Saturday, January 14, 2012

Discussion: 4:30 Dinner: 5:30 throughout evening

Athena smiled on us when the schedules of two internationally known olive oil experts enabled us to invite them to participate in a special afternoon and evening steeped, so to speak, in olive oil.

One is our old friend, Roberto Stucchi, of Badia a Coltibuono in Tuscany, who celebrates the semicentenary of Badia a Coltibuono Extra Virgin Olive Oil’s first bottling. Before 1962, there was quality oil available locally in Italy but no one was distributing it. Badia a Coltibuono, then headed by Robert’s father, Piero Stucchi-Prinetti, modeled the extra virgin olive oil business after what he and others were doing with Italian wines — introducing traditionally made, world-class products to consumers in the US and Europe. Piero was an innovator, one innovation being the selection of the distinctive 1-liter square bottle (called a “marasca” because it was originally used for maraschino liqueur).

The other is a new friend, Tom Mueller, whose Extra Virginity: “The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil has just been published by Norton. His book has received acclaim for its fascinating, scholarly, and “ridiculously overdue” exploration of current olive oil production, marketing, labeling, chemistry, and consumption (as well as its important history and culinary attributes). And Tom is a passionate advocate for true extra virgin olive oils.

Oliveto’s founder and co-owner Maggie Blyth Klein, author of The Feast of the Olive (written in 1983 after her visit to the Badia), will host the two experts in a discussion ranging from the history of olive oil in Italy and America, to the state of government controls, to discerning a good olive oil, to the quandary of the conscientious producer whose beautiful olive juice must of necessity be expensive, and to the nutritional and flavor characteristics of olive oil and different olive varietals.

A dinner featuring new oil straight from the Badia a Coltibuono in Tuscany will comprise the evening’s menu, paired with a selection of the Badia’s wines, including a ’99 Chianti Classico Riserva, half bottles of Roberto’s specially blended Chianti Classico “RS,” and a ’99 San Gioveto.

Every year, Oliveto celebrates the arrival of olio nuovo, the first oil of the season, made from just-pressed, partially ripe olives, whose peppery, vegetal qualities last only a few weeks. California oils usually arrive in November; the Italian oils follow a few weeks later. Their production continues through the first month or two of the season. This year, alas, much of the California olive crop was wiped out in unseasonable spring storms.

But for the special dinner following our Saturday afternoon discussion, Chef Jonah Rhodehamel will have at his disposal several liters of Badia a Coltibuono olio nuovo, which Roberto will have brought directly from his frantoio. Jonah will have limitless dishes from the olive oil regions of Tuscany and, indeed, most of Italy, from which to devise a menu. (For millennia those who’ve lived close to olive orchards and presses have celebrated the arrival of the vibrant new oil by pouring it over suitable cold weather dishes, some as simple as a crust of bread toasted over a fire, others as complex as a hearty spezzatino.)

For more information and reservations call 510-547-5356