Sometimes the best ingredients aren’t produced locally, like in the case of great olive oil.
We use a lot of olive oil at MGFD. We cook with it, and, with an Italian sensibility, we finish dishes like Burrata with generous drizzles. We insist on finishing with oil that has great flavor; used raw for that last layer of seasoning, it needs to be of higher quality than one you heat as a cooking agent.
For finishing, you want a first cold press extra-virgin olive oil straight from the source. Traceability of a product made in Italy is especially important, and you must know and trust your source to ensure what’s in the bottle is what it says on the label. In Miami, we’re fortunate to have a family-owned company producing and importing some of the best olive oil sold commercially, Lucini Italia. CEO Renee Frigo Graeff has just assumed the post as our local convivium leader at Slow Food, the international non-profit organization with Italian roots and now firmly rooted in cities across America in defense of good, clean and fair food.
We began purchasing Lucini Italia Organic Limited Reserve Extra Virgin Olive Oil, its premium pick and press, a couple of months ago for the restaurant and wanted to share a little with you about the company — who they are and how they make the product. This is always the most important step for us in our relationships with suppliers. And who better to do so than the ultimate conduit, a native South Floridian who just returned from three years living in Roma and married an Italian chef with family olive groves. Take it away, Ellie.
Ellie Sara Groden recently joined the MGFD team as Michael’s assistant. She was born in Miami Shores, Florida. Taught English in Rome, favors Maui and Big Sky. Seeks out nature, culture, laughter and food! Find her on Twitter @EllieSara.
Two months ago I returned from Italy after having spent three years in Rome. The question that most people ask me, after “Why?” is, “What do you miss most? The Wine?”
The answer is, no, the tomatoes. But tomatoes are nothing, even in Italy, without the olive oil that is drizzled plentifully over almost everything in an Italian kitchen.
So, thanks to the Roman gods that I am sure have been watching over me, I now work for Michael’s, who has delicious locally grown tomatoes, and Lucini Olive Oil. Which, comes from the magic place where olive trees thrive: Tuscany.
The micro-climate of Lucini’s 600 year-old Tuscan grove cradles the olive trees the way Northern California nurtures Sequoia’s- it is the only place in the world where the trees can live up to their maximum potential. Three to five hundred meters above the warm, Mediterranean Sea, with roots in the nutrient-rich ancient soil, and branches that are trimmed in late winter to make room for little white flowers to bloom in spring. The strong summer sun reaches in and turns those flowers into fruit that ripens through the hot, hot summer, and all the way into the fall, until the branches hang down heavy with the weight of the olives. Finally, in late October or early November, on a crisp clear day, one year after the last harvest, when the olive oil is just reaching the bottom of the 50 liter (13.21 gallon) stainless-steel barrels in the pantries of each of the local’s kitchens, it is time for harvest.
I have sat over Limoncello and Grapa listening to various ages of Italian men and their expressive opinions of the benefits of handpicking the olives to make the best olive oil, and I need not explain them to you -naturally, anything done manually verses mechanically is better- and Lucini, hand-picks their olives. Which, by Italian standards, defines the level of quality with which they operate. But, they also press the day that they pick them, literally making the freshest olive oil possible, and again defining why there is no competitor in this market that competes with the quality of Lucini’s oil for the price.
The day I got to help in the process of picking the olives off the seventeen trees that my father-in-law has on his property in north Rome, was the first time that I saw real olive oil. Why had I never seen the electric green color that I saw coming out of the press? My father-and-law laughed, “Would you ever sell anything that beautiful?” No, I thought, and I promised him I wouldn’t. But Lucini does. Which makes us very lucky consumers.
Renée Frigo, who founded the Lucini Italia Company with her husband Daniel Graeff, explains it as follows, “This method gives us the highest quality, yet lowest yield. The flavor profile will taste fruity, with a hint of artichoke and will have a peppery finish that tickles the back of your throat. The peppery finish shows you the difference between a vivacious fresh extra virgin olive oil and a dead industrial type olive oil.”
I know exactly what she means. But I had to marry an Italian and permeate myself into the culture of his family to learn it. Lucini bottles it, and brings it to America for you. I brought their Basil Olive Oil home and ate it on bruschetta (toast), the same way that Renée, Daniel, and all the farmers taste their just-pressed olive oil fresh out of the vat, and in these two months, it was the first flavor that really brought me back home, to Rome. “Our goal is to produce high quality extra virgin olive oil that is available to everyone in America as it is in Italy,” says Renée, and for that I say thank you.