First of all, the weather here is incredible. It's sunny all the freaking time. While it's terribly humid and the mosquitos are vicious beasts, it really is gorgeous nearly 98% percent of the time. The morning of our field trip was no exception. Just check out the views on the way to the olive oil grove from our drive alone:
Pretty amazing, right?
We stopped off to get coffee (yep, we do that on school outings in Italy) and I couldn't get over how Italian Chef Bruno looked:
There aren't many guys who can pull off some mustard pants and sandals. I'm one of many who are totally infatuated and in love with him. No, I'm not kidding. He's amazing and a complete genius in the kitchen. At the same time, he remains humble and approachable which is really hard to find in someone of his caliber. Plus, his personality is freaking adorable yet he's so tough on us, too. I dunno, I'm finding lots of Italian loves as I spend more and more time in this country...
Ok, focus Valerie. Back to the trip. On our little coffee break, there were also gorgeous views just outside the cafe:
When we got to the olive oil place, we all died at the little man running the show. His name was Renaulto and what a quintessential, old Italian man he was. His love of the olive trees and land was palpable. He talked for a while about the trees and facility before he took us into the field and I wanted to show you an idea of just how pretty it was there:
As we walked along, there were literally wild herbs growing all around. Italians have an herb called nepitella which is actually catnip. Yes, catnip! It has an intense, unique aroma and it's earthy and pungent when you use it in dishes. It was growing there randomly and I literally almost picked a huge bunch of it to use:
There was also a big wall of fresh bay growing too and all I could think of was how damn expensive a jar of bay leaves is in New York. Isn't this awesome:
That's Italy for you.
Renaulto showed us several special trees, one of which is their oldest (100 years!):
Isn't he so cute?! We walked around outside for a while before he took us into the facility. It's just too pretty for words in this place:
The production facility is super small so it was basically just an explanation of how olive oil is pressed vs. being a tour of any sort. They weren't actually in production right now (that won't happen until November) but they had a supply of oil from last year still being sold. Know what the best part is? Their oil (Frantoio) is said to be one of the absolute best in all of Italy. It's so good, in fact, that their purveyors come to them to buy it all the way in the little town of Roncofreddo. I'm pretty sure we all bought out the last of their 2011 supply:
When we tasted the olive oil, it literally was like nothing I've ever had before. It's completely fruity, delicate but strong, smooth and really remarkable. If there's anything I've learned the most, it's that the quality of ingredients is so necessary in cooking that you might as well not even do it if you're not using the best. Literally, a drop or two of this oil is all you would need to transform a dish. It's mind blowing to me.
After we finished with the olive oil, Renaulto brought us to his home for lunch. Yep, you read that right. His wife cooked our entire group a homemade lunch in their beautiful house. The walk there was so great before, though. This little town is really different and cozy:
When we got to his home, I couldn't get over it. Just take a look at what their house overlooks:
I failed to take photos of our lunch, mainly because I was busy stuffing my face, but it was really delicious. There is absolutely nothing better than being fed by an Italian woman in her own home. The love and joy that is put into the food is nothing short of incredible, really. It's just like a movie or how you might envision it in a movie. I'm so lucky...
After lunch, Renaulto brought us into his cheese facility where we got a lecture on cheese refining. See, Renaulto is not a cheese maker, he's a cheese refiner which is just so cool. He basically takes cheeses that are already made and conducts different tests and aging processes to refine their original state into something incredible and rare. It was fascinating to me. There is a actually a large hole in the facility that he uses as his aging "room" which is a process from the dark ages, actually. The cheeses he works with are aged for 100 days and then he continues on with different methods of turning them into new and updated products. I didn't know anything about this process or that it existed and I find it just awesome. Here you can see the actual good mold that has developed in the bottom of the 'cave', if you will:
That mold is used in the process of fermentation and it is what provides flavor. Once Renaulto finished with the lecture, he brought out a beautiful array of cheeses that are his own and folks, my goodness are they delicious. This cheese is a blue cheese that he cultivated with the mold on the outside instead of the inside:
Imagine a cross between feta and pecorino. Holy moly, it's heaven. I almost stuck the whole block in my purse and walked out.
I think you can tell by this post how over the moon I was the whole day. It was like something out of a movie, as I said. Renaulto is passion personified and I adored him. How in the world did god decide that I deserved the blessing that is life right now? I am humbly grateful, each and every day. This is what life is all about and I get to live out my dream each day. I will never let go of these precious moments. Ever.