Category Archives: Amelia

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Back from Amelia

I am just back from Amelia and I still have the taste of olio nuovo in my mouth: green, spicy with bitter almonds and fresh cut grass. The harvest progresses and there are lots of healthy olives this year. Francesco, Anna and Vincenzo are hard at work in the frantoio in Amelia. It was great to join in the action and spend some time at my favourite place in the world–the olive mill.

More photos and videos from my trip coming soon.

Francesco’s other passion


We met Francesco down at Johnny’s one night after dinner. Jazz music was blaring and handsome Amerino men were wandering in and out checking out the Saturday night scene (I have always reveled at the fact that Amelia is a town with loads of good-looking men with few women in sight—I have a few theories on this but no scientific explanation). With the strong perfume of grappa wafting in the air, we began to talk about music.

Francesco mentioned that he had spent the rainy afternoon practicing a piece by Bach on his accordion. He had mentioned in passing that he played in a group but I was curious to know more about my musical olive miller. I asked Francesco how he started playing the accordion, an instrument with a strong tradition in Umbria.

When Francesco was a small child his father took him to a concert of folk music where a popular accordionist was playing. He recalls looking up towards the improvised stage and seeing this musician, larger than life, playing beautiful music there above him. He was enchanted and there was no turning back from there. Francesco told his father of his desire to learn to play this magical instrument; his father listened and proceeded to go out and invest in a concert accordion. Francesco recalls that he was so small that he could barely hold the beautiful instrument and it was not only many years later that he learned how to play it to its full capacity. He told us how the accordion was not considered a conservatory instrument and that he studied with local teachers and pursued a formal musical education despite the accordions folk status.

An accomplished musician, Francesco is part of a group that plays throughout Umbria. Particularly in the summer, Francesco’s group plays at the numerous village festivals, where the young and old come out to ballroom dance in the local squares on makeshift dance floors until the wee hours. As Francesco talks about music his eyes light up and it is clear to me that olive oil not his only passion.

Sacrificial Lamb – Easter in Amelia


“I don’t want to have lamb! I don’t agree with the massacre of all these innocent lambs just for Easter,” Mario exclaimed. I could not believe what I was hearing! Mario and I have eaten lamb cooked over the coals many times and we had always reclined afterwards with satisfied mumbles licking greasy fingers. My mouth had been watering for months over the possibility of thinly sliced chops with that hint of smoky flavour accompanied by a bold Umbrian red wine (where I live in Piedmont there is no real tradition of cooking over the coals of the hearth, although there is lots of bold red wine).

I was going to have my way or else. After a long lecture on the anthropological symbolism of the sacrificial lamb, I began to work the gastronomic side of the argument for lamb at Easter with a full exposition of possible recipes and accompaniments. It was a hard sell, but the goloso in Mario got the best of him. Eventually my partner in crime gave in: he went out on Saturday afternoon and came home with some beautiful lamb chops from a local butcher.

For me, certain holidays just have to have certain flavours and Easter is all about the lamb. Mario has lit the fire and my stomach is beginning to rumble. I walked into the kitchen and Mario had begun to prepare the artichokes that he was going to fry in last year’s olive oil right over the hot coals of the fire. I reached for a cork screw and took care of decanting the wine…

Marzo Pazzerello


I arrived on Wednesday evening with the warm spring sun setting behind the green hills and casting a golden light on the hill town of Amelia. People were lighting their fireplaces in preparation for the evening meal and to fend off the chilly night air. The smell of wood smoke wrapped around me, taking me back to the years that I spent here. I felt like I was coming home.

Unfortunately the good weather did not hold; the weather at Easter is notoriously unpredictable and unsettled in Italy and this year the holiday is earlier than usual. This is a particularly bad year–it has only stopped raining for a few brief moments in the last few days. Although this has not made for the most pleasant holiday, it is good for local agriculture. Umbria had a very dry year and a lot of rain is needed to fill up the very meager aquifers. As I look out at the rain, I try to think of the positive effects of all of this water on the olive trees.

All I can do for now is take my place by the camino, stay warm and enjoy Mario’s wonderful cooking alle braccia (all finished with a lovely drizzle of olive oil).

Winter Blues


I guess I have been hibernating a bit lately; these last few days have felt like winter here in Piedmont. Yes, this is my excuse for neglecting this blog. However, I tried to cheer myself up by thinking of spring. I am going down to Amelia for Easter and I will have more updates on Francesco and his olive groves. I am still hoping to take the ONAOO olive oil tasting course in May, but I may need to rob a bank first. I still haven’t understood why the course is so expensive. I guess most courses that give you a professional qualification tend to come with a hefty price tag.

We still have some tasty 2007 olive oil as well as fresh 2008 Amelia oil. Check out our web site to place an order. We ship to the States.

New year and new oil


The new year is off to a good start with our new Amelia oil nearing Vancouver.

The beginning of the year is also a time for new projects and I certainly have a few! I have not given up on my idea of becoming an olive oil sommelier and I hope to register for my course soon (I am still deciding which one). I also hope that the new year will take me to Spain in search of small-scale producers growing quality olive oil. We are also hoping to share our delicious oil with more cooks and food lovers throughout Canada and the United States, not just Vancouver.

Keep watching this blog for updates as well as more recipes that will help you showcase the lovely taste of extra virgin olive oil. I will also be adding a section on the town of Amelia for those of you who would like to visit the town and enjoy the beauty and hospitality of southern Umbria.

A presto.

A tough year


As I looked out at Francesco’s olive grove, I couldn’t believe it was November. The grass was scorched yellow and the surrounding hills were a thirsty brown. It looked more like late August. In fact, it hasn’t rained hardly at all this year in Amelia. This has had a terrible impact on nature: there are songbirds singing now that usually only come out in spring! Funghi…. don’t even say that word around these parts: mushrooms, a classic element in autumnal Umbrian cuisine, have been scarce. The Amerini are getting worried.

So, what does this mean for the olive trees and the local olive oil production? Although the oil is good quality, it means there is less. Without rain, the olives did not get very big and they are exceptionally ripe. This gives the oil a slightly different taste from last year. Some of the fresh grass taste of green frantoio olives is lost and the buttery leccino comes to the fore. As I have told our customers time and again, olive oil is an agricultural product and its taste varies from year to year depending on the weather and growing conditions. If it doesn’t, you probably aren’t eating very good oil.

Although there are few olives this year, what olives that come to the mill are putting out a high percentage of oil (since there is little water in them). This offers some good news for the people whose livelihoods depend on this crop.

As I visited people picking olives on the rolling hills around Amelia and chatted with farmers anxiously waiting in the frantoio, the economic fragility of agriculture hit home for me. It is important that we recognise the risks that olive oil producers face each year as they hope for a healthy and abundant crop of olives.

Olio Nuovo


I am just back from Amelia and it was great to participate in the olive harvest and taste the new oil. The hot weather this summer and lack of rain has been hard on the olive. This year there is not much fruit on the trees and what there is is very ripe. The good news is that what oil is being produced is quite good. There is still a grassy finish and the tingle that new oil should have. Some of last year’s fruit is lacking but this oil is still well balanced and has a nice bitter almond finish that really characterizes the Colli Amerini area. I think this comes from that touch of Moraiolo and Rajo that balances the grassieness of the Frantoio and the buttery tones of Leccino cultivars.

It was great to have a chance to spend some time with Francesco and his parents. We started to make plans for the future–next year we want to sell a rajo monocultivar. I will keep you posted on this. We also talked about organic farming and the ups and downs of dop certifications.

The frantoio was in tip-top shape with fresh olives flowing in. Francesco’s new Alfa Laval equipment is working beautifully and produces great results. This centrifuge really keeps the heat low and the oil remains really rich, in contrast to some watery burnt oil I saw and tasted at another frantoio in the area (I will not name it here).

I had a chance to pick olives with friends and visit a number of mills. I will be writing more about my visit to Amelia in the next week. This trip was hugely stimulating and reminded me of my passion for Amelia and olive oil. All I can say is that it was great to go back to the town I love.


Heading to Amelia

I was starting to get very sidetracked by wine in Piedmont but I am going to clear my palate and get ready to taste some olive oil. Tomorrow I am finally going down to Amelia to get my hands on some olives. Stay tuned for lots of photos and news from Amelia next week. I will also be posting my tasting notes for the 2008 Amelia Oil.

A presto!