Sunday, November 27, 2011

Olio Nuovo - Seconda Parte

Mark spent the week heading up each day to our friends olive grove to help pick olives. The goal, 500 kilos by friday when an appointment was booked at the frantoio (oil mill). The minimum that they will press is 500 kilos. A good yield is 18 to 20%. Finn went with Mark a few of the days, his new hobby, collecting shells, and not the beach kind!

We were all very excited about the possibility of heading over to the mill and seeing the process of how olives become oil. On Friday afternoon we got the call, the olives were about to be pressed. I hurried the girls out of the house and channelling my inner Mario Andretti, sped across the valley to the oil mill. When we arrived the olives were already in the granite wheel grinder, but we were able to tour around and see the whole process.

The olives get dumped in the chute and then the olives go up a shaft and air blows over them to remove any leaves and twigs.

The olives are weighed. Mark and the gang came in at 504 kilos!
The olives get sent through another blower and down the chute where they go into the first stage of mulching.

Then the mulch is put into the grinder where huge granite wheels crush the olives and pits.

The next mixing stage where the oil begins to separate.
Then it goes through two stages of centrifuging, in the second centrifuge water is added which helps to separate the oil.

Then it is poured into containers, ready to eat. It was a great experience to be a part of this process, the mill was very noisy but smelled amazing with the aroma of fresh cold pressed olive oil!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Olio Nuovo (New Oil)

I have had some people tell me that November is their favourite time of year in Italy. The air is heavy with the smell of burning olive branches, which is a sort of sweet smokey smell and provides for the most beautiful sunsets. And it is the time when all the new oil comes out. The oil is fresh and almost grassy tasting. It is very green.

We went up with some friends to their olive grove on the weekend to help pick olives. The minimum amount that is required for pressing is 500 kilograms, which will apparently make somewhere close to 50 litres of oil.

First you need to spread nets around the base of the tree. You try to make sure there are no big holes or gaps. Then you start picking and dropping the olives down on the nets, trying not to squish them as you move around. There are a type of machine arm that shakes the olives from the branches, but we were picking the old school way, by hand. We sent a few children up the trees with little plastic rakes, other people were picking from the lower branches and two adults were up ladders, reaching the olives the children could not reach.

I really enjoyed this experience. The work was hard but there was such a great community feel, it made the day go by much more quickly. We stopped for lunch around an open fire, where sausages were grilled. Then back to the picking. The next step is to gather the olives into a pile and then pick out as much leaves and twigs as possible.

Then the olives are bagged ready to go to be pressed. It will take most of the week picking every day to get 500 kilos.

We will go with our friends when it is time for the pressing. I love the idea of knowing where our food comes from and the process necessary to get from tree to table. I know I wouldn't want to be a full time olive picker, but I really enjoyed the day with friends, I even got to climb a tree and I know my children had a lot of fun too.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ho bisogno di imparare a parlare italiano

I need to learn to speak Italian.

I was warned that it can be challenging to learn to speak Italian when we are not working and our children are not in school, so we are not forced into learning and we rely on English for our day to day communication.

So I have taken some advice of seasoned expats on how to learn to speak the language. First, go to the bar (the place for coffee) each morning. Listen to the people, speak as much as you can, read the papers and watch Italian TV. It was even suggested that we watch Italian soap operas, as they are easy to follow and the language is simple.

So, after many years of no TV, we went out and bought one. Okay, partly for the language, but partly because we do like to watch movies, and it is not fun on a small laptop. So in the mornings I have been turning on Italian cartoons for our children.

I have started frequenting the 'bar' (the place for coffee). I look through the Italian papers and trash mags that are there. I am figuring out more words each day. On my way home today, I stopped in the giornale shop and picked up some Italian mags. I figured a good way would be to look at magazines I like to keep me interested and I can work on translating what is written. I got a bit over ambitious and picked up a beautiful knitting magazine. I'll have to see how I make out with that.

For now I will do some Rosetta Stone and I will hold off on the soap operas. Baby Steps.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Roadside Madonnas

Sounds like a good band name.

You may have noticed in my last post, I posted a picture of beautiful Madonna. You often see these Madonna shrines along the roadsides as well as in alcoves on the side of homes and buildings. They are beautiful and diverse. I have begun taking pictures of some of the ones we see.

The word Madonna is an old Italian word that translates to 'my lady' it was used to describe a noble or important woman and historically has been used in reference to the Virgin Mary.
These shrines are meant to give spiritual relief to passersby, as well as to protect the inhabitants and their belongings. They are often placed beside fields as a way of blessing the land and praying for it to be very fertile.

I will post some of the ones we have seen. Some are simple, some painted, some more ornate, some with fresh flowers, some with plastic. They are really very beautiful. I will continue to add to the this post, as I add more photos.
On the road to Monte San Savino

A beautiful Maiolica Style Madonna near our house.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

When in Rome...

...Or at least take a Sicilian with you. Or any Italian would likely do. But I now have a lovely Sicilian friend, so I took her. Where you ask, grocery shopping of course. And a Sicilian erborista, even better.

I went grocery shopping this morning with my downstairs neighbour. We muddle through conversations half in Italian, half in English. Her English is much better than my Italian, I must admit. But it is so much easier to navigate your way around with someone who speaks the language. I then asked her about more natural products than what is found in the regular supermercatos and I knew of the name of a chain of natural grocers called NaturaSi, and I asked if there was one in Arezzo and she said no, but something like it and she took me there. It was great. There were lots of natural products. Lots of selection. Peanut butter with out hydrogenated oils and sugar. Almond butter. Rice vinegar, ginger, and the list goes on.

Still a few things left on my 'please to bring to Italy', but at least I now know where to go to get miso!

I have learned a number of things the hard way. The internet on mobile phone continued to ding me, until I signed onto a plan. Tada!!! And, I now know not to buy books in English, they are ridiculously expensive and ships here, and it is free if you order enough. Don't try to top up your mobile online with a foreign credit card, it is futile, and it will likely take a couple hours to figure that out.

Don't bring West Coast vegetarian cook books to a mediterranean country. Many of the ingredients will be challenging if not impossible to find. Not to mention the food here is so amazing, you might was well do as they do, and eat local.

I found avocados today. Another ahha moment for me in the produce department. I also found frozen berries. I am continuing to buy many varieties of cheese and will start noting the ones we really love. So I know what to look for when I return to the store. In the meantime, we are really enjoying all the various cheeses.

I posted the Madonna photo at the top because I really like it. There are many Madonna's and I am contemplating doing a whole series of them, as well as a laundry series, I just love seeing all the laundry hanging out the windows etc.

I must run, there is much pane e formaggio to be eaten.