I’m happy to say we’re finalizing plans for our next AmorOlio programs, to take place March 25 – 31 and April 22 – 28, 2013 at Villa Campestri, the world’s only olive oil resort located in the hills above Tuscany’s Mugello valley just half an hour north of Florence (www.villacampestri.com).
Michele Forgione, chef-owner of Montreal’s exciting new Osteria Venti (called “close to flawless” in the Montreal Gazette), will be guest chef in March. And my daughter Sara Jenkins, chef-owner of Porsena Restaurant as well as the Extra Bar and Porchetta, all on East 7th Street in New York’s East Village, will join me in April for a mother-daughter program, a little ahead of Mother’s Day but still worth celebrating.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, AmorOlio is a unique, six-day intensive program, now in its third year, focused on extra-virgin olive oil.
You could think of it as a graduate seminar for cooks, chefs, food writers, and anyone interested in deepening their experience of this remarkable ingredient: how it’s made, what’s good and what’s not, nutritional values and health impacts, how to recognize and describe flavors, and how to choose and use extra-virgin in the kitchen and at the table.
I developed this five-day/six-night program with the idea of creating an opportunity to explore one of the most widely used and most misunderstood ingredients in the modern (and ancient) kitchen. No specialized knowledge is required or expected, and skill levels will vary from beginner to expert, but everyone can profit from the classes, the discussions, the taste experiences, the whole package of ingredients that make up a fun-packed, learning-full, dynamic and exciting week.
Together, we’ll spend our days in this enchanted setting, exploring the world of super-premium olive oils that actually go “beyond extra-virgin” to a new level of high technical standards and outstanding sensory profiles.
What’s in store for the spring?
- Hands-on classes in the Villa kitchen, with me, our guest chef, and the Villa’s executive chef as we explore cooking with extra-virgin—braising, frying, sauteing, baking, making ice cream, as well as other uses of extra-virgin—garnishing, for instance, and preserving.
- The state of the art: recent changes in olive cultivation and olive oil production that are making fine extra-virgin more available for more consumers, and how to tell the best from the not so great, the true from the false.
- An introduction, through guided tastings, to the surprising variety of extra-virgins from around the world, all representing a program for olive oil excellence, all illustrating the enormous range of flavors and aromas included in extra-virgin.
- Wine tastings and a winery visit, plus visits to a fine cheese producer, to local markets, and to other gastronomic delights of the region.
- Meals in traditional restaurants and a chance to see how Tuscany’s expert traditional chefs use this precious ingredient.
- An exploration of the culinary heritage of this fascinating corner of Tuscany, known in Italy as the cradle of the Renaissance.
For more information, or to register, please go to:
Below is the day-by-day breakdown for each session:
Day 1 – Introduction to Villa Campestri (Monday, March 25 & Monday, April 22):
- Olive oil tasting
- Reception and dinner
Start the week off in Villa Campestri’s Oleoteca (the old wine cellar) for Nancy’s introduction into how olive oil is made and how different types of intervention and different critical points in the process (from variety and weather, to date of harvest and processing method) influence the way olive oil tastes; followed by a structured olive oil tasting with agronomist Gemma Pasquali, who has spent a distinguished academic career studying the important characteristics of olive oil. With Gemma, you’ll gain new insights into the differences between premium extra-virgins and ordinary supermarket oils, what different flavors relate to (celery? artichoke? tomato leaves?), what makes them the way they are; then you’ll be introduced to the award-winning techniques developed by Paolo Pasquali (proprietor of Villa Campestri and, incidentally, Gemma’s father) to preserve oil’s freshness long after harvesting.
Once the tasting is over, we’ll share an aperitivo and then transfer to the Villa restaurant, l’Olivaia, for dinner, an introduction to the Mugello and its great culinary traditions.
Day 2 – La Cucina Toscana (Tuesday, March 26 & Tuesday, April 23):
- Farmer’s market
- A grist mill (molino)
- Trattoria lunch
- Totally Tuscan cooking class
- Wine tasting with Burton Anderson
- Dinner at Villa Campestri
In the morning we’ll visit the weekly farmer’s market in Borgo San Lorenzo to see what we can find there—and there will be plenty of choices from the delights of the spring growing season with all its culinary riches. We’ll probably find wild asparagus and other wild foraged greens, as well as the last of the artichokes, and maybe some early fava beans. And there will be a porchetta stand and even, for the bold among you, a stand selling the most famous (and most delicious) Tuscan specialty panini di lampredotto, aka tripe sandwiches. We’ll also seek out the delicious Easter cake, la colomba, in the form of a shapely dove.
We’ll stop at a historic grist mill to see and sample the stupendous flour produced, then lunch in a lovely, traditional local trattoria. Returning to Villa Campestri, you’ll have a chance for a brief rest before an introduction in the kitchen to the fine art of la cucina Toscana with a sampling of products that distinguish this simple, sober, but delicious way of cooking and eating–an array of local specialties including wild fennel pollen; a range of fresh herbs from parsley to rosemary to wild mint and sage; pecorino cheeses, fresh and aged; real ricotta and creamy raveggiolo; cured pork pancetta, rigatino, and prosciutto; wild mushrooms; vin santo; and of course extra-virgin olive oil. (If there are Tuscan products or processes you’re wondering about, please let us know ahead of time so we can talk about them and taste them with the whole group.)
In a Totally Tuscan cooking class with Nancy and the chefs, you’ll prepare many classic Tuscan Easter dishes, using fresh produce from spring gardens and some of the pantry items we’ve tasted and discussed.
The menu might start with the springtime staple cacio e bacelli—not a recipe, just raw fava beans and fresh pecorino—but there’ll also be a chance for some real cooking, possibly including a sformato or custard-pudding of wild asparagus, or an artichoke risotto; maybe lamb shanks braised and served with a gremolata; perhaps a frittata of wild herbs; and we’ll finish with two Tuscan classics, panna cotta (cooked cream) and torta di ricotta, a ricotta cheese cake.
Before dinner on this evening, we’ll be joined by Burton Anderson for a structured tasting of an array of Tuscany’s finest and most interesting wines. Anderson, an American who has lived and worked in Tuscany for many decades, is considered Italy’s premier wine expert. He is the author of a number of books and a consultant to the Italian wine promotion board, and we think he knows more than any other person about the state of Italian wines today.
Burt and his wife Nancy will join us for dinner in the Campestri dining room, as we sample what we’ve produced in our class today.
Day 3 – Understanding Olive Oil (Wednesday, March 27 & Wednesday, April 24):
- Touring the oliveto, 2nd olive oil tasting in the Oleoteca
- Morning: olive oil cooking class
- Afternoon: bread and baking in the wood-fired oven
- Lunch and dinner at Villa Campestri
After breakfast in the morning, we’ll stroll through the oliveto, the olive grove, of Villa Campestri as Gemma explains the care and maintenance of olives, and how that relates to the production of fine extra-virgin olive oil. The olives may be in blossom although it’s still a little early for that. We’ll look into the frantoio (the olive mill) to see how the pristine machinery is critical to the production of premium oil. Then we’ll repair to the Oleoteca once more for a second olive oil tasting to explore many of the typical defects to be found in oils—defects that are all too often present in less than scrupulous retail outlets, whether gourmet shops or supermarkets, and even in many restaurants. Musty, fusty, and rancid are the keynotes—but Gemma will be sure we leave with a good taste in our mouths.
The rest of the morning we’ll spend back in the kitchen, this time exploring how to cook with olive oil and the many ways to use this precious ingredient in the kitchen, from sauces to desserts, including sauteing, braising, poaching, and deep-frying with extra-virgin olive oil, plus gelato dell’olio and maybe a torta all’olio (olive oil cake).
After lunch and a brief rest we’ll return to the kitchen, this time to look at bread (the puzzle of Tuscany’s salt-free bread), focaccia, and pizza making, using flour from the grist mill we visited yesterday. While pizza isn’t a Tuscan tradition, it has become ubiquitous all over Italy so it fits well in the modern Tuscan kitchen. Best of all, we’ll get to test our recipes in Campestri’s wood-fired oven for a real gustatory understanding of why these tastes are so seductive.
Day 4 – Field Trip Day (Thursday, March 28 & Thursday, April 25):
- Selvapiana winery with Federico, Silvia & Nicoletta Giuntini
- Lunch at Selvapiana
- Caseificio (cheese dairy) of Massimiliano Mungilli
- Dinner at Campestri
We’ll begin a tour of some of the culinary delights of the Mugello valley with a trip to Selvapiana, about an hour by car from Villa Campestri. This noted wine estate is in Chianti Rufina, a DOCG zone and one of several sub-regions of Chianti (not to be confused with Ruffina, a brand name and wine-maker in Chianti Classico, on the other side of the Arno). At Selvapiana we’ll spend time with the charming wine-maker Federico Giuntini as we visit his hillside vineyards, the modern cellars, and the ancient cellars deep underground. We’ll taste the new wine straight from the barrel, as well as a range of Selvapiana’s excellent, top-ranked wines.
Lunch at the winery will be prepared by Federico’s wife Nicoletta—with luck this may include her splendid acquacotta, one of the finest products of the Tuscan country table.
After lunch, we head back toward Campestri, making a stop high on a hill looking over the Sieve valley for a visit with pecorino cheese producer Massimiliano Mungilli who, with his family, makes fine pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheeses from the milk of their 800 or so pecore sarde (Sarda sheep). We’ll watch as he produces raviggiolo (sort of like junket) and ricotta (true ricotta, made from re-cooking the whey), then sample the freshly produced cheeses as well as Massimiliano’s aged cheeses, and learn why so much of what we call ricotta in the U.S. is really just curdled milk.
Dinner will be a light meal back at Villa Campestri. Tonight, if you wish, you may order from the menu.
Day 5 – Pasta, steak, olive oil—what could be better? (Friday, March 29 & Friday, April 26):
- Pasta demo and class
- Lunch in a brilliant restaurant high on a mountain pass
- A third and final olive oil tasting
- A Lenten fasting dinner at Campestri
Early in the morning we’ll go back into Campestri’s kitchen, this time to explore the intricacies of pasta as we learn to make by hand tortelli (the incredible potato-stuffed ravioli of the Mugello), tortellini, and lasagna.
Later in the morning, we’ll take off again for a brilliant restaurant high up in the mountains between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna for an incredible lunch of the highest quality beef steak (la bistecca toscana) cooked over an open fire and served with great panache by a young chef and his wife.
Returning to Campestri for a welcome rest, then just before dinner we repair to the Oleoteca for our third and final olive oil tasting with Gemma. This time Nancy wants to challenge everyone to think about the ways we talk about oil and why phrases like “first cold pressing” and even “extra-virgin” are essentially meaningless when confronting a high-quality oil. We’ll talk about the mistakes that are conventionally made, whether in tasting or in description, and how to avoid them.
Dinner on March 26 (Good Friday) will be a Lenten fasting dinner at Campestri, featuring a vegetarian lasagna (pasta al forno) and perhaps other dishes based on the pasta we crafted this morning–very welcome after our prodigious lunch. In April, we’ll still eat light after our amazing lunch–but not necessarily vegetarian.
Day 6 – Our Guest Chef Steps in with a Demo and Class (Saturday, March 30 & Saturday, April 27):
- Chef Michele Forgione in March
- Chef Sara Jenkins in April
- Lunch at Campestri
- Afternoon free for various activities, including trip to Scarperia
- Gala dinner in the Olivaia
- Possible trip to Rufina for scoppia del carro festivities (midnight)
This is a chance for our guest chefs to pull together everything we’ve learned this week and show us how they’ll use what they’ve absorbed in their own kitchens back home. We’ll lunch at Campestri on the gleanings of this morning’s lesson.
The afternoon will be free to relax, pack, catch up on your diary, take a walk with friends, or read a book; those who are interested might also wish to make a trip to Scarperia, Italy’s knife-making capitol, to see Old World craftsmen at work and possibly buy a knife or two to take home.
This evening will be our final meal together, a gala dinner at Campestri. In March, for those who wish to stay up late, we’ll arrange a car to take you down to Rufina to see the historic and traditional scoppio del carro, an explosion of joy at midnight on Easter eve that heralds good things in the agricultural year ahead.
Day 7 – Departure Day (Sunday, March 31 & Sunday, April 28):
A last stroll around the olive groves, a last look in the oleoteca, and then it’s time for departure with a sample of Villa Campestri’s own lovely olive oil to take home.
We are happy to make arrangements to get you to either the train or the airport in Florence.
Note that Sunday, March 31, is Easter. Those wishing to do so, can book an extra day at Villa Campestri for traditional Italian celebrations, including a visit to the 11th century Romanesque church in nearby San Cresci for the blessing of the Easter eggs, an Easter lunch at Campestri, a light dinner, and overnight at the Villa, at a cost of E190 per person single and E 145 per person double. Arrangements and payment should be made directly to Villa Campestri upon confirmation of the trip.