Can’t Serve Chianti Without Olive Oil

Italian olive oil, Tuscan olive oil, wine pairing

Ricasoli Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2018. Photo Credit: Jill Barth

There’s a bit of a phenomenon in our house lately. Everyone is all about olive oil. What was once an every day pantry staple has been elevated to a culinary treat that exceeds, say, chocolate chip cookies or Reese cups (it is the Halloween season, after all). Instead of reaching for sweets and guilty pleasures, all of us are nipping bits of olive oil on a baguette when we need a little something.

It started with a delivery from Ricasoli, a Chianti Classico producer with an ancient history dating back to 1141. We received a media sample of Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015, a release Ricasoli calls “iconic,” a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. With it came a bottle of Castello di Brolio Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP Chianti Classico 2018. This was the bottle that did it.

The Chianti Classico extra-virgin olive oil DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) is in Tuscany and follows the boundaries of the Chianti Classico wine region (Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Greve in Chianti, Radda in Chianti and parts of Barberino Val d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Poggibonsi, San Casciano in Val di Pesa and Tavarnelle Val di Pesa). Ricasoli is situated in Gaiole in Chianti and all of the vineyards and groves for are located within the denomination.

At the time the sample arrived, we were hosting an exchange student from Germany. Our guest has Sicilian roots, his mother being from the island. He said they had their own family olive grove and went direct for their supply of oil. This from Ricasoli, he said, could rival it. So we had him hooked too.

Night after night we’d drizzle a bit here and there, for meals and snacking, and we all pretty much focused on how good it was, and how we could get more. We paired it with our guest’s homemade dish that was similar to a Sicilian Shakshuka, but with the eggs scrambled in. I still need the recipe to make it like he did, which as a hit.

olive oil, Italian olive oil, olive grove, Chianti classico

The olive harvest at Ricasoli Castello Brolio. Photo Credit: Ricasoli

Castello di Brolio Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP Chianti Classico 2018

Acidity: 0.21%

Peroxide value: 317 meq O2/lt

Polyphenols: 415 mg/100ml

Vitamin E: 27.6 mg/lt

I’ve actually visited several olive producers in California. I’ve toured groves and experienced production from large, commercial outfits to super-small releases from family wineries. But being in California, the history isn’t quite the same as a long look at old world olives. So I did a little research (with my olive oil-obsessed, history-obsessed 17 year old son) and olive cultivation in Italy is actually quite fascinating.

Olives were a good agricultural staple, if you lived in the old days: they could be grown in stony ground, they were nutritious and they had hefty caloric value. Plus, the oil had more than culinary significance—it could be used for skincare and for lighting. It could be stored and exported relatively well too, so it had commercial potential. In the Christian world (including Tuscany, where Chianti is) olive oil also has religious value as an anointing oil.

However, olive trees (and grape vines) don’t produce crops right away, like corn that offers a harvest the very year it is planted. In other words, a grove is an investment in both money and time. And another thing: if your grove is cut down or burned, it would need to be replanted and the process would have to unfold once again. So if your enemies destroyed your farm, it wasn’t like cereal crops that could be restarted immediately the next year.

Now there’s little worry that the groves at Ricasoli will be ravaged, but that’s not to say that they don’t need protection. In Puglia, south of Tuscany, a disease is damaging olive trees en mass. The 2018 olive harvest output in Italy was the lowest in 25 years, with extreme weather to blame: summer droughts, fall floods and spring freezes. And while not in Italy, my 2018 visit to The Groves on 41 in Paso Robles revealed that there would be no harvest that year because the delicate blooms had been burned off in a spring heat wave, preventing any olives from forming. Just like all life on Earth, olive trees thrive in certain conditions and should that environment be damaged or changed, life is impacted.

California olive oil, olives and climate change, Tuscany

The olive farm at The Groves on 41 in Paso Robles, California. Photo Credit: Jill Barth

Italian Wine, Food and Travel

This month our writers’ group (ItalianFWT) focuses on Tuscan wine, food and travel is Tuscany and nearby neighbors.

You are invited to join our chat on Twitter at #ItalianFWT on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 10am CDT to visit virtually with these authors as we discover these topics:

As mentioned, the wine and olive oil mentioned in this article were media samples, but all options are my own.


9 thoughts on “Can’t Serve Chianti Without Olive Oil

  1. I can’t think of much that’s better than good bread dipped in olive oil either. I had no idea about the disease damaging the olive oil tress either.


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