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.