In 2007 Oliveto began working with northern California farmers & millers to source local wheat for our pasta and pizza flour and corn for our polenta.

Community Grains

floriani

If you’ve been following the Oliveto Grain Project, you know that over the last two years we’ve been enmeshed in the pursuit of locally grown corn and wheat. This has evolved from a simple query into a full-blown cause and now finally the creation, in partnership with our farmers and miller, of Community Grains.

At the end of October, we hosted an event to showcase the exceptional properties of this whole grain flour.  You can read about it here and here.  And here are some pictures taken by Teal Dudziak:

The menu featured an insane array of baked goods prepared by master baker Craig Pondsford and Pastry Chef Jenny Raven, as well as pasta by Chef Canales, all made with whole grain flour…even that incredible pineapple upside-cake that Jenny made, yep….100% whole wheat.

We also served polenta, made with our Red Flint Floriani corn grown by the Rominger Brothers in Winters, CA.  As anyone who frequents the Oliveto Cafe knows, this polenta is truly exceptional. Mother Earth News just published a huge article on the variety in their latest issue.

These flours and cornmeals appear all throughout the day on Oliveto’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus both upstairs and down.  We think they are practically revolutionary in their deliciousness.  Eventually, we hope to offer bags of flour and polenta in the cafe for home cooks.  In the meantime, you’ll have to let us cook for you.

2017-09-12T15:48:30-07:00December 7th, 2010|Oliveto Cafe, Oliveto Grain Project|0 Comments

Red Corn Harvest 2010

On Wednesday we drove up to Winters, CA to help with the harvest of our Red Flint corn. First, we did some hand-picking in hopes of selecting some quality seed for next year’s planting. Lesson learned: hand-harvesting corn is hard (and itchy) work! Thankfully, the John Deere 9600 combine showed up and helped out with the rest of the five acres.

This corn is known for making some of the very best polenta. We’ll be using it in the cafe and also plan to have some for sale through our Community Grains project. To learn more about the forming of a local grain economy here in northern California, come by the Rockridge Street Fair on Sunday, Sept. 26th. Oliveto co-owner, Bob Klein, will talking about Community Grains at 2:20pm on the Chef Stage and serving some of this delicious polenta with ragù.

2017-09-12T15:48:35-07:00September 24th, 2010|Oliveto Cafe, Oliveto Grain Project|0 Comments

Pizza Gufo

gufo

Every Monday – Thursday in the Cafe

8:30 pm – 10 pm

After perfecting our whole-grain pizza dough, Chef Canales decided to take it one step further and concocted the geniusness that is Pizza Gufo. Simple and fresh, we’ll be serving it the Cafe along with some other smaller plates and some affordable glass wines later in the evenings. We’re thinking this is the perfect time to pop in for a drink, sit out on the patio, kick back, and have a gufo, you know?

Cafe Oliveto Gufo Menu

Pizza Gufo  5.
Salume fino & Cacio di Roma cheese plate  7.
Salad of seasonal greens  5.
Soup  5.

Biscotti  1.50
Beignet with crème anglaise  2.50

Red wine  5.
White wine  5.
Well drinks  6.
(season cocktails coming soon)

2017-09-12T15:48:38-07:00August 2nd, 2010|Oliveto Cafe, Oliveto Grain Project|0 Comments

Grain Report for July 2010

Yesterday, I drove up to Rominger Brothers Farm in Winters, CA to visit our Floriani Red Flint corn and to see how our first crop of Otto File (another revered Italian heritage variety of corn for polenta) was doing. It just feels good to be up there, and I always learn something — occasionally amazing:

We have 5 acres of Floriani Red Flint corn growing, and an acre of Otto File. That’s a lot, possibly 10,000 to 15,000 lbs. of grain. It will probably be ready for harvest in late September or October, and ready to eat by this winter. Most of it will be machine harvested, but we’re thinking of trying to harvest some by hand (sounds like a party). And hopefully, we’ll be selling some of the grain. More to come on that…

Last year’s crop of Floriani Red Flint polenta is served in the cafe every day and usually available on the dinner menu as well. The corn is milled fresh and whole grain (or integrale). So, not only do you get the nutty, distinct flavor of the red flint corn, you also get all of the flavor.

The Rominger Brothers also grew out some Italian wheat varieties for us, as we continue to work with them in our attempt to understand which wheat varieties grow best here in Northern California. This is a massive yet extraordinarily interesting project. Stay tuned…

2017-09-12T15:48:38-07:00July 29th, 2010|Farmers, Oliveto Cafe, Oliveto Grain Project|0 Comments

Oliveto Grain Project: A Definition of Wheat Terms

The Oliveto Grain Project unofficially started in June 2007 when a group of local farmers, millers, bakers, and distributors got together for a series of meetings to discuss the possibility of a local grain (wheat and heritage corn) economy here, in Northern California. At that point, Oliveto was more of a facilitator than a participant in these meetings, providing an opportunity and a space for interested parties to connect. It became quickly apparent that there was indeed interest, and several valuable relationships and ideas arose from those initial conversations. And for Oliveto, it was the beginning of a deeper interest.

A key moment came during a discussion with Herb Vogt, a researcher with the UC Davis Department of Plant Science. I knew from travels throughout Italy that Italian wheat made very good pasta and I was telling Herb of my intention to bring back some prized Italian soft wheat varieties in hopes of growing them out here in California. Herb said, “Why do that? They won’t be the same when they grow here.”

[We did grow out some Italian wheat in 2009 and just as Herb said, when tested by the California Wheat Commission the results were very different from the results of the same varieties grown in Italy.] Herb brought to that meeting maybe thirty different bags of wheat samples. He offered them to us and the farmers and bakers present and said, “So…what do you want?”

I didn’t know. I’m not a baker or a cook. I knew that Italian wheat grown in Italy made very good pasta, but I didn’t know any of the attributes of that flour other than, IT MAKES GOOD PASTA. But what does THAT mean? What qualities does a flour need to make good pasta and how are those qualities represented in the diagnostics the California Wheat Commission was showing us? The cooks and bakers I asked also had difficulty answering the question. It became apparent that there was no common language (when talking about grain) shared by farmers, seedsmen, millers, cooks, and bakers. So in truth, it was Herb Vogt’s question that marked the official start of the Oliveto Wheat Project, because it required us to develop some common terms as a means to getting at what it was we were looking for.

Of course there are many terms established already, but they are mostly in the domain of the industrial grain business. Over the last fifty years, grain in America has primarily become an industrial product in seed development, in farming, milling, storage, cleaning, and end use. Artisan bakers and cooks may want to experiment with new or heritage flours but there is no language to convey what they are looking for to the people that produce it. While it is true than an experienced baker can have very good results from almost any flour there are some flours that offer more flavor and nutrients, and can be more earth friendly and many of the bakers we spoke with were eager to learn about them.

To fully imagine an artisan grain economy in northern California with the common goal of delicious, healthful food – every part of the chain from seed variety selection, farming practices, cleaning, storage, milling, cooking to baking would have to be approached as if for the first time. For me, the first step in this process of creating a new model was to create a definition of terms, so that everyone involved could start off on the same page.

So, here are the wheat terms we’ve come up with; in the future we hope to add milling and baking terms as well.

2017-09-12T15:48:39-07:00July 7th, 2010|Oliveto Grain Project|0 Comments

Pizza Trials

While sourcing local grains we found Joe Vanderliet, a miller in Woodland, CA who is producing a very different whole-milled wheat; more like white flour in texture, but with maximum flavor and nutrients. We’ve been using it in some of our pastas and pastries with delicious results, and now we’ve started pizza trials in the Oliveto Cafe.

In collaboration with master baker Craig Ponsford, Chef Canales has been relearning every step of the pizza making process with this very different flour. Craig founded Artisan Bakery in Sonoma, was the first American winner of the French and Specialty Breads category of France’s 1996 Coupe du Monde de la Boulabngerie, and now, having been completely won over by this “new” flour is working for Joe Vanderliet.

This has been an extremely fun and informative process for everyone involved and we’re eager to share what we’ve learned so far. Results of our kitchen trials may change your opinion of whole grain wheat. Come tell us what you think of our trial whole-milled wheat pizzas in the cafe through the month of July.

2017-09-12T15:48:39-07:00July 5th, 2010|Oliveto Cafe, Oliveto Grain Project|0 Comments

Heirloom Polenta in the Cafe

Beginning tomorrow, May 14th, we’ll have a new addition to the Oliveto Cafe evening menu: La Polenta. This fresh, whole-milled heirloom Red Flint corn polenta will be served with simple to exalted accompaniments that run the gamut from saucy meats, cheeses, poultry and wild game, to vegetables, mushrooms and fish stew. Three different accompaniments, including a vegetarian, meat, and cheese topping will be offered in the Cafe each night. La Polenta is a meal meant to be eaten communally (although in the Cafe, individual servings will be available). We’ve acquired some nifty polenta boards, on which the polenta will be poured out and set in the middle of each table as polenta is traditionally served in Italy. It should be a fun, new way to share a meal with friends and family in the Oliveto Cafe.

The Trentino Red Flint variety of corn was found in Trento, in northern Italy, by food historian William Rubel*, having been developed and handed down for generations after corn was introduced from the Americas hundreds of years ago. Grown for us locally by the Rominger Brothers from seed supplied by Rubel and Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills this corn was also milled locally by Joseph Vanderliet, with the germ left intact. This is how polenta tasted a hundred years ago: satisfying, rustic, and wonderful.

We’ll kick things off this Friday, May 14th in participation with the Rockridge District Association’s first Wine & Jazz Stroll. From 4pm – 9pm we will be serving from our “polenta cart” out on College Avenue, as well as in the Cafe, for those of you just walking by.

_____________________________________

*When our friend William Rubel brought this polenta to us in 2006, we named it Trentino, from the region of its origin. Since then, William named it after the family near Trento that kept it in modest production. And now it has a new name. From William’s March, 2009 Whole Earth News article:

Cornmeal made from “Floriani Red Flint” has a rich, warm and complex taste. And it makes a polenta of unusual distinction.”Floriani” polenta is rich in flavor in part because it is traditionally made from whole cornmeal polenta integrale rather than the degermed corn typically found in commercial polenta, grits and cornmeal.

I’ve named this corn “Floriani Red Flint” after my Italian friends who grow it and are generously sharing their seeds. This corn was taken to Italy from North America hundreds of years ago, where it was changed through centuries of selection by Alpine farmers who ate it themselves (rather than using corn mainly as animal feed, which has been the case with most corn in the United States in the last 150 years). Now it comes back to us, identified by botanists as Zea rostrato spin rosso della Valsugana. It was the staple polenta corn of people living in the Valsugana Valley near the city of Trento, but is now only grown by enthusiasts, such as my friend’s father, Silvano Floriani.

We’re keeping an open mind on our polenta’s origins, however. Two weeks ago famed Italian baker Carlo Vigetti, Presidentt of the Italian Professional Bakers Association, and founder of Il Fornaio was in for dinner. He claimed our polenta was actually from a valley near Lake Como. He said he’d take me there — it was behind George Clooney’s house.

Introducing the Oliveto Grain Project

Last year, we got our hands on seeds of three Italian wheat varieties and asked our friendly farmers to grow them out for us in experimental plots. This most basic, and simplest of acts, planting a seed, has put into motion a much greater adventure for us, which we will be sharing with you over the next few weeks, months, and years.

Most exciting, we found an extraordinary miller who has created a technique for milling a true whole-milled flour that has exceptional texture and flavor, and has the Oliveto kitchen re-evaluating how they make pasta and pizza doughs.

2017-09-12T15:48:56-07:00September 2nd, 2009|Farmers, Oliveto Grain Project|0 Comments

Labor Day Weekend at the Oliveto Cafe

merlot_grape_foc

This weekend (Sept. 4th – Sept 7th), we will be celebrating the launch of our Wheat Project in the Oliveto Cafe. With the Bay Bridge closed and the Labor Day holiday, this will be a laid-back, late summer shindig with a street-fair feel and some great food, served throughout the day and into the night. Pastry chef Jenny Raven tells us about what she’s got planned and conducts a taste test with her eleven-month-old son Ofelio.

From the street cart:

Crêpes with warm Gravenstein apples

*

Ratatouille-stuffed schiacciata

*

Merlot Grape focaccia

all made with true whole-milled hard red winter wheat

*

Fresh-milled polenta with ragù

In the restaurant:

We’ll be serving whole-milled Durum pappardelle

2017-09-12T15:48:56-07:00September 1st, 2009|Events, Oliveto Cafe, Oliveto Grain Project|0 Comments