Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sicily's Ravida is a Genuine Gregory Peck

Last week Crush+Press presented the regal and elegant Colonna, the Audrey Hepburn of extra virgin olive oils. To continue with our Roman Holiday, or in this case Southern Italian, we must have Gregory Peck. Without question, Sicily’s Ravidà Organic extra virgin olive oil wins the audition. Being a constant resident in my pantry for the past 10+ years, this olive oil/juice is suave, manly and always gives a stellar performance—Gregory Peck!

Once again, similar to Marina Colonna, we have the daughter of a noble Italian family, Natalia Ravidà, who urged her father to begin bottling his own extra virgin olive oil and exporting around the world. Nicolò Ravidà, like any adoring and appreciative father, listened and acted. He applied his engineering background and implemented modern production practices resulting in one of the truly finest and most consistent olive oil estates in the world. After his retirement, Nicolò handed the reins to Natalia, our co-guest of honor at the “ Celebrate the Taste of Southern Italy,” sponsored by Washington Wine and Wine and Crush+Press benefiting Dress for Success.

The accomplished Natalia once lived the life of a broadcast journalist based in London. Recently she published a marvelous cookbook, Seasons of Sicily, which is a celebration of generations of Sicilian culinary culture. Her eggplant rolls with béchamel sauce are pure yummy and was a major hit at my dinner parties last summer. She continues to travel the world promoting the fine attributes of premium extra virgin olive oil and Sicilian cuisine. She lives in Palermo with her husband, Giuseppe Spatafora, and son, Alfredo.

For those in the Washington, DC metro region, you have a fun opportunity to chat with Natalia and taste the Gregory Peck of extra virgin olive at an informal reception at Potenza restaurant on Thursday, June 24 from 7-9 p.m. Please register in advance at http://www.washingtonwomenandwine.com/pdf/wwwbrochure-potenza.pdf or email your RSVP to info@washingtonwomenandwine.com. Tickets are $65 in advance and $75 at the door.

Please join us in celebrating these two legendary women olive producers from Italy.

Photos: Promotion poster for "Roman Holiday" and the Ravidà villa in Menfi, Sicily.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Audrey Hepburn & Marina Colonna—Enchanting Spice

My recent tour of Marina Colonna’s estate in Molise gave me a mild version of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s frantic Vespa ride through the streets of Rome in the 1953 cinema classic Roman Holiday. Prior to my arrival, rain had turned the roads and fields on Principessa Marina Colonna’s farm into a nearly unnavigable sea of mud. This didn’t stop Marina. We hopped in her truck and began our tour, first stopping to bring mid-morning coffee to the workers pruning her olive trees. We continued by slipping, sliding and spinning up and down hills all across the farm. As we rolled along near one of her beautiful lakes at a decent speed, we plunged suddenly into a deep mud hole sending muddy water in every direction. After my head bounced off of the ceiling of the cab a couple of times, Marina glanced at me and quipped, “Everyone thinks this is scary, I think it’s normal.”

It wasn’t normal when Marina stormed onto the private label olive oil stage in the 1980s. Her father, Prince Francesco Colonna, had always sold his olive crop to the large industrial olive oil processing companies. Marina challenged him to “stop selling to those people” and bottle and brand his own olive oil. His response was, “No.” After further urging from Marina, he wavered finally telling her if she felt so strongly, “then you do it.” She did.

For her leading role in Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar for her first role as a leading lady. Since making her plunge into the estate olive oil business, Principessa Marina Colonna has been winning her share of awards by producing outstanding premium Extra Virgin olive oils. Her extra virgin olive oils have won awards from such prestigious organizations as Slow Food. The Italian olive oil producers’ Consortium Unaprol has given Marina Colonna the “100% Italian Quality” award for “her efforts to promote the quality of real Italian extra virgin olive.”

Villa at the Colonna Estate in Molise

A couple of years ago, I began using celebrities to describe flavor profiles of premium extra virgin olive oils. For this hands-on farmer/principessa, there’s only one celebrity to describe the Colonna Classic Blend, Audrey Hepburn—elegant, regal with a gentle touch of enchanting spice.

You have a rare opportunity to meet the leading lady of the Colonna estate at the “Celebrate the Tastes of Southern Italy” on Thursday, June 24 from 7-9 pm at Potenza restaurant in Washington, DC. The event is sponsored by Washington, Women and Wine, Crush+Press and Dress for Success. For more information and registration:


Note—The use of celebrities is in no way intended to suggest these celebrities have endorsed these products, but is a simple way to give the consumer a glimpse of what can be expected from the juice in the bottle.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Celebrate the Tastes of Southern Italy

On Thursday, June 24, 2010 from 7-9p, Crush+Press will join Washington Women & Wine and Dress for Success as we ”Celebrate the Tastes of Southern Italy” with two extraordinary women olive oil producers, Principessa Marina Colonna, Molise, Italy, www.marinacolonna.it and Natalia Ravidà, Menfi, Sicily, www.ravida.it. You’ll enjoy sampling exquisite southern Italian cuisine featuring olive oils from the Colonna and Ravidà Estates, paired with a selection of beautiful southern Italian wines. As part of the launch of the new Crush+Press ecommerce web site for REAL handcrafted extra virgin olive oil, I will be assisting Marina and Natalia with the informal demonstrations.

Our event will take place at Potenza, DC’s favorite new trattoria, bakery and wine store, named for a scenic town in southern Italy. This is an opportunity to learn more about Crush and Press, www.crushandpress.com, the programs of Dress for Success, www.dressforsuccess.org/washingtondc, and join Washington Women and Wine, if you are not a member. Advance registration is strongly recommended. The event fee is $65.00 for those registering by Tuesday, June 22,2010 and $75.00 at the door. Please register in advance at http://www.washingtonwomenandwine.com/pdf/wwwbrochure-potenza.pdf

Stayed tuned to this blog over the next few days as I post more about Marina and Natalia. (Photo--Natalia with her parents Ninny and Nicolò Ravidà)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hungry Memphis

Our Tunisian olive oil tasting at the Madison garnered some nice press from the Memphis Flyer.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Memphis and Ole Man River Enjoys a Taste of Tunisia

Our trip to Memphis begin predictably with its famous barbeque and a visit to Beale Street. A short walk from our hotel was Blues City Cafe, which served us their "Best Deal on Beale Street," half slab of ribs and fried catfish. Here's heaven in Tennessee. Of course, a tablespoon of EVOO before bed provided a much needed digestive aid.

We began our participation in the Memphis in May Salute to Tunisia with an early appearance on the CBS affiliate WREG, Channel 3,"Live at 9" daily show with veteran anchors Mary Beth Conley and Alex Coleman. On behalf of 100% Tunisian Olive Oil, Al Hamman and I gave viewers an olive oil tasting demonstration with Rivière d'Or Organic Extra Virgin olive oil. And what fun it was.

When a person swallows high quality olive oil for the first time, particularly on live TV, a fun visual is certain. I instructed our hosts to breath through their teeth as they swallowed the olive oil/juice. As she swallowed, Mary Beth quipped simultaneously, "Why? My response, "You're about to find out." At that moment, her eyes nearly popped out of her head as the peppery grip in the back of her throat erupted like a volcano. "WOW!" By the end of the segment, Mary Beth was coveting the amazing health benefits of EVOO by mimicking drinking straight from the bottle. This was fun TV. Thanks Mary Beth and Alex.

Next came our primary purpose for the trip to Memphis, the Tunisia Olive Oil Tasting at the Madison Hotel Rooftop from 5:30-7:30. Formerly a bank, the Madison rooftop offers one of the best views of the mighty Mississippi River, and its over stretched banks due to recent floods. With a blazing sunset, this was the perfect venue for over 60 guests tasting wines from the Mediterranean, Tunisian olive oil and feasting on Chef Chris Windsor's Tunisian- Southern fusion cuisine. The presentation of Marqiz (Tunisian lamb sausage), Briks (Tunisian tuna and egg stuffed turnovers), calamari and olive salad, falafel with harissa chili sauce, and lamb sliders looked so yummy as those trays cruised past our tasting table. They tell me the food was fantastic. Al and I wouldn't know. We were totally and happily engaged in continual olive tasting demos during the entire two hours (photo).

Offering an olive oil tasting can cause some raised eyebrows. A usual response is often, "Are you serious?" This was not the case with this group overlooking "Ole Man River." The fun, adventurous folks of Memphis heartily embraced the idea of tasting olive oil the professional way, straight, without bread. Their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn and understand more about EVOO, and in particular Tunisian EVOO, was gratifying....and a rush. Also, Al and I were amazed at how many of the guests had actually visited Tunisian, and recently, too. This was a well traveled gathering.

For our brief travels, Al and I extend special thanks to Josh Spotts and Chef Windsor at the Madison Hotel, and our new friend, Randy Blevins of Memphis in May International Festival, Inc., who briefed and shepherded us through our visit.

And a river of thanks, to the good folks of Memphis!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Memphis Meets Tunisia

Memphis is celebrating exotic Tunisia the entire Month of May. Celebrity Chef Rafik Tlatli from the seaside resort city of Monastir, Tunisia recently prepared a five-course menu at the famed Peabody Hotel. You will be comforted to know that duck was not on the menu.

Now, on behalf of 100% Tunisian Olive Oil, Al Hamman of Hamman Marketing Associates and I will journey to Memphis tomorrow for media rounds early Tuesday morning followed that evening by a Tunisia Olive Oil Tasting on the Madison Hotel rooftop. Madison Chef Chris Windsor is preparing a menu of traditional Tunisian cuisine blended with a southern twist. Hey folks, how about lamb sliders?

We will conduct informal olive oil demonstrations from 5:30 to 7:30. While gazing at the setting sun, guests will have the opportunity to sample several 100% Tunisian olive oils for their tasting pleasure.

Surprising to most people, Tunisia is the fourth largest olive oil producer in the world, dating back 3,000 years. Historically, Tunisian olive oil has been sold in bulk to the large European industrial companies, which export to the U.S and other countries under their own country label ("Packed in Italy"). Now, times are changing. Following the path of their Spanish and Italian neighbors, Tunisian growers have begun to bottle this flavorful, healthy nectar under their own labels, thus giving them better quality control. Tunisian olive oils, Riviére d'Or and Terra Delyssa, are available currently in the U.S., but more are coming. Actually, the EVOO from Newman's Own is 100% Tunisian olive oil.

If you live near Memphis or passing through join us Tuesday, May 19 on the rooftop of Madison Hotel. For advanced reservations (only $35), please contact the Madison Hotel--901.333.1224 or www.grill83.com

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Extra Virgin JUICE!

“THEY JUST SELL FAT,” cried Manfredi Barbera as we cruised through the winding turns to his mill located 45 minutes outside of Palermo, Sicily. Barbera, the producer of Frantoia Extra Virgin olive oil, was referring to the bulk, industrial olive oil companies and other seed oils on the shelves of large supermarkets. He explained further, “These oils have no antioxidants, carotenes and other health benefits that consumers expect from Extra Virgin olive oil. ”

Sadly, many of these companies are blending older or adulterated oil with fresher oil to improve the chemistry and slapping an Extra Virgin label on the bottle and shipping it to the U.S. There is some good news. On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, the USDA finally published federal standards for Extra Virgin olive oil, including enforcement against these fraudulent activities. The standards will take effect October 24,2010.

In contrast to these inferior oils, high quality Extra Virgin olive oil is a FAT (monounsaturated-good fat)... and a JUICE! It’s the JUICE that contains the polypenol antioxidants, vitamin E (nature’s longevity drug) and other other healthy compounds. There is an undisputable wide gap between the quality of estate grown and most mass-produced olive oils. Inexpensive industrial olive oils, on the other hand, are just fat, and possibly defective.

This point was echoed repeatedly during my recent 26 nights and 19-bed tour of great olive oil regions of the Mediterranean. Top Extra Virgin olive oil producers in Tunisia, Italy, France, and Spain expressed uniformly their displeasure and frustration at the flood of fraudulent defective olive oils on the market. To illustrate the JUICE factor, the clever brother and sister team of Francisco and Rosa Vañó (photo) in Jaen, Spain manage the family company called Castello de Canena Olive JUICE SL. They clearly know what they're growing.

How can you, the consumer, ensure that you are buying Extra Virgin olive oil, which is a JUICE and not just a fat?

First, know your source. Know from whom you are buying. Do these folks know anything about olive oil? Most large retailers have little knowledge of olive oil, particularly the importance of proper storage. Here’s a tip. Never buy a bottle of olive oil from the top shelf. Always grab a bottle from the darker center of the shelf. Light, heat and air are the major enemies of olive oil.

How can you detect if a bottle of olive oil is defective. The reason Fresh is Best is my primary mantra about olive oil is because, like all JUICEs, olive oil oxidizes, eventually reaching a nasty state of rancidity. Here’s a test. Remove the cap from your bottle of olive oil and take a series of short, rapid whiffs (like a dog). Do you detect aromas of nail polish, nail polish remover or paint thinner? If so, the oil is rancid. There are two other primary defects. Fusty is the smell of fermenting fruit, likely resulting from taking too long to process the fruit after picking. Another severe defect is winey, which is evidenced by a vinegar aroma.

Within a few days of an olive oil demonstration, I will often purchase a bulk Extra Virgin olive oil from a major supermarket. Participants smell this oil first giving context for the fresher, high quality Extra Virgin JUICE. This never fails to be an enlightening. You can safely try this at home with your kids.

Why is the JUICE factor important in using olive oil? Cooking with any oil, olive or otherwise, which is merely a fat is not harmful, just inadequate. The JUICE element with its higher polypenols offers a higher smoke point for cooking purposes. Moreover, most of the healthy stuff is lost during cooking. Greater healthy benefits from the JUICE are garnered from drizzling over your food after being removed from the heat, immediately before serving. Not only are you adding the health benefits of Extra Virgin JUICE, but flavor and freshness too. Chefs always talk about layering in flavoring with seasoning. You, the home cook, can layer by drizzling Extra Virgin JUICE.

Remember—all Extra Virgin olive oils are not the same. Go for the JUICE!