Press
|Just washed, the olives roll off the conveyor and into the hopper where they will be ground into paste, pits and all. Photo: Chris P.|
After the harvest, the olives are processed through a series of hoppers and baths until all of the residue (branches, rocks, leaves, etc.) are removed. Then, the olives, with pits, are crushed into a paste and then either processed by centuries-old methods whereby the paste is placed between straw mats and crushed, or by more modern techniques employing a horizontal centrifuge to separate the water, residue and the finest EVOO. At the end, the elixir of life finally emerges from the pipes and is bottled or stored in giant vats.
It is important to know that during the cold-press process, without heat or chemicals, the temperature of the olive paste can never exceed 27 C or 85 F for it to be labeled as cold press extra virgin olive oil. And, it is extremely important to pick the olives soon after ripening and then press quickly thereafter to avoid increased acidity which results from last-in-the-season harvesting or allowing the olives to sit for extended periods of time between harvest and press.
Here are two short videos, the first shows the traditional method of pressing olives that dates back to the 17th century while the second shows modern production at a mill in California.
If you want to find out more about Bramasole EVOO or better yet, purchase your own case, check out TheTuscanSun.com for all the details. Like I said, the Bramasole oil does come at a price but if you gather up your friends and family to pitch in on a case, the cost is easier to digest, pun intended.
To order, you will need to join the Bramasole Convivium.
Did you know?
According to Ed Mayes, on average, Italians consume 15 liters of olive oil per person per year or 1/4 liter per week, while Americans consume only 1/2 liter in an ENTIRE year. Not me.