I arrived in Fossacesia in time for il raccolto, the olive harvest. The harvest here came a bit later than usual, in part due to rain throughout the past couple of weeks. You don’t pick while it’s raining because the wet olives could start fermenting immediately and you don’t want that.
I didn’t have an opportunity to participate in the raccolto this year, but I’m sure glad I rolled into town when I did. This is when, if you’re lucky, you can get hold of a few bottles (or tins) of the grezzo, the raw oil freshly pressed and unfiltered. This is the liveliest, fruitiest oil you can find, and you need to consume it in no more than about three months because the sediment that remains in the oil and gives it its robust flavor also will eventually corrupt its quality.*
Mind you, consuming the grezzo in a timely fashion is no hardship. There’s nothing quite like it. Locals recommend using it on salads, bread, and as a finishing touch to soups and pastas rather than cooking with it, which they consider a waste of its dazzling flavor.
I was especially excited because I read that this year’s olive harvest in Italy is among the highest in quality in recent years. I can’t wait to give some to my brother-in-law, who is of Sicilian extraction and a particular connoisseur of Italian-born comestibles. Try to tell him that garlic or tomatoes or oil from anywhere else can match the Italian version and watch him silently lose interest in your discourse. I don’t try, because I tend to agree with him.
So I was in a fever to get a few containers — not only to drizzle immediately onto everything I could think of or to sip on ice with a garnish of fresh mint (only a slight exaggeration) — but to carry home to enthusiasts like John. I feared it would be difficult to score any because the fruit was still being harvested, the oil extracted and bottled, so it wasn't yet generally available. Next week, most were saying. However, I found a few small producers ready and willing to part with a container or two.
Here’s my first bottle, procured by my friend Gail from a grove-owning friend of hers. Note the deep chartreuse color. ’Tis pity you can’t note the taste, which is also green, grassy, fruity, and smooth.
The Italian gesture for 'yum'!
“Yummy yummy yummy, I’ve got oil in my tummy…”
That right there was a curiosity. I had oil on the brain all week, and my unconscious or subconscious started manifesting that fact in bastardized 70’s song lyrics that kept replaying like those ear worms you can’t shake. Thus, the above, based on one of the world's more annoying songs. As I drove past groves, I got: “Love grows where my olive oil goes and nobody knows like me.”
My final collection of grezzo was seven liters from three different producers. Four tins flew home with me. I couldn’t take the rest because my suitcase was just getting too heavy, and though I knew I’d have to check it due to liquid restrictions for carry-ons, I didn’t want to pay the extra $2,000 or so the airline would want to charge me for an overweight bag. (“It ain’t heavy, it’s my olive oil.” Somebody make it stop.)
I was sorry to leave some of my booty behind, but I do plan to make another trip to the house in February to check on things, so I figure I can use the rest of it then or shuttle it home — at the 11th hour of the recommended consumption deadline.
Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to doing a taste test with my family. Johnny G, your grezzo is on the way! (“The first batch is the sweetest, baby, I know…”) ---------------
*Learning that, I was reminded of just how deceitful olive oil labeling can be. I’d run out of my Fossacesian stash back home recently and had bought a bottle labeled “Unfiltered.” I’ve come to realize that that probably means one of two things:
1) The bottlers are lying and getting away with it due to vagaries of labeling legislation. (Bleepin’ marketers. Can’t believe I spent a career connected with such an oft-ignoble profession. If you look at that “Unfiltered” labeling closely with a pocket-sized Hubble telescope, you’ll no doubt see a footnote clarifying that the oil is “Unfiltered” in the sense that nobody dropped a cigarette filter into it.)
2) The oil is indeed unfiltered and likely rancid by the time it makes its way to your cupboard.