21 February 2014

Artisanal Olive Oil in Emilia-Romagna

We are seated at a long wood table beautifully scarred and burnished from many years of use. Contrasting with the old table, we have before us tiny plastic cups half-filled with olive oil. The oil is slightly greenish and holds a surprise we're about to discover.

"What do you taste?" asks Signore Gianluca Tumidei, proprietor of Tenuta Pennita, an olive oil (and wine) producer in Brisighella in Emilia-Romagna.

After our first sip of oil, a woman in our group starts coughing. No wonder. "It's spicy!" she says. She's right, spicy in a way I've never tasted before in olive oil.

We taste another of his oils made from a different type of olive. (There are 740 kinds of olive trees in Italy, says Signore.) It's a beautiful pale yellow-green, with a more blended taste. Signore suggests the taste of green tomato. Another oil tastes of artichoke, but citricy. We sip the oil straight from the tiny cups. Signore Tumidei is adamant that one should never try to taste the delicate nuances of a fine olive oil when it's drizzled on bread, any more than you would taste a fine wine this way.

There's an understated air of ritual as we taste, even from tiny plastic cups. (Professional olive oil tasters always drink from a blue glass so they can't see the color of the oil, which seems a shame.)

Signore Tumidei tells of the time when an olive oil producer in New Zealand sent him a gift of olive oil. He and friends spread the oil on bread. Other pieces of bread were drizzled with his own oil. Suddenly, everyone was called away with only the dogs left in the room. When they returned, all the bread with Italian oil was gone, but the bread with N.Z. olive oil was untouched by the dogs.

We go outside and take in the farm and countryside. Olive oil will never taste the same.

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