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Getting Fresh with Olive Oil

Getting Fresh with Olive Oil

All about just-pressed extra-virgin, olio nuovo.

The Italian noun scorpacciata (say skor-pah-CHA-tah) means "a bellyful" - often understood to be the consequence of a binge on some single, and usually seasonal, food. Years ago my son, growing up in Italy, seized on this delicious word and coined an English verb: "to scorp." Come early November, everyone in Tuscany scorps just-pressed olive oil.

In a race against the frost in Tuscan hills, olives are harvested in late fall at all stages of ripeness. The ones picked green, before ripening to black, yield a piquant oil, especially spicy when it's fresh. The almost aggressive peppery flavor of this olio nuovo, new oil, calms down in three months. After this point its characteristic cloudiness settles and the oil may be filtered. Perhaps that's a relief to delicate palates, but most Tuscans crave the throat-pinching stuff fresh from the local mill. Hazy, almost phosphorescent green and rich in anti-oxidants, olio nuovo is kept as a condiment on the table and poured abundantly over practically everything. (Don't wear silk to dinner in November. Trust me.). They use it to top their bread-thickened soups, to dress beans, potatoes or kale, to serve as a minimalist dip for raw vegetables, or to drown endless slices of fettunta (a contraction of the words fetta "slice" and unta "oily" garlic bread)

Olio nuovo can be purchased straight from the frantoio (where the olives are pressed and processed), or from wineries, shops and restaurants throughout Tuscany. The olive presses run long hours during the harvest in November and December, but you will need an appointment if you want to visit one. One top frantoio is Tenuta di Capezzana, which is only a 45-minute drive northwest of Florence. Call for an appointment (someone will speak English) and ask them to fax or email a map. Then go and scorp out like the Tuscans! If you can't make it to Tuscany this winter, Capezzana's olio nuovo will be available in half-liter bottles, after mid-December 1996, through Zingerman's Mail Order in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Remember: the sooner you open and use it, the more pleasure you'll get from this sharp, fresh treat.

November 13, 1996


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