Talking about how he fell in love with olive oil in an Expat interview (Herald, July 26), Torey Novak, head of wine and olive oil tourism at Familia Zuccardi, said: “It’s a product that can reach every consumer, from little kids to older people.”
That it is, but despite its prominent role in the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years alongside bread and wine (the holy trinity of sustenance!), this liquid gold has recently come into its own in Argentina.
Like the majority of vines planted here, olive trees aren’t native to these lands but have nonetheless conquered them. And the upshot is that the provinces of Mendoza and San Juan are now producing extra virgin olive oils that are starting to achieve recognition.
Take MidiTerra Grand. It was the only Argentine oil to rank in the World’s Best Olive Oils (WBOO) 2013/14, an elite list of 50. (The only other South American to feature is Uruguay’s Colinas de Garzón.) And naturally there was stiff competition from the likes of those most traditional of olive oil-producing regions such as Spain’s Andalucia, Italy’s Puglia, Portugal’s Alentejo and Greece’s Lesbos that dominated the list — areas that have thousands of years of knowledge in this field. So it’s a big deal for MidiTerra — that set up shop just two years ago in Rivadavia, Mendoza, but has racked up 25 prizes to date — to rank with the big boys.
Sergio Stalman, vice-president of MidiTerra, says: “A good extra virgin oil offers up flavours, aromas and textures. The intensity of those aromas or flavours can define the boundaries of the optimum dish to pair it with. And an olive oil is such a noble product that it can go with various options.”
While most of MidiTerra’s oils are based on Arauco, the Grand (500 ml, 185 pesos) is a blend comprising that varietal alongside Manzanilla and Coratina. Similar to a boutique wine produced in small quantities, each bottle is individually numbered (mine is 00023). And like a wine, you sample it through the nose, then in the mouth in small quantities. After warming it in your hands for a minute or so, at first sniff it’s fresh and fruity, with a little green apple and herbs such as parsley. Take it to the mouth and suck a little in, and once it hits the back of the throat, there’s a little heat and spice thanks to the Arauco. It’s rounded and smooth, velvety on the lips and peps up plain old pasta no end. Let it bring a simple salad to life — this is definitely a showstopper.
Staying in Mendoza, Familia Zuccardi is also making waves in the olive oil arena. Kicking off production in 2008 and now growing 32 varieties, its eponymous Changlot 2014 recently picked up a gold medal at Les Olivalies international awards; much like wine rankings, Bravo received 95 points from Flos Olei, the world’s most complete guide to oil, earlier this year; its Zuelo line, comprising four styles, can be found lined up on restaurant tables around Buenos Aires.
Take its Zuelo Novello (500 ml, 70 pesos). Unfiltered and extra virgin, this is the first oil to reach consumers due to the early harvest. Limited edition, its olives are handpicked in April in Maipú. Production, which simply involves extracting the oil before bottling it, reaches its conclusion within two weeks and is best consumed as soon as possible, according to Diego Zuccardi who leads this section of the family-run winery.
Novello, which means new in Italian, is also herbal in the nose thanks to the early harvest but also features asparagus and other green veggies as well as a hint of tomato. With a firm Coratina base, Koroneiki, Arbosana and Arauco, making it a veritable bottled European union, given that these olives originate in Italy, Greece and Spain respectively. It also has some heat in the back of the throat.
Fresh and fruity, although not as buttery as the Grand, enhance a simple pasta dish with an arrabiata sauce with a drizzle of this lush liquid gold. And until August 24, chefs Pedro Tassarolo and Matías Aldasoro — respectively from Gioia and Casa del Visitante in Mendoza — have created a special four-course Novello Menu, with the extra virgin oil features in every dish from starter to dessert.
The pistachio-crusted trout resting in a goat’s cheese cream is neatly backed up by a little oil, while its addition to portobello-stuffed raviolis is more obvious but equally ravishing. Save some room for the most succulent braised kid of the goat variety — I’ve sampled the four courses and it is well worth filling that space.
Visit Gioia, Posadas 1350, Recoleta, until August 24. Reservations: 5171-1330. Menu 450 pesos, Zuccardi sparkling wine pairings, an additional 240 pesos.
Home to the Olive Route
Let’s not forget San Juan, which is Argentina’s main olive producer and home to the Olive Route (Ruta del Oliva), where producers, restaurants and even a museum come together for a most rounded olive experience.
A small bottle from La Acequia (250ml, 30 pesos), an Arbequina varietal, nestles in my larder. These guys, who have been around since 2001, stick to Arbequina for their oil, while Arauco and Manzanilla make the pickled jar cut.
It’s as if they’ve bottled a freshly-cut lawn, because the nose holds a lot of grass and herbs such as basil, and even thyme as well as some asparagus. While it isn’t as bold or fruity in the mouth as the Grand or Novello, it is rounded and succulent, almost creamy, and would be great splashed over sun-dried tomatoes, Serrano ham, walnuts and a soft cheese.
And what else is my store cupboard? A five-litre bottle of Molino La Tebaida. This Mendoza producer always pops up at Caminos y Sabores with its first cold press which works well across the board as a dressing or when heated up. I charged into the food fair on the jam-packed Sunday at the start of July on a speedy in-and-out job.
Mission accomplished, and a small olive tree was also thrown into the deal. It’s now been repotted and making do with a porteño terrace but watch this space for my own (extremely) limited extra virgin oil…
Buenos Aires Herald, August 17, 2014
Ph: Familia Zuccardi, SMW