In the food world, January gives us a chance to catch our breath, to recover from the bacchanalian revelry of the holiday season. You may find your palate yearning to reject the richness of December, and replace it with foods of humbler origin. Bitter greens, legumes, farro, roasted root vegetables, and homemade stocks, soups and stews can get us through January. However, by mid-winter, when the displays of local seasonal food dwindle to potatoes and cabbage, it can be hard to resist the urge to pile-dive into a display of pinkish rock-hard Florida tomatoes. Thankfully, the beautiful novello harvest olive oils we received from Italy are the perfect antidote to Minnesota’s winter doldrums.
Novello (or in Spain: nuovo) extra virgin olive oils are a relatively new territory in the vast expanses of the American specialty food industry. Traditionally in Italy, olives are harvested in November, pressed immediately after, and held in stainless steel or terra cotta casks for a few months so that the oil has a chance to mellow, and the sediments a chance to settle. Novello oils skip the holding period, and go straight into bottles. The resulting oils can be neon green in color due to the olives’ high chlorophyll content. The flavors are wild, green, grassy, herbaceous, citrusy, and peppery, with a refreshing bitterness. As cliché as it sounds, you can really taste the Mediterranean sunshine when you try these beautiful olive oils.
This year we brought in three novello olives oils that represent the full flavor spectrum of their genre. Keep in mind that similar to wines, the flavor compounds in olive oils will continue to open up and develop once they’ve been exposed to oxygen. The oil you taste when you first crack open a bottle will be slightly different from when you taste the same bottle a few days later. It is also worth mentioning that we have very limited quantities of each of these oils. So grab ‘em while you still can!
• Capezzana Novello comes to us from the ancient estate of Tenuta di Capezzana, which sits on the outskirts of Tuscany. Their olive oil is made using primarily Moraiolo olives, and a smaller amount of the piquant Frantoio olive. The olive oil is extracted using the newer technology of a stainless steel continual press. The oil is then filtered through a fine cotton sieve, and bottled. Poured from the bottle, the oil is neon chartreuse in color, with a citrusy aroma. We tasted green tea, sweet fruitiness – specifically the tannins of pear skin, and a lingering gentle pepper. Though it’s a Tuscan oil, we think the Capezzana Novella is delicate enough to use on all matters of fish and seafood. Or perhaps just used simply to dress bitter greens, or drizzled on a crusty hunk of bread.
• Olio Verde Novello comes to us from Gianfranco Becchina who cultivates his olives and oversees the olive oil production on his sixty-acre estate near the Western Sicilian town of Castelveltrano. It is on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of both its production style, and flavor, to the Cappezzana. Gianfranco’s oil is made using the pungent Nocellara del Belice (DOP) olive, a longstanding favorite of Sicilian olive oil producers. He uses a stainless steel continual press to extract the oil from the olives, and a centrifuge to remove any remaining water and pomace. Beyond that, the oil is left unfiltered, which accounts for the cloudiness of the oil. Olio verde is a big grassy oil, it smells like a freshly mowed lawn, we think it tastes a bit like green tomatoes, with an artichoke-y bitterness and a big pepper finish. If you feel the need to experiment with this oil, all test-batches can be sent to the Great Ciao warehouse to be judged by our tasting professionals, especially if you are drizzling it over roast meats, or mashed potatoes.
• Laudemio Frescobaldi Novello oil was delivered to our warehouse yesterday. The Frescobaldi family has been a central player in Tuscany’s cultural, economic, and gastronomic scene dating back to the renaissance. Today they work to preserve the gastronomic heritage of the region by overseeing the Laudemio consortium of thirty-two olive growers in the Tuscan countryside. Other members of the consortium can bottle their oil using the “Laudemio” packaging and insignia. However, the oil we import from Laudemio bears the Frescobaldi name, and is produced with the olives grown on the Frescobaldi estate. The oil is blended according to their exacting specifications of Tuscan olive varietals: Frantoio (70%), Moraiolo (20%), and Leccino (10%). The oil is what you would expect of a Tuscan novello, with big grassy undertones, a silky rich mouthfeel, a bitter grapefruit tang, and a strong pepper finish. Of our three novellos, this is the boldest. The oil pours out brilliantly lime-green from the bottle. This olive would be visually striking (and delicious) drizzled on top of soups, perhaps in a citrus salad, and can hold its own when used to finish a steak.