The sun continues to shine here in Umbria, the trees are now a golden yellow, colours spectacular, virtually no wind, indeed silence. Whilst days are warm, – and I seem to spend them outdoors raking leaves and gathering acorns, the nights are chilly but it does mean wonderful magical misty early mornings here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House and of course an excellent excuse to light the sauna stove!
A busy autumn afternoon in the garden raking up leaves. It is dry, but cloudy rain, yes rain is forecast. This year there has been so very little rain I have almost forgotten what it feels like to be out in the rain (just watch this space I now feel within a short space of time I will be bemoaning the superfluity of rain, however much it is needed)
Barrow load after barrow load of leaves, Jenny burying herself in the piles as Milo looks on astonished. It seems the more I rake the more leaves fall, and the trees still have leaves in abundance! Amongst the leaves are lots of acorns fallen from the two grand Oak trees on the west lawn. They too had to be raked up, this time not put on the compost heap but into three enormous containers to be carried to the hill with the coniferous plantation that in twenty years has not managed to grow. I will sow an oak woodland instead – if the wild boar allow!
Then at five o’clock just as dusk fell the toot of a horn announced the arrival of a van with two pallets of pellets for our wood and pellet burning boiler – need to keep our feet toasty warm with our delightful underfloor heating, and guess what…. 140 bags had to be unloaded and then carried to the pellet store, opened and tipped into the store. That is two tons of pellets!! and as the rain started I have just finished, exhausted! phew!
I think it is now gin and tonic time and a soak in a nice hot bath!!
I have just spent an enjoyable if repetitive couple of hours in my porch as a contadino picking over eating olives – de-stalking, checking, de-leafing, cleaning and salting
These olives are now sitting outside in glass jars covered in rock salt, they will be turned every day for the next month or so until the water comes out of the fruit and then I will add garlic, orange peel, wild fennel and a couple of secret ingredients to give us here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House delicious olives to go along with our spring and summer aperitifs.
I was going to post about the great day I had yesterday sailing from Ostia near Rome on a friend’s newly acquired yacht, to describe the delicious fish lunch sitting outside in the warm sun in the town of Fumincino, I was going to write about the super comfortable Eurostar train that sped me home from Rome to Foligno where I caught a regular train back to Perugia, but instead I am writing about my dear Edo who died this morning.
Together with his twin brother Milo, and our wee cocker spaniel, Jenny, Edo, an English Setter born in Scotland moved out with me to Italy in 2007. Like me he made his home here in Valdichiascio (I guess he didn’t make that choice, I did!) and like me enjoyed every minute of the country life. He adored checking the grounds, nuzzling in the lavender, long walks through the valley, lazing on the lawn in the sun, drinking the water from the swimming pool, and the good company of the many guests and friends here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.
Early last year he suffered an epileptic fit and was diagnosed with a weak heart, and so was given a daily cocktail of heart pills, He bore his illness bravely, indeed courageously and was an inspiration right up to the end when he passed away peacefully at nine o’clock this morning. In the warm autumn Umbrian sun a dear friend kindly helped me dig his grave some distance away in the garden, in one of his favourite spots, not far from the hay shed, he is buried looking out over the Chiascio valley.
I am sad but happy, he had a good life, he gave me great joy, and his interrment in the ground here at Bellaugello strengthens my attachment with the land here in Umbria, my home.
Last night I sat in an Umbrian farmhouse and ate bruschetta, the fresh baked bread toasted on the wood burning stove, brushed with farm grown garlic, lightly sprinkled with salt and generously doused in our just pressed olive oil, mmmmmmm……..
However before getting to taste the oil a slow love filled process had occupied many hours. The afternoon started off with my car loaded with crates of olives picked from the trees at Bellaugello Gay Guest House following Martin’s Apetto, that delightfully eccentric three wheeler that symbolises rural life here in Umbria, slowly, real slowly as it trundled up and down hill on the way to Gubbio on the way to the Frantoio. It is surprising just how much more of the countryside I noticed as we drove the 15km to Gubbio at an average 35km an hour. It was to be a foretaste of what was to be a slow food, slow process, slow slow afternoon, but one that I would not have missed for the world.
The frantoio that Martin uses nestles on the hillside above the medieval city of Gubbio, the access road is tiny, I certainly would not have found it on my own, the mill is small but very popular, like a real good restaurant or shop only those ‘in the know’ are aware of its existence, and best kept that way, it was busy. From the names on the crates of olives waiting to be processed it seems it is the crême de la crême of frantoios.
but then the wait began, the process at this frantoio is very labour intensive and like all the best things in life it takes time.. lots of it!
It is crucial that every persons’ olives are processed in individual batches, (one has no idea of the quality or farming conditions of other olives, and how else do you end up with your own oil?) so before yours are milled you wait whilst the previous olives move to the next stage of the process.
The next stage in the process comes when the archimedes screw leading to the grind stones is opened and the olives tumble into the grind wheels. The stones are huge pieces of granite, stunning, simple and very effective
The stones rotate at a constant fast speed slowly grinding the whole olives to a mushy pink paste, in all a good 3/4 of an hour. Once pulverised they move to the next stage of the process, a holding tank where they are kept moving ready to be spread onto the press mats.
This frantoio works on the old system, cold press, traditional, the best. Some concessions have been made to technology, the heaviest work is now aided by smart squeaky clean mechanical technology, but always under the watchful eye of experienced men
Mats are built up paste, mat, paste, mat, paste, mat, to the height of about 2c meters and placed by the technology onto large spikes with collecting tray underneath before being wheeled, oil already beginning to drip, to the large hydraulic presses where the extraction process really begins
and to press well takes time! the olives stay in the press for almost two hours, minimal pressure at first only gravity means no heating, so the best oil, it is only at the very end of the press that the force is ramped up
From the press pipes carry the oil and water which is present in the fruit to a further tank to await the final process of separating the oil from the other liquids in the centrifuge
And now oil, our oil, virgin, cold pressed, Valdichiascio oil. This year the “resa” or yield was good we achieved 19.2%. So into the tins, back into the car and Ape and off to the nearest bar for a glass of celebratory prosecco before heading back to Valdichiascio for the aforementioned bruschetta…
The oil is DIVINE deep green, fragrant, spicy, fresh, strong and intense, it may have taken almost seven hours for the process from fruit to oil and hours of climbing up the trees picking, stretching to reach that one last olive on the uppermost branch just out or almost just out of reach but not to be left, but every minute was worthwhile and fascinating, and of course we will use the oil in our kitchen, once again be serving bruschetta, and have a few bottles available for guests to purchase.
Not that it has been especially cold, but I have had the heating on here for a few weeks now. I just love walking around with toasty warm feet, the joys of underfloor heating! The sun still shines bright, but the evenings are decidedly cooler, so heating ever more important.
Today has been a day of rest (for me at least!) from the olive harvest and so time to catch up on indoor chores – I still have mountains of leaves to rake up but they can wait a day or two!
This afternoon I joined friends at a local farmers’ produce market, wonderful healthy looking vegetables, several cheeses including a pecorino laced with truffles, and a couple who have restored an old watermill and are now grinding corn and other grains producing a fabulous range of flours, they will be in my store cupboard. Being a bit of a glutton I ended up by the wood oven feasting off fresh home made pitta style bread liberally doused with new olive oil, sheer ambrosia. As I drove home to check on Edo who is still weak, the drive was a delight, the autumn foliage intense, the sun sparkling on the newly ploughed fields and that special autumnal light that intensifies as the sun begins to set.
This evening I went to the boiler house to check on the wood and pellet biomass boiler that great leviathan that heats the house to discover that whilst it is working perfectly the display on the control panel has all but vanished… I cannot read a thing, the display is too faint. Evidently they are not using Kindle E Ink!
At least the house is good and warm, but I have added to my “to do” email list to write for a repair or replacement to Gilles in Austria the boiler manufacturers – new potential customers beware!
Now my thoughts turn back to nicer things and the Quince Jam I am in the process of making. Whilst quinces are not my all time favourite fruit they have the most heavenly aroma and make delicious jam. I am using a new recipe from a friend here in the valley, co-incidentally the quinces or melacotogne as they are called here in Italy were a gift from her, and as I write the sitting room is filled with the perfume of quinces bubbling on the stove next door in my kitchen, I had best go and attend to them, I want to adapt the recipe and reduce the cooking liquor to further intensify the strength, and maybe add some nutmeg too??
Tomorrow we head off to the Frantoio to press our olives. The olives look good but for us the quantity of olives is down this year, still there will be enough for our cooking needs for the year and to have some bottles for sale for you guys to take home as gifts or souvenirs which is all I require. I am joining my olives with friends from here in Valdichiascio, neither of us use chemicals or pesticides, the trees grow naturally and going to what for me is a new frantoio. The olives will be pressed at an old fashioned traditional mill using actual stone grindwheel and wooden separators as seen in the photographs of the post this summer on the tour of the Abbazia of Montelabate. I cannot wait until tomorrow evening to light the fire and sample bruschetta drizzled with Bellaugello virgin olive oil 2012