This is my 3rd year in a row (lucky me!) attending Olive Oil Taster’s school at ONAOO in Imperia, Italy. This is my second year of a 3 year Professional Olive Oil Tasters Course.
Imperia, Italy is located in the northern part of Italy about an hour and a half south of Nice, France. A group of us have been attending together since the first year and have become friends and a support team on this surprisingly difficult journey. I have flown in to Florence, Milan and this year Nice to get to Imperia. I had never been to Nice and was looking forward to enjoying our short stop on the way home.
First stop is London Heathrow where I meet friends from Toronto and Hong Kong…of course there is time for a glass of Champagne at Prunier it doesn’t matter that it is 7:25 am! this is how we roll baby!!
There are some great shops and restaurants and I really love to stop by Fortnum and Mason because you can enjoy a perfect cuppa and you can browse their pretty shop. I want to buy everything but, settle for a box of Princess Grey
We land in Nice to meet our last travel buddy from Vilnus, Lituania. The pastries in the airport are stunning. Oh wait! a stop before we get on the train for…you guessed it Champagne. Even on the train we celebrate the glory of being here!!
While everyone else gets settled in their rooms I must say hello to this pretty little town!
The old olive tree by the port
Ok, now that we have arrived we either need a nap from the “red eye” flight or wait…coffee and something dolce!! Yes, but remember if you are in Italy you can have a macchiato which is a coffee with just a spoon of crema but, don’t order a cappucino after breakfast. They will give it to you but, they will be shaking their heads the whole time. Italians only drink cappucino at breakfast.
This is such a cute little seaside town. You arrive in Porto Maurizio which is glorious town on the water but, we take a taxi to it’s sister city on the other side of the river called Imperia Oneglia.
After we check in to the Hotel Rossini which is a great little hotel that has comfortable accommodations and a nice breakfast bar. Everyone who goes to to ONAOO stays here because you can walk to school everyday.
An apperitivo at Gusto and of course when you have a drink they bring you something to nibble on.
Time for dinner I chose not to have a nap and hold out as long as possible and now I am hungry as a bear (un orso! in Italian) we are disappointed because our favorite little pizzeria is closed for renovations. It is the middle of Feb and a good time since there are not many tourists but, we are bummed none the less. We head over to a great little pizzeria and pasta place. I recommend the pasta over the pizza but, all of it is good and cheap. The pasta is made and brought to your table in giant fry pans! The wine is good and we meet more friends.
The first day of The Professional Olive Oil Tasters course and there are people from Norway, France, China, Lituania, Canada, US, Taiwan, Switzerland and Italy. We start with a few tastings. I am constantly amazed at how complicated and difficult this is for me. I never come to the table thinking I am good, I have nailed this. Why? well because you are smelling for defects and fruitiness of the oil to begin with. If you smell something you need to taste it to assess the oil. You swish it all over your mouth and smile wide and suck air to the back of your throat. You sometimes need to do this a few times and make sure the sample gets right to the back of your tongue where you taste bitterness (a positive attribute of good oils) and also to get the sensation of pungency or the peppery kick that can make you cough (this is also a positive attribute and when it makes you cough this is a good thing!)
I am tasting for perhaps a subtle defect or even multiple defects which I need to define as a number to give it a strength value. I need to determine which defect it prevalent and then which others are present. If the oil has no defects I am tasting to see if I can determine if the olives are ripe or were they green (usually this part is detected in the smell ) what do I think the oil tastes like? cut grass, tomato leaf, artichokes, green almonds etc… this is not easy I have to define the level of fruitiness on a scale, I have to define the bitterness and pungency on the scale and if there are defects they also need to be defined. There are over 2000 cultivars of olives and they taste different. In Italy what makes them so special is not that they make the best oils in the world BUT they are the only country that has over 500 cultivars within it and this diversity can make some remarkable oils.
Professor Servili spoke with passion and excitement about the chemistry of olive oil and why is is just simply unique in the world of oils – there is no other oil in the world that has sensory analysis, none! and it is truly remarkable in its powers . I cannot believe how interesting I find even the chemistry and milling aspects of this glorious product.
Yay! Lunch at Gusto a few minutes from school. We always enjoy the local specialties like Trophie “tro-fee ay” which is a typical pasta served in Liguria made with pesto (this is where Pesto is from!) green beans and potatoes, or lasagna bolognese or lasagna with pesto.
Day 2 – we tasted 37 different oils some with defects, some great and let me tell you if you are always looking for and describing defects at the point of identifying good oils you really will struggle to find the good characteristics that define spectacular balanced oils. Then we have a mini test with 6 oils to identify which are the pairs. Once again not as easy as it seems you start basically by smell and only taste after you think you have it correct.
Once again I am sad it is over so soon!
We have another year of 4 Skype tasting classes and then next year is the scary part. We are tested to see if we pass and it is a low proportion of people that pass. I am freaking out already because I really want to pass.
We always have a beautiful dinner at the nicest restaurant in Imperia Oneglia at Salvo Cacciatore.
The Procuitto is sliced so thin it dissolves on your tongue like salty candy floss!
A salt cod and potato croquette
Truly one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had! Anchovies, pepperoncino, olive oil, breadcrumbs lemon juice and zest!
Fresh ravioli with herbs and a drizzle of their own olive oil. A lovely mild Taggiasca typical varietal of this area.
You must stop into Crema di Gelato at least once if only to look at how spectacular their desserts are!
who am I kidding! I can’t just look.
We check in to the West End Hotel at night and start walking to find a restaurant for dinner. We are lucky and find a wonderful one.
For now back to Nice for dinner and tomorrow a full day of exploring and eating. Valentines Day!
A cute little restaurant we just stumble upon!
Hot brie cheese with honey.
The most beautiful tiny baguette, they really do understand great bread in France!
Arugula, chicken breast and potato puree with TRUFFLES!!!
Steak and frites!
Steak tartare and a fresh salad. It is an enormous portion!
On the way home we stumble across the Nice Carnival parade at 11 pm at night!! crazy but wonderful!
Our last day and it is a glorious morning! the hotel is located on the Promenade des Anglaise and wow what a view of the Cote d’azur (you will see later why they call it the blue coast!)
We are taking a walking food tour and I am excited and hungry.
The tour begins in the old flower market.
Look at the amazing variety of glace fruit in this beautiful shop window.
Bottles of olive oil….it is lovely to see the beautiful oils however, clear bottles and light are the enemy of olive oil.
Citrus fruit trees!
glace fruit- they are super sweet, too sweet for me (except I love the chestnuts)
These were some pretty chestnuts from in Imperia!! YUM
candied flowers – perfect on a cupcake!
saucisson with cognac and wine!
Hazelnuts and clementines …reminds me of childhood Christmas table.
Gorgeous cakes and perfect macaron!
Cheese and truffles! heaven.
so many salts to choose from!
we shop at the market and stop for breakfast. An orange beignet (donuts!)
orange fougasette bread. I loved it.
une noisette cafe! a typical coffee – with just a splash of milk.
A local speciality is a sweet cake make from swiss chard, pine nuts and raisins called Tourte aux Blettes. Very good!
A few moments on a Sunday morning to stop in this pretty little church. I say a blessing and send good thoughts for a friend who has recently lost her Mother not far from here.
Our last stop is a cute little shop created by the owner of L’Occitane. There are many local olive oils and other food products.
We set up a small table at the back of the shop and enjoy the best goat cheese I have ever had, some tapenade, pizzelles, glasses of perfect rose and fig syrup and water. It has been a perfect tour and our guide Dorothy has been wonderful!
This is their selection of medium oils (which we all think is MILD…we are hard core!)
chocolate covered olives….I don’t know!
Of course Lavender!! we are in the south of France.
A pretty olive tree in the middle of the city!
Climbing many steps to get to the view of the city.
We hike up to the remaining part of the castle and are rewarded with a phenomenal view!! I absolutely have fallen in love with Nice!
An aperitif on the beach after a spectacular day.
A fancy Valentine’s dinner at Jan.
Warm bread can you smell it?
A perfect mouthful of crab and mozzarella foam.
One perfect ravioli
A perfect fillet mignon.
candied cucumber and pomegranate ice
cheese, nuts, grapes and dried meat
a gorgeous panna cotta with chocolate and fruit to dip in shaved chocolate sand.
Dinner at Jan a Michelin star restaurant for a special Valentine’s meal. I am sorry my sweetheart is not here with me however, I am grateful my olive oil dream team and I are enjoying a wonderful evening.
Life is filled with wonder and excitement. How lucky am I to learn new things meet new people and experience the joy of discovery and travel!
I count my blessings as I fall asleep… very very full!