Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Olio Nuovo 2009: Mascio from Umbria
For many years now my family has enjoyed the Christmas tradition of having an Extra Virgin olive oil from the recent harvest. As the Italians would say, "Olio Nuovo/Novello.” Most years the new oil shared at our table is from either Italy or California. Many times the annual oil was one that I had participated in or at least witnessed the production in the mill. The aggressive grassy aromas hurl me instantly back to the memorable day of those pressings. Being in the mill during the harvest is truly magical. I strongly recommend the experience.
This year was no different. In early December I placed my order with a California source for two bottles of olio nuovo. Unfortunately, they have not arrived.
Not to worry, good fortune is coming my way. Yesterday morning I was scrambling to pack the car for the eight hour drive from Washington, DC to Kentucky to spend the holidays with my family. As I was about to embark on my journey, Mary, who manages the front desk during the day at my building, yelled, “Mr. Sanders, WAIT! I have a package for you.” After looking around for my father (nobody calls me Mister), I did what any gift loving mortal would do, I stopped. As I turned to Mary, she was holding a medium size box. To my surprise the sender address was from Italy. I had forgotten that Gioia Pinna, who with Giuseppe Giancalini, owns Agricola Mascio Farm (http://www.agricolamascio.it/), located in the small picturesque village of Trevi in the Italian region of Umbria, was sending samples of her two olive oils for me to taste. So, with a “Joy to the World” smile, I wrapped the box in swaddling cloth and laid it in the trunk of my the car and sailed off through the blowing snow and tractor trailer rigs of western Maryland and West Virginia. Please note this is following 20” inches of snow from the weekend.
After the arduous drive and some semi-restful sleep, I bounce out of bed with my eyes all aglow and rushed to open this early Christmas treasure. Voila! There was one bottle each of Mascio's “Principe di Mascio” and ‘Gioio di Trevi” from the 2009 harvest. OLIO NUOVO! There was also a small bottle of 2008 Gioia for comparison purposes. The classic Italian varietals Moraiolo (80%), Leccino and Frantoio (20%) comprise the blend. Now I will give the oils a couple days to recover from the trip before tasting. Please, stay tuned for my tasting notes. Shipping this time of year can leave an olive a bit chilly. You can be assured my anticipation awaits the typical grassy, floral and artichoke aromas. Umbrian oils have a medium spicy character compared to their robust neighbors from Tuscany. This medium style seems to suit the American palate which has not grown up on olive oil.
It’s worth mentioning that many growers produce an olio nuovo in addition to their classic bottling. Technically speaking these are Mascio’s classic oils. The olive oil geeks can argue about that one. New oil is more assertive with bitter, spicy and peppery flavors which are the polyphenols (antioxidants) which give quality olive oil its healthy benefits. They can often bring a prize fighter to his knees with just one sip. Great stuff!
An indication of quality and attention to detail is Mascio's participation in the transparency and traceability system in Italy (http://www.agricolamascio.it/index.php/en/follow-the-olive-oil-drops). Place and time of each lot of olive trees can be traced to precision. As you know my rant is about freshness and verifying the harvest date of olive oil. This system is a huge step in providing consumers with confidence about the quality and freshness of the olive oil they are purchasing. Coincidentally, traceability was a major topic of discussion among researchers from olive oil producing countries at a recent conference in Tunis, Tunisia (http://allafrica.com/stories/200912170342.html). Do you know anyone who attended?
Let's start the holiday celebration by getting your hands on a bottle of olive oil from the recent 2009 harvest, olio nuovo. And you, too, will be hooked into a new holiday tradition, a healthy and flavorful one.
And for you, Gioia, grazie for the olio nuovo and saving our family's holiday tradition.
Finally I want to wish all of you and yours a joyful and safe holiday season and remember, FRESH is BEST!