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.