Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Olive Festival - Liguria, November 2010

In November last year I took a trip to Italy and the only excuse I can give for not posting about it before is the overwhelming desire to lick the computer every time I have tried. This was without a doubt the most fantastic food holiday Ive had and was all organised through a friend of mine, whose Dad has an apartment in a small medieval village in the hills of Liguria. My friend John now has a lifetime of soup and bread coming to him!

Through Johns Dad we managed to get an invite to the fantastic Olive Festival in Colletta di Castelbianco. This is the kind of festival that you only get invited to by locals and the people that have somehow managed to find out about this lovely little village in the hills of Liguria. Its certainly not every weekend that you can go to Italy to pick olives and then see them being pressed into olive oil. Then again as you will see below, the amount of olive picking I did was fairly dismal after a 13 course dinner the night before!

Liguria isn't terribly difficult to get to from Dublin, only a short hop to Nice by plane and then little more than an hour and a half by car to the lovely seaside town of Albenga and suddenly you find yourself in a land where food takes on a whole other meaning. Coletta di Castelbianco is a beautifully restored medieval village, renovated into a higgeldypiggeldy warren of beautiful apartments. The majority of the apartments are owned/rented as holiday homes by people living in other parts of Europe, most of whom have been coming to Italy for years and years and are treated as locals.

not enough for a bottle of oil
Over the course of 3 nights I must have eaten about 30 different courses, of which two of the dinners were in restaurants nearing their 100th birthdays with rich traditions and recipes passed down through generations. Homemade ravioli, gnocchi, tiramisu. I left feeling like a fatted goose.

gnocchi to die for
The first night we had a 13 course dinner, with no idea from one course to the next what might arrive. Arriving in Liguria during truffle season definitely has its benefits, then again I suspect that its very hard to get a bad meal in this part of Italy.

wild boar

I love the way they did the tasting menu on the first night. No pretentiousness of balanced bits and pieces of veg cut into precise circles and flowers, in this fabulous restaurant we were first brought a round of clean plates and then the waiter would return with a large serving dish and serve us each a large spoon of whatever was on the plate.

Everything we ate was locally sourced and in season, something so difficult in colder climates like ours. There is something really special about knowing that the wild boar you are having for dinner probably traveled a shorter distance to the restaurant than the mile you just walked to work up your appetite (I spent a good part of the weekend expecting to see one jump out at me!)

should need no introduction
The restaurant had an beautiful wine cellar, with some fabulous old Barolo's. Amazing food with a feed of amazing local wines. Ive already started saving for an apartment in Italy!

Scola, the restaurant we dined in the following night was also excellent, again with an emphasis on fresh truffles as they were in season. Having a love for mushrooms I happily gobbled them all up, mostly without snapping any decent photos at all unfortunately. I hear that once a year this same restaurant holds a ten course mushroom feast once a year which I'm hoping to get back to at some point. The highpoint of this meal was when the waiter accidentally left a bottle of 35 year old balsamic vinegar. I now have a similar bottle in my kitchen which is the most amazing ingredient Ive ever laid my hands on.

Had I not had so much wine the night before I would have seen how nets were laid out below each tree as the trees were then beaten to shake the olives out of the tree. On going to Italy I thought we were probably late in the season for olives, but as it turns out that November was early for olive picking. The reason they were picking so early this year was because the wind had blown them off the trees in previous years when they had been left until after Christmas. 

After some strenuous olive picking by all the locals (see sum total of my olives above), off we went to the neighbouring press where a long lunch was awaiting us. This lovely grandmother was the head chef with half her family helping out, her husband the master of ceremonies for the olive crushing. This was the point that I wished I could speak Italian fluently enough to get a job as assistant in the kitchen. I can only imagine the lovely recipes that this granny has passed down to children and grandchildren, the kind of recipes that us non Italians have no chance of ever cooking.

This (above) was the first of it the oil to be pressed. The olives were taken, washed and then passed under massive mill stones. Once crushed to a paste it went through a very noisy process of centrifugation to remove the water from the oil before removing all of the bits of olive and stone that were left over. The leftovers are then used as fuel apparently. The whole process took about half an hour before the oil was bottled for us to bring home.
the first bottle
My few bottles that came home with me are very much prized possessions. It was also beautiful to see all the locals take part in the process to collect the olives and then join together to cook and eat at the olive press. I definitely will heading back there, Im just wondering how much bribery baking it will take.


  1. I am so jealous! This sounds like an amazing trip.

  2. My mouth is watering over the tiramisu!! I am going next week and cannot wait. Thanks for the info


be nice and leave a message