A lesson in olive oil

Olive oil is not only a cornerstone to the Mediterranean diet, but also a versatile, must-have in the American kitchen and all over the world.  No matter where the oil comes from (Spain, Italy, California…), these oils compliment different foods and uses. Yesterday Professor Bosticco clarified some basics that may help you to decide which oil is best for what!

–       Simply Virgin does not imply quality, but refers only to how the fat is extracted. Virgin implies no chemical use and no high temperatures – the olives are pressed by machine at room temperature or below.

–       Extra Virgin implies the best quality oils you can purchase – oils with this label have passed a chemical test and a taste test (and like virgin, are pressed only by machine and at low temperatures)

–       Merely olive oil is usually a blend of chemically adjusted oils that are of unacceptable quality

–       Cold-pressed is a marketing tool. Any decent olive oil should be cold pressed but this is implied in virgin and extra virgin oils

–       We tried a rancid olive oil, which is really common – you can tell by taste or smell that the oil is over oxidized. Rancidity can be avoided by storing olive oil away from the sun and high temperatures. Also, it is best to use olive oil within six months to a year.

–       Uses: Extra virgin is best on already cooked foods, salads, or for dipping bread – when heated, like in a pan, many of the best qualities are destroyed (if you use olive oil for cooking, you can simply use virgin)

–       If you aren’t going to use the EVOO quickly, it is best to buy young oil in small quantities, to make the most of your money!

–       A good EVOO has the year of production on the label – The younger the olive oil, the fresher it is. It should be green-ish gold in color and smell like grass, hay, nuts, or fruit.

Veneto surprise

On our first study trip last week, I looked forward to learning about the valpolicella, radicchio, grappa and cheese making that are typical to the Veneto region.  These study trips are intended to immerse us in a region through visits to various producers, distilleries, agencies etc. to learn about products and processes within their environmental, economic and social contexts.  In our hands-on adventure through production and communication, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter my favorite creature at one of many impressive producers.

The famous mozzarella di bufala typically comes only from southern regions of Italy (i.e. Lazio and Puglia), where buffalo milk is used to spin creamy, fresh spheres of delectable mozzarella that is sought after all over the world. To keep up with the ever-competitive cheese market, Borgoluce introduced water buffalo to their farm in 2009, adding cheese making to their remarkably sustainable estate. Borgoluce currently houses about 300 buffalo, a number which is steadily increasing thanks to the birth of new calves.  In addition to buffalo meat and the coveted mozzarella, Borgoluce also sells flour, olive oil, various soppressa, yogurt and buffalo milk products, honey, prosecco, wine, etc.

The seventh generation of the Collalto family runs over 3,000 acres of vineyards, pastures, olive groves and crop fields which lie between River Piave and the Veneto pre-Alps. We were lucky enough to stay the night on a part of the estate, sample a number of their products, and of course…visit the beautiful water buffalo.

The art of Bourgeoisie boozing

Mixology today is a master craft of cocktail creation, no matter the liquor or location, your beverage of choice has the power to elevate an entire experience. Restaurants and bars of all backgrounds host menus dedicated to drinks that transport you on a trip in taste — saketinis, jalepeno infused margaritas, and blood orange cosmopolitans are the simplest of examples.

Coming from New York City, where speakeasy’s and mixology bars literally ‘hide’ on every corner, I was curious if Europe, specifically Italy, would have the same talent feeding this posh addiction to creative libations. Perhaps I would find a suspender-clad-mustached -bohemian-bon vivant like the ones so stereotypical of New York – regardless of hipster accessories, some talent who had earned the trust of those who imbibe.

Upon arrival in Bra, we quickly learned of a local that opens sporadically, the bar fittingly named speak.easy. There, fellow students craft weekly cocktails to suit the weather, occasion, or simply using local ingredients that are seasonally available. At speak.easy we tried hot-toddies and gin infusions with elderflower, our new classmates always offering to make anything they had on hand in true bartender form. As our mixology professor pointed out to us: a sommelier explains, a chef creates, but a bartender encompasses the both of best to create something entirely new and perfect.

I myself have always had an interest in the classic cocktail – nothing overly sweet or complicated, but maybe an extra-dry martini or a bourbon old fashioned.  One basic element that most of us don’t understand until post-college, is that the quality of a cocktail components is directly related to the final product – meaning the ingredients that go into it are, like anything, what make it good or bad.  On that note, your perception of quality is what may elevate your appreciation for certain ingredients.

On my recent trip to Amsterdam, I was introduced to what I would call the Ward iii of Amsterdam, a bar called Vesper Bar in the Jordaan district. The ambiance of Vesper reminded me distinctly of TriBeCa’s Ward iii, the menu even hosting rules and the “luck of the draw” option.  Both bars have extensive menus which allow for the option of a bespoke cocktail, giving the bartender freedom to create whatever he/she desires, as well as a list of respectful etiquette by which patrons are expected to comply.

As bars, restaurants and nightclubs increasingly adopt detailed menus, the boundaries of traditional mixology are being tested by cocktail competitions and molecular mixology. The interest in this is evident in the tastings and tours that are so commonly offered by brands and distilleries, even bars and restaurants. Without a doubt, beer, wine and liquor play as much a role in gastronomy as food, so perhaps with a special meal or on your next visit to a new city, seek out a twist on a traditional favorite!

My favorite mixologist, Cocktail Maestro Salvatore Calabrese: https://twitter.com/CocktailMaestro