Culinary Tourism: Taste the olive oil.

In my part of the world, wine tasting is popular, and when I lived in Texas, I participated in a chili cook-off. And chocolate tasting? I’m nibbling some right now.

But in the south of Italy, you find tours dedicated to tasting olive oils. I never gave much thought to variations in olive oil until I visited Italy in 2004. Then, it seemed quite a curiosity to me, the interest people took in their oils. Now, I’m eager to explore olive oils myself, and where better but Puglia?

According to The Olive Oil Times, about 40% of Italy’s olive oil grows on roughly 60 million trees in Puglia. You can read descriptions of different types of oil, and a great deal of olive knowledge.

How do you taste it? At Olive Oil Source, you can learn from professional olive oil taster Nancy Ash, owner of Strictly Olive Oil. You can learn the lingo and see what the pros are looking for in their oils.

For the more visual learners among us, here’s a video of Bill Sanders (called the evangelist of olive oil and wine) showing us all how to taste olive oil:

If you can’t make it to Italy, how about olive oil tasting in California? Yes, it’s available there too, so go out there and try a little EVOO! That’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil–soon you will be a pro in the tasting room.

BOOK REVIEW: Head over Heel

Head over Heel: Seduced by Southern Italy by Chris Harrison, 2009, Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Head over Heel by Chris Harrison, recommended by theitaliansouth.com

 

Australian writer Chris Harrison captured me first with his opening quote from Luigi Barzini: “In the heart of every man, wherever he is born, whatever his education and tastes, there is one small corner which is Italian… ”  In my family, there is a low-brow version of Barzini’s sentiment: There are only two kinds of people in the world—Italians and those that want to be. This book made me glad I am a little Italian. It also strengthened my urge to return to the sunny Italian south.

Harrison’s memoir draws us into Andrano, the village in Puglia he moved to after a love-at-first-sight encounter, and long distance romance with an Italian woman. In Andrano he learns to tolerate being wakened by the amplified voice of the vegetable seller roving through town in his truck, and to navigate the governmental obstacle course for residency and a driver’s license.

His stories rang true with my own experiences in southern Italy’s small towns, and colorful detail brings them to life: the festivals both religious and gastronomic (he favors the latter), the tragicomedy of nearly every interaction with the local carabinieri, and the challenges of teaching English to the most apathetic students.

Personal relationships have their own challenges, and Chris and Daniela discover when they move to Milan for work, and live with her brother. Daniela’s father wanders in a fog of Alzheimer’s disease, and her mother cares for him. Her family doesn’t always understand Chris and his Australian ways.

Entertaining all the way through, Harrison’s book also carried me back to Italy as I read. The south, and Puglia, are not often the subject of such books, and for me this added to the appeal. I found myself reading excerpts to my husband, and thinking of various friends who might also enjoy reading the book. You might enjoy it too–I recommend it!