Friday, March 26, 2010

3/22/10-A Sicilian Cowboy and Maker's Mark

My Tunis Air flight touched down in Palermo, Sicily on time at 12:15 pm, The friendly and beautiful smile of Anna (formerly from Brooklyn) from the office of Manfredi Barbera office greeted me and drove me to Manfredi’s home. Manfredi Barbera owns Premiati Oleifici Barbara, which has been in business since 1894. Manfredi produces many labels of Extra Virgin olive oil, but the most important to me is Frantoia, which will be available for purchase on the soon to be released Crush and Press. This olive oil has outstanding value and has kept a regular spot in my pantry for over ten years. Despite leaving the next day for a 10 day visit to Brazil, Manfredi set aside the afternoon to visit with me.

Understanding this Sicilian cowboy requires a glimpse at his 400 year-old house. This was once the home of the Prince of Naples, but because of gambling and other activities “finished his money before finishing the house,” according to Manfredi. This home has been in the Barbera family for 120 years and was a country hunting house originally. Forty years ago, the land surrounding the home was developed into apartment buildings and other commercial establishments. One row of trees still lines the street leading to the house, which once provided the traditional picturesque long driveway to this magnificent home.

Shortly after greeting Manfredi, we were sitting down to a typical Italian lunch, a simple and tasty tomato-based macaroni and a red wine. We ate and ran. With his lovable 5 year-old son, Lorenzo, joining us, we began the 45 minute drive to his mill in Custonaci, near Trapani on the western tip of Sicily.

It was not long into the drive that I discovered Manfredi’s love of Kentucky bourbon, particularly Maker’s Mark. A treat to himself on any trip to New York City is a mega steak paired with Maker’s Mark on the rocks. Come to think of it, Bill Samuels, President of Maker’s Mark and Manfredi share a similar eccentric DNA. Introducing these two is a must. Joining them for dinner could be an unparalleled hilarious experience.

Speaking of steaks, Manfredi, who is an exceptional cook, prefers to finish his steaks after cooking with sea salt, fresh lemon and olive oil, Frantoia , of course—and bourbon.

At the mill, he demonstrated a new milling technology that he is experimenting with. This new technology has four separate grinders for crushing. These grinders can be switched and two of them can work collaboratively. This gives the capability of producing six or seven different flavor styles from the same olives. One grinder rolls similar to a traditional stone wheel, but without the exposure to air. The second is a hammer, which is similar to a coffee grinder. Third is an iron disc that acts as a masher. Finally, one grinder removes the pits before crushing giving a softer flavor profile.

Furthermore, the mill is divided into clean and dirty zones to preserve the integrity of the oil and achieving optimum sanitation. This process and picking olives when they are green (adding bitterness and pungency) explains how his Frantoia has the capacity to maintain its freshness beyond most Extra Virgin olive oils.

Manfredi resolved one mystery for me. His main oil is called, Frantoia. In Italian, Frantoio means mill. Frantoio is also a prominent Italian olive varietal. What’s with “Frantoia?” With a big smile, Manfredi said, “It’s fantasy. No meaning. It’s woman, which is better.” I’m in agreement. The romantic cowboy invented the feminine of Frantoio.

To conclude our visit, Lorenzo and I played in a huge ancient cave at Grotta Mangiapane and saw a 500 year-old frantoio (mill). After a thrilling drive back to Palermo, dinner with the Ravidás.

No comments: