Archive for the ‘olive oil’Category

Relicatessen: heavenly products for earthly delights

Relicatessen stall at La Boqueria in Barcelona

Relicatessen in Barcelona solved a problem for us. When we’re in Spain for any extended period, we enjoy seeking out the cookies, sweets, and other foodstuffs from the country’s 38 monasteries and convents that make products for sale. Often that means placing money on a revolving window (called a retorno) and getting a box of cookies, a jar of jam, or a pot of honey in return.

Francisco Vera of Relicatessen in La Boqueria in BarcelonaBut we’re not always in a town with a cloistered order that makes products for sale. Thank god (so to speak) that Francisco Vera opened Relicatessen (www.relicatessen.com) three years ago in stall 988 in the Mercat Sant Josep, better known as La Boqueria. Located right on La Rambla in a Modernista-style iron frame shed, the Boqueria is one of Barcelona’s most popular attractions. Vera sells the edible products of 11 of the country’s monasteries and nunneries along with some other gourmet items, such as olive oil and saffron.

To get to Vera’s stall, you’ll walk past heaping pyramids of fresh fruits and vegetables, refrigerated cases of big cuts of meat, cured mountain hams hanging from above, and vast swathes of crushed ice with fish so fresh that their eyes gleam clear and bright.

Temptations from on high


Marmalades at Relicatessen in La Boqueria in BarcelonaVera sells 36 different marmalades, including the signature Spanish bitter orange. The religious order at Monastario de Santa María de Huerta in Soría crafts some of the more sophisticated flavors, such as pear, cinnamon, and cardamom or the combination of kiwi, lemon, and tequila.

There are honeys from the mountains and honeys from fields of anise or groves of madroño trees (strawberry trees). There is dulce de leche “bottled in silence.” The Convento Purísima Concepción makes dulce de membrillo (a quince preserve that’s delicious with Manchego cheese) and Turrón de la Abuela (nougat studded with roasted almonds) that claims to be just like Spanish grandmothers make it. The Monjas Jerónimas Constantina infuse their vinegars with a range of flavors, not least among them mint, rosemary, and garlic.

Yemas at Relicatessen in La Boqueria in BarcelonaThe most popular treats, Vera says, are polvorones, almond shortbread sables made by the Carmelitas Descalzas and Yemas de Santa Clara, candied egg yolks. Legend says that the nuns invented this way of preserving yolks in the late medieval period, when the egg whites were used to clarify wine. The products are so heartfelt that they make nice gifts that also help preserve the vanishing religious vocations. Pressed for his favorite among the many temptations, Vera admits to being most fond of the really good chocolates made by the Monjas Jerónimas.

01

10 2017

Zucchi oils exemplify art of blending EVOOs

Francesca Tiberto and Giovanni Zucchi

To blend or not to blend? We’d like to believe that the world’s best olive oil is pressed in Jaén province in Spain from Picual olives. That’s the oil we like on a Caprese salad made with fresh mozzarella and garden tomatoes. But more than a thousand cultivars of Olea europaea trees grow around the Mediterranean basin, and most are used for making oil as well as for cured and brined olives. Which really are best?

Every Spaniard, Italian, Greek, or French person believes that the best oil comes from the family olive grove. They are right because it’s a matter of taste. Surprisingly, most olive oils are blends. They might be blended at harvest from groves with many cultivars. They might be blended after pressing. They might be blended from pressings of green and ripe olives picked from the same trees at different times. Or they might be blended from oils made in many different countries.

Learning to blend

Blending setup at Zucchi workshop

Historically, the master olive oil blenders have been Italian. One of those great companies, Oleificio Zucchi (zucchi.us), launched in 1810. Finally bringing its line of extra virgin olive oils to the U.S., the company is holding blending workshops to demonstrate its approach. We joined one last week at Mamma Maria restaurant (mammamaria.com) in Boston’s North End. Francesca Tiberto (top left), Zucchi’s taster and blend master, led the session. Giovanni Zucchi (top right), managing director and author of Olive Oil Doesn’t Grow on Trees, provided technical details.

The point of blending is to produce a consistent product with the same flavor profile year after year. To get a feel for the artistry involved, we tasted four samples of extra virgin olive oil from four different cultivars and three different countries. With Tiberto’s guidance, we scored each sample on its intensity of fruitiness, bitterness, and spiciness. We also ascribed other taste overtones—flowers, artichoke, green grass, apple, ripe fruits, sweet and bitter almond, and so on.

Al proprio gusto

pouring olive oil after blendingIn a more challenging test, we then used a graduated column to make individual blends of the samples. By blending small batches to start, we could experiment until we found a blend that suited us. Our final 250ml bottle contained 50 percent Cerasuola oil from Sicily, 20 percent light Koroneiki oil from Crete, 20 percent soft Arbequina oil from Cordoba province in Spain, and 10 percent sharp Hojiblanca oil from Estepa in Spain’s Sevilla province.

We like the blend just fine, but we tasted Zucchi’s line of oils with Mamma Maria dishes, and all four (Sinfonia, 100% Italian, Sweet and Fruity, and Organic) were more nuanced than our product. The lesson here is that it takes a master blender to make a master blend. At this point, Zucchi oils are available at Big Y supermarkets (bigy.com) in the Massachusetts and Connecticut, King Kullen markets (kingkullen.com) in New York, and Dave’s Fresh Pasta (dfp.website) in Davis Square in Somerville, Mass. Retail is $11-$12 per 500ml bottle. When our garden tomatoes arrive, we plan to try the Organic Extra Virgin on a Caprese salad—the ultimate test.

Zucchi olive oils

27

06 2017

Spanish olive oils evoke taste of the country

Alexis Kerner of Olive Oil Workshop in Sevilla Developing a more refined sense of taste doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating says Alexis Kerner, who founded the Olive Oil Workshop (theoliveoilworkshop.com) in Sevilla in 2014. Tasting, she says, is simply a matter of paying attention and becoming more sensitive to the nuances of flavor.

An American who has lived in Andalucía for more than a dozen years, Kerner never really thought of herself as having an unusually refined palate. Then she became fascinated with the many types of olive oils produced in the region. A recipient of a diploma as a certified olive oil taster from the University of Jaen and the International Olive Oil Council, Kerner offers olive oil tastings as well as trips to orchards and mills. She is bullish about the oils of Andalucía, which make up three-quarters of Spain’s production and more than that of any other single country. “The oils are bold,” she tells tasters. “They really stand out.”

Learning to taste


Olive oil sample Many olive oils—even some of the best—are packed in tins rather than glass. As a result, you can stow them in checked luggage and they will arrive safely home after a trip. Joining one of Kerner’s tastings is a good way to become a more informed buyer. Pat describes her own experience in her new book, 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go, from Travelers’ Tales Press (travelerstales.com/100-places-spain-every-woman-go/).

Kerner usually selects three or four oils for her small groups to taste. Just as in wine tasting, it’s ideal to take small sips with enough air to release the aromatics in the oil.

Olive oil tasting place setting She pours the oils into pretty blue glasses so color doesn’t influence flavor. That way tasters can concentrate on discerning such subtle flavors as banana, artichoke, green almond, fig leaf, and apple. For those who think that olive oil is solely for dressing salad greens, Kerner offers a wealth of new ideas. For example, she often pours the delicate oil made from Arbequina olives over fish or even vanilla ice cream. By contrast, she likes to pour the more intense oil made from Picual olives over dark chocolate ice cream. She uses a spicy Hojiblanca oil to season gazpacho or beef carpaccio.

The workshops are sometimes held at Oleo-le (Garcia de Vinuesa 39, www.oleo-le.com), a compact shop that specializes in olive oil, and carries many artisanal small-production oils not otherwise available. It is one of the best places in Sevilla to select those tins to fill the nooks and crannies in a suitcase.

03

11 2016