Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Abruzzo, land of olives, saffron, wines, candied almonds, what more? You won't believe it, but try and add beer to it.

I just discovered that next to the production of industrial beers as the Peroni brand, Abruzzo is home of an interesting brewery in Spoltore, just above Pescara: Almond bier. http://www.birraalmond.com/

The reason of their name is that they started up in the premises of a former almond producer. A hommage to the past of their region. So in the same space where once local women used to select almonds, now their children and grandchildren produce an eccellent beer, appreciated by the most famous Italian sommeliers. Their Grand Cru is especially recommended for the festive celebrations in December.

The reason I mention them, is that I find the recipe section of their website very interesting. Several traditional abruzzese recipes revisited with beer as an ingredient. So next time you want to entertain in Abruzzo style, surprise your guests with beer. They will love it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Home-made olive oil from Abruzzo is what made me a big, healthy girl. Good, cooking with your own family-produced olive oil is the way most Italians of my generation and younger were raised. This has marked our taste-buds forever (must be the stuff they call imprinting). Problem is, everybody else knows only supermaket oils, so their taste standards are based on the wrong things. But there is hope for change.

All this because yesterday I took part into two workshop on excellent Italian olive-oils, held in Amsterdam and organized by the Italian Trade Commission ICE. We were lectured by Pierpaolo Arca, an outstanding expert and professional taster, on how to taste olive-oils. We tried 6 different sorts, and we noticed the deep differences in flavours, "hues and odours", bitterness (or the lack thereof) and all sort of subtle differences we never knew you can taste in oil.

Pierpaolo told us all there was to know about the chemical composition of olive oils, what makes the difference between an extravergine, vergine and plain olive oil (the last one is not edible as such, that's why it undergoes all soort of chemical treatments, to make cheap olive oil, SO JUST DONT' BUY IT).

All this supported by international research telling us what a great healing power natural olive-oil has. Just look at the statistics, said Pierpaolo (and, boy, how we looked at them) showing how people in olive-oil producing lands live longer and healthier compared with the European average. We left wondering how come people die at all, in Italy (or it must be that the reason of all the car-related deaths there.)

Basically Italy has the most severe legislation when it comes to the production of oil, the highest bio-diversity and that makes all Italian olive oils so rich and different from one another.

And Abruzzo? Well, three out of the nine producers present came from Abruzzo, and believe me, their oils taste almost like my own home-made olive oil. Which made me feel home again, in a cold winter Amsterdam night, with heavy rain, thunders and flashes outside.

But we didn't care about the weather, beause we were inside, all cosy, warm tasting olive oils. And marvelling at how much can you, how am I call it? FEEL, sniffing and drinking little sips of oil. We never knew before you can taste oil like you do with wine. Boy, were all the Dutchies flabbergasted by a sip of oil. Must have been alcohol in it.

Now some basic information:

Marco of the Podere Colle Arioso (info@collearioso.it)
Francesca of Cantinarte (www.cantinarte.com)

These guys produce the greatest olive-oil you ever tasted (that mean, if you have abruzzese tasting buds as I do). So if you are around the place, do yourself a favour and call on them.

Also, you can follow a 3-days course of Olive oil tasting organised by Slow Food in different locations in Italy. Check on www.slowfood.it. Something I will put on my list for 2008.

And, by all means, if you manage to get a good bottle of olive oil in your cupboard, just use it. Don't pass it down to next generation but be selfish and enjoy it yourself. Oil is no wine, and after a couple of years all the nice flavours are gone.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A hot summer in Abruzzo, the one we just had, and not just because of the weather. Actually, we were soooo lucky with the weather. OK, one week average 44 degrees hot, but we were staying with my brother at the seaside, and hot weather is just more bearable on a beach. If it gets too much, I can always decide to stay in the water till my neck, and this is exactly what I did. What the heck, that's what I am dreaming about the whole year in rainy Amsterdam, so it's not just a bit of hottiness to spoil my day.

Then we went home, in de middle of the place where woods were burning. And that makes a completely different story. I was following the fires everyday on the news and everyday there were new ones. A plane crashed while attempting to estinguish the fires, the pilot died, the region called for and received the calamity status (which means: extra money allotted to repair the damages). And then we went there ourselves. Me, my mom and the kids. After leaving L'Aquila, while driving toward Bussi, we could see far away a tower of smoke. Too far to understand where exactly it was, but undoubtedly from our village's side.

Then just before Navelli, we drove into thick smoke. We could smell it now, and I can tell you, fresh wood burning smells really nice, I always loved it. Just not this one time. My older child was also triggered by the smell. "Mom, do you smell it? They are roasting sausages and meat on the stick". Yes, it smelled of campfire, and of arrosticini, that's what he meant. And than I thought we were lucky it was'n a garbage belt burning. That one wouldn't been smelling nice.

So we stayed a week in the village, and every evening we would go out for a walk and see a thin red line of burning fires somewhere far away, on the edge of a mountain. On the way back home the line has moved.

The road near Navelli was closed to traffic the day after we passed. So all the traffic was diverted on a couple of godforgotten mountain roads (with fantastic views, that's true). After two days someone put handwritten signs on a cardboard to show were to go to each village. Beacause nobody, really, knows these roads. When it became clear it was no temporarly diversion, the signs became more solid. I don't know if by now they re-opend the main road. Might not happen that soon, Navelli and Collepietro were truly badly hit.

And for the whole week I felt under siege in my own village. You know, the place I am longing to go one whole year long. We have never been seriously in danger, that's not it, but it was a very nasty feeling seeing smoke towers during the day, and burning lines at night. And one evening, after the first, big summer storm of the season we saw after a thunder a new fire starting on the road to Villa Santa Lucia. Probably the only one with a natural cause of the whole season.