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There are syllables of olive oil
There are words
Useful and rich-smelling
Like your fragrant material
It’s not only wine that sings
Olive oil sings too
It lives in us with its ripe light
And among the good things of the earth
I set apart
Olive oil,
Your ever-flowing peace, your green essence
Your heaped-up treasure which descends
In streams from the olive tree.

– Pablo Neruda, from “Ode to Olive Oil”

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my husband and i aspire to live the “good life” as defined by the inhabitants of the italian country side and french provance. i sometimes wonder if my life could be fulfilling if all it was about was great wine, fresh artisian breads, fantastic cheese, fresh, hand grown vegetables, and beautiful olive oils and balsamic vinegars. sometimes i’m not so sure, but most of the time i think i could be perfectly happy if my whole life was about finding, growing, preparing, and the other thousand little details of eating great food.

never having been to france or tuscany, my husband and i frequent an olive oil shop in the downtown shopping area of our city. picture a wine shop, but instead of wine, shelves filled with different olive oils and vinegars from floor to ceiling. imagine stopping into the shop for an “olive oil tasting” and learning the subtle differences in scent, flavor, and uses for olive oils from spain, italy, greece, and beyond. that’s what our olive oil shop is like. you can see why we enjoy going there.

having been raised by an italian0phile, my mother made sure that i was inculcated with a respect for the finer foods in life. my childhood kitchen was never without a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, which we used for everything. it wasn’t until recently that i had ever thought about the varieties in olive oils beyond light, virgin, and extra virgin olive oils. what sorts of olive oils are used to “finish” and which ones are used for cooking with? are they grassy or buttery? french, greek, tuscan or spanish? there are so many fantastic varieties, i feel compelled to try them all!

my favorite olive oil comes from tuscany. it is called castello di poppiano, pressed by the guicciardini family in the heart of chianti colli fiorentinin, where their family  has been producing wine and olive oil since the european middle ages. it’s pressed out of frantoio and moraiolo olives. the flavor is grassy with a peppery zing in the back of your throat, and pairs so fantastically with a loaf of crusty bread, aged balsamic vinegar, and a glass of chianti! unlike french olive oils, castello di poppiano is fresh, and light, not buttery and rich, and unlike greek olive oils, it has an exciting pallet of flavors outside of the classic olive.

my oliveoilery also stocks infused oils: lemon, basil, citron-mandarin, and fantastic modenian balsamic vinegars: infused, aged, and traditional.

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a great balsamic vinegar can be used in a million different ways. one of my favorites is to use it as a gelato topping! i purchase a cherry infused balsamic vinegar to top my vanilla and mint gelatos. i love to dip fresh crusty breads from the bakery down the street into an olive oil/balsamic dipping sauce. but, most often, i love to dress my salads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. here is my favorite year-round salad recipe:

every-season goat cheese salad

seasonal greens (anything will work, spring greens, butter lettuce, spinach…)

sliced roasted nuts (almonds work especially well, but pecans are also fabulous)

dried or fresh fruit if you like (dried cranberries work well, as do fresh raspberries)

chevre goat cheese, crumbled

add chicken breast to make a full meal!

toss all ingredients together, quantities by personal taste! top with cherry-infused balsamic vinegar, and citron-lemon-mandarin olive oil, and a pinch of salt.

enjoy with a glass of wine and good company.

it’s simple, but i never get tired of it! it works in every season and never fails to make me feel, for a moment, like i am living the good life in the south of france!

what are your favorite ways to use olive oil?

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