Olio Nuovo has Arrived!
I had my first taste of the latest harvest of olio nuovo in the middle of November this year. Thom Curry, a fellow California Olive Oil taste panel member and partner, with Catherine Pepe, of the Temecula Olive Oil Company, invited me to conduct a baking demonstration and book signing on a Saturday afternoon. The next day his company hosted a Slow Food gathering at the olive ranch, which sits at a country crossroads twenty miles east of the town of Temecula in the shadow of the Palomar mountains. Although strong winds often sweep the acreage and snow dusts the mountains in winter, it was crisp and clear the day of the event. About one hundred fifty guests tasted salads made with local produce, cheeses, and wines, and hot-from-the-oven pizzas.
Although the food was delicious, what interested the participants the most took place in a small steel building that housed the olive-oil- making equipment where Thom was turning olives into oil. Thom spent most of the day demonstrating his olive press; this is a press in the true sense of the word because it squeezes the oil from the olive paste. When I first learned that he made oil by what many consider to be an outdated method, I was wary. For centuries olives were crushed with granite stones, then the olive-oil makers smeared the resulting paste onto fabric mats, stacked them, and exerted pressure to separate the oil from the solids. This traditional process exposed the paste to oxygen, considered detrimental by many of today’s producers, and worse, the mats were almost impossible to clean properly, leaving a residue that could contaminate later batches.
But Thom sees an advantage to this method: some oxygen exposure is needed for enzymes in the olives to do their work of producing flavor characteristics. Why not make the mats out of a material that could be properly cleaned? He had custom-made mats fashioned from woven stainless steel. And while he was at it, he decided to replace granite stones with rollers made from stainless steel for the first step in the production.
The stainless steel wheels slowly churned the Tuscan-variety olives, picked late the previous day, into a paste. The paste was transferred into an enclosed drum and distributed onto the mats, which were stacked and squeezed to separate the oil from the fruit pulp.
As I watched the operation, I couldn’t stop thinking of the classic dish made in Italy at the time the new oil is made—spaghetti bathed in the new oil with the simple addition of garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt. Before we left, I asked Thom if he would part with enough oil for my husband and me to make the dish. He gave me an ample amount.
On the way back to our lodgings in an apartment above the company’s retail store, we bought dried pasta and the makings for a salad. We knew that the apartment was stocked with the other ingredients.
We ate the spaghetti from proper pasta plates we found in the cupboard. The oil was grassy, with a hint of artichoke and butter and a touch of bitterness and pungency. It tasted fresh and vibrant. Lucky for us our hosts had stocked a bottle of local wine, a 2006 Syrah from Hart Winery, that was a perfect match.
For more information about the company see www.temeculaoliveoil.com.
For the recipe, go to Spaghetti with Olio Nuovo.