Sigh. I have been smiling since yesterday; we went to a frantoio. A frantoio is a an olive-oil pressing facility/palazzo. It is the olive oil version of a winery. October and November represent the time frame where olives are shaken or combed off trees—into nets—and gathered for pressing.
It is when nuovo olio (new oil) shows up at outdoor markets (last week we rounded 4-5 tables in our nearby piazza, and tasted new oil from their respective olive orchards). When tasting just-pressed oil, you are invariably enjoying seasonal flavors specific to only certain parts of the world. At the frantoio I try the oil: the flavors bring to mind wads of grass in my mouth and pepper bombarding the back of my throat. Yet I want more… it is a special treat to have just-pressed olive oil hit the top of your mouth.
Why top of your mouth? Well, in the same way you pull air into your mouth to oxidize the wine over your palate, to taste olive oil you suck in air then use your tongue to press oil to the roof of your mouth. It is how you experience the full flavor of the oil, and comprehend its flavor profile.
Our tour guide was Eleonora; she grew up on the orchard with her family. The day we were there, her grandfather was coordinating olive picking, pressing and bottling. Friends and neighbors were helping—and went home with jugs of oil. We learned a lot about olives and oil pressing that we didn’t know, and felt spoiled to have an individual tour and tasting.
- mosquitoes are bad for olive oil (already we aren’t big fans of mosquitoes; imagine our heightened disdain); they eat the olives and too many in a given year can up [to a fault] the acidic notes in the oil.
- to taste, oil should be around 27 degrees Celsius.
- before you taste, inhale the aromas one nostril at a time (why?), to supply heightened awareness of the aroma (translation: each nostril works harder when it is on its own).
- to sip the oil, place front of tongue behind teeth and roll oil onto tongue, sucking in air while pressing tongue to roof of mouth. You are trying to pull the oil up to your roof, while avoiding the very tip of your tongue.
- Laws changed 20 years ago or so, and even small time producers of oil have to follow big producer rules. They had old oil presses for show, but had to purchase and now use new presses. Fortunately they could afford it, but it is difficult for small vendors.
- New oil is cloudy and begins to settle after 2 months; after a year it is quite clear and considered ‘old oil.’
- Old oil is used primarily for cooking, new oil is used As Is (sandwiches, salad, dipping bread, etc.).
Needless to say, it was love at first site. We bought a few bottles with promises to return soon (it is actually quite close to Florence: lucky us). And as I was getting in our little [rental] car, I decided: my new favorite color is nuovo olio. Sigh.
For your info:
Villa Torre Rossa
Via Naldino, 11
You will notice on the website, pictures of the orchard as well as recently renovated apartments (plus pool) at Villa Torre Rossa. They are managed by Eleonora, the same gal who gave us the olive oil tour & tastings. She speaks both Italian and English (and I think maybe French). I am sure it would be a treat to stay there any time of year—especially because it is in the heart of Tuscany—but I have a soft spot for the time of year when they are just picking and pressing the olives.