Sep 16, 2009

Autunno

Don't you just love autumn? During the third season of the year, when plentiful crops and fruits are gathered and brown leaves fall, the first showers replenish the soil and I am comforted by the thought that I'll be soon feasting on porcini mushrooms, truffles, hearty soups, ruby red wine and cloudy green, freshly pressed olive oil. In the Northern hemisphere the Italian countryside will soon be ablaze with color, and tables laden with gorgeous foods.


The first item on the autumn agenda is the annual appointment with la vendemmia, the grape harvest. The earliest frost peeks out and the first woolly jumpers appear, still itchy against remnants of tanned skin. Wellington boots afoot and crisp morning air tickling nostrils, the shearing begins. Whites first, then onto burgundy clusters which fall into crates ready for the press. Although the folkloristic image of Italian peasants stomping grapes with their bare feet is charming, the wine-making procedure here is professional, environmentally sane and clean.


The meal that usually follows the hard day's grape picking work (and subsequent turning them into must) is always a gargantuan pot-luck banquet: chicken liver crostini, pasta e ceci and typical Tuscan ribollita soups, roasted meats, fagioli all'uccelletto, sausage, 700 side dishes and as many homemade desserts. Washed down by the previous year's vintage and lazy nibbling of aged Pecorino, honey and vin santo with cantucci to finish off the repast. Rosy cheeks, protruding bellies and shiny red noses, we all—expert vineyard tenders and untrained out-of-towners—exchange double-sided kisses and say our mutual arrivederci 'til next year's harvest.



Next on the fall calendar is the Frantoio, the oil pressing days. The extraction of oil is a fascinating procedure. My friends in Tuscany whom I always spend the month of August with, own and manage an oil press, serving their small rural community. Olive growers from all over the area migrate to my friends’ estate in late fall with their precious load of olives and go back home with demijohns filled with ambrosia after exhaustive all-night pressing marathons. The mill works incessantly day and night for six intense weeks. The family takes turns at working the machinery, cleaning the hardware, keeping track of production, sales, bureaucratic paperwork, public relations and entertaining guests.

The oil press here is of the traditional kind, where oil is obtained by grinding the olives. Green olives produce bitter oil, and overripe olives give a bigger yield, but produce rancid oil, so huge care is taken to make sure the olives are picked when perfectly ripened. First the olives are ground into paste using huge millstones. The olive paste generally stays under the stones for 30–40 minutes. After grinding, the olive paste is spread on large 2ft woven fiber disks, which are stacked on top of each other, then placed into the press. Pressure is then applied onto the disks to separate the oil from the paste. The oil collected during this part of the process is the virgin oil. Further pressing of the paste produces a lower grade of oil.

Image courtesy of Florablog

The first drops of cold-pressed oil to spout out of the press on opening night are welcomed with a round of applause and a festive food and wine extravaganza. Considering jobs and other daytime duties on the farm, oil pressing is usually a sensual evening to late-night activity. Upon retiring to bed, drained of all energy and satiated by the heavenly fumes and spectacular food, I close my eyes cradled by the rumble of the machinery working away in the mill several floors beneath my bedroom. The entire villa vibrates and is a living part of the magical operation. I always return home laden with gallons (actually oil is measured in weight units, so kilos) of oil that I stock up for the entire year and also distribute as Christmas gifts.



The last food-fest rendezvous before winter is the joyous celebratory event held for friends and aficionados at the official closing of the summer season at Positano's glorious Buca di Bacco Hotel and Restaurant. My family has sojourned at La Buca ever since I can remember. I must have been my son's age when my grandparents first took me there with my mother. Over the years our unfailing loyalty to the place and the solid friendships formed with the owners and staff have made our stays at Buca di Bacco more of a family gathering than a vacation. All our beach paraphernalia, towels, bathing suits and my son's shovels and toys are stowed in the hotel's storage room, ready for next year's summer vacation in one of the many domed rooms overlooking the crystal Mediterranean waters.


The yearly end of autumn seasonal closure for winter event has since the last ten years been a steadfast yearly appointment with the gorgeous coastal location and the wonders of the Buca di Bacco's fantastical kitchen. This year, our California trip substituted the usual summer Positano vacation, so this year's closing Festa di Fine Stagione is an absolute must. I am craving the smell of cascading wisteria and trumpet-shaped datura flowers, the glimmering sunlight on the wind-ruffled sea surface at noon, and the amazing taste of Buca di Bacco's cuisine.
The summer I could not afford to pay for my room, I worked in the kitchen as commis chef. It was a wonderful experience and the cooking knowledge and expert tricks I learned that summer are equal only to the weight I gained. I just had to taste everything we made!


Like every year, my family and I will not be trick-or-treating or carving jack-o-lanterns. On October 31st this year we'll be here, like every Halloween, feasting on delightful seafood, marvelous wines and laughing among friends.



Do you hate me?



I understand if you do.
I'd hate me too.

25 comments:

  1. I could NEVER hate you, but I am envious, haha ;)

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  2. No. Not hate. Envy, jealousy, desire. Desire! You wet all our senses.

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  3. Oh... how absolutely lovely! Fall would definitely be my favorite season in Italy, if it came with all those experiences!

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  4. I love autumn! I am totally jealous. Sounds like an amazing experience!!

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  5. How could one hate you for this? Not at all, I want to be your friend and visit you in autumn :)!

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  6. I wanted to go to Positano for the Fish Festival but the flights are all booked out all the way through October. Can't go in November :(
    To think of the tons of grapes that will fall to the ground wasted in our garden!
    I also made 'brodo' tonight. Its getting chilly here too.
    I love the look of that olive oil, #yum# and your posts!

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  7. Wow, what a great life you have Lola.

    As for missing Positano this year - GOOD! (although I'm very jealous that you went to one of my favourite places - the west coast. I've never been able to decide which is my favourite beach community along there)

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  8. Right, I've had another think - it has to be Laguna Beach - or - at a pinch- La Jolla

    As for the pics in your post - they were great.

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  9. ok, so maybe just think of you as not very nice...lol. it sounds amazing! we had a pretty good crop of grape off our arbor this year. i was surprised after a really weak one last year. happy autumn!

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  10. No, because soon I'll be in Emilia-Romagna getting ready for the start of the olive harvest there.

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  11. I would never hate you for I love you and your beautiful posts ~ Eddie

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  12. I love Autumn. It's my favorite season, by far. However, if I had YOUR Autumn, I would not only love it, I would dread its loss. Magnificent.

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  13. Ah, Lola, it's a tough job living your life and reporting on it but obviously you're up to the arduous task. You're a girl I love to hate! No, I don't hate you at all; I revel in the joys of life in Italy that you share here on your blog. Mille grazie! (okay, so maybe I hate you just a little bit...) ;-)

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  14. I'm with my pal Louciao on this, I hate you lots and lots, yep, I love to hate you for posts like this, no, we adore you, we hate to adore you so much for giving us such tantalizing glimpses of lives we'd love to be leading but aren't, so we perhaps hate ourselves just a little and take it out by hating you just a bit for being so lovable. Now does that make a lick of sense ??? I've so confused myself I think I'll have to go sleep for about eight hours to clear my head. Gorgeous post Lola ! Of course we all love you or we wouldn't be here ! (and read that as in platonic love)
    LOL !
    :-D

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  15. You are so inspiring Lola, after reading this post I just feel so impatient to "dive" into autumn!! I do envy you but only for your writing! I'll look forward to read about your coming adventures!

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  16. What a great post! Yes, I hate you, but that's only because I miss my home country when I read things like these and hope to get back with my (5) kids for a trip as soon as possible.
    Cheers
    Anita

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  17. Hate? never! what a wonderful way to celebrate the changing of the seasons!!

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  18. Don't hate you, but only because I've been there. And I know I'd want to go back. So we are alike. So I like! No hate. :)

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  19. Fall is by far the best time of the year here in Italia! I wait for it every year. Here down South, all the wonderful sagre are to die for...

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  20. Ciao Lola!
    You're coming? You're coming! Can I officially get excited??? :-) I can't wait to meet up with you & enjoy that bicchiere (or bicchieri!) di vino insieme. Halloween is just around the corner! :-)

    A presto,
    Lauretta

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  21. I like you :) Wish I was there with you, dammit :)

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  22. No,it is love. It is love.

    Coaxing food as you do directly from the ruddy hand of nature, you are tied so to the land. You are wise, you and your culture. And you take the time to savour it.
    xo
    erin

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  23. You're making it very hard for me to be sitting here in CA reading about what you'll be doing!

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  24. Your pictures are truly amazing!!! Very nice.

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