Thoughts of a young and dynamic Italo-Canadian blogger and food journalist. Loves travelling, meditation, poetry and anthropology.
Good afternoon followers,
I am happy to say that I have finally landed in my second home, London, the city of Big Ben, Sheperd’s pie and fish&chips.
However, I still want to take a trip down memory lane and introduce you to a very interesting person I met when I was in New York the last months: Nick Coleman, 29 years old, Chief Oleologist at Eataly NYC.
Nick Coleman and Alice Waters @Chez Panisse
How did you become interested in olives?
To tell you the truth, it was completely by accident. After I graduated from the Berklee College of Music, I took a trip from the Arctic Circle in Finland down to the Sahara Desert in Africa with just a backpack. It was on this trip that I just happened to be in Italy during the time of the olive harvest and decided to get involved.
Nick Coleman teaching the Zagat Master Class in La Scuola NYC
Who is your mentor? Where did you meet him/her?
I was in Tuscany when I was introduced to a woman named Nadia Gasperini Rossi from the town of Arezzo. Nadia, who is such a wise and wonderful person, took me under her wing and together we would hand harvest and hand clean her olives and press some of the finest extra virgin olive oil I have ever tasted to this day. I remember sitting mesmerized watching Nadia coddle her olives to make sure only the finest went into her baskets. It was a life changing experience for me, and I continue to go back every year to harvest and press with her. She has become my mentor over the years, almost like mother figure.
Nick Coleman and Nadia Gasperini @Frantoio Donati
What is your first memory of olives or olive oil?
My first memory of seeing olives in their natural state was when Nadia drove me to her olive grove, and on our way we passed by this gorgeous hillside of silvery, shimmering trees. I leaned over and asked Nadia what kind of trees they were, and she responded, “Nick, those are our olive trees”. Up until that point, I had never even seen an olive tree because they are unable to grow on the East Coast of America.
Nico Coleman& Franco Boeri sipping olive oil @Frantoio Roi
Describe generally which types of olive oil we can find at a regular grocery store in NYC?
Unfortunately, the oil found in your average supermarket is highly questionable and of dubious origin. Virtually all of the oil is a blend of olives from many different countries and lack any information with regards to harvest date, olive cultivars, or specific region where the olives are grown. They are completely devoid of flavor and have an unpleasant heavy and greasy texture.
Which is your favorite olive oil and why?
It is impossible to answer this question because the whole concept of olive oil is based around geo-specificity. In this sense, the best olive oil will be the one that grows in the same region as the dish. For example, if I am making Pappa al Pomodoro, which is a Tuscan peasant dish, I would be best suited to pair it with a grassy and robust Tuscan olive oil. This will yield the most accurate representation of the dish. I like to think regionally when it comes to olive oil pairings, and then it’s simply a matter of acquiring the highest quality bottle of olive oil you can find.
What is the most eccentric recipe with olive oil or an unexpected ingredient paired with it?
Many people think olive oil must be paired with savory dishes, but this is not always the case. Since the olive is a stone fruit related to the plum or cherry, it can be used for sweets and desserts as well. One of my favorite desserts is an olive oil gelato, topped with a little sea salt for a crunchy texture. It may sound strange if you’ve never had it, but it’s a real crowd pleaser.
Nick Coleman tasting a flight of olive oil at the Lungarotti Estate
What else can you do with olives?
Let’s talk about what you can do with the olive tree as a whole, as it is one of the most virtuous trees on the planet. The olives can be used to press into oil or used for the table. The olive pulp can be put into animal feed. The pits left over from the press can be dried and burned to heat your house in the winter. The vegetable water left over from the press can go back into the soil to create a closed circuit, where the water from inside the olives goes back into the same soil. The olive leaves can be used to make olive leaf extract, which is high in oleuropin and is good for the immune system. And the olive wood from fallen olive branches can be used to make cutlery and ornamental decorations.
Is olive oil good for your health?
Olive oil is very good for your health because it is a pure fruit juice, which contains no cholesterol and is high in antioxidants. When you sip a high quality extra virgin olive oil, you most likely will feel a peppery finish in the back of your throat. What causes this sensation is known as oleocanthal, which is a polyphenol in the antioxidant family. The more of this sensation you feel, the higher levels of antioxidants are present in the oil and the healthier it is for you. The Mediterranean diet is praised for its health benefits, and olive oil is the backbone of that diet.
Nick Coleman conducting olive oil tasting for Del Posto staff and sommeliers
Tell me something we do not know about olive oil?
It’s a wonderful sexual lubricant.
Apart from Italian oils, which other countries make interesting products?
While Italy has the most diverse selection olive oils of any one country because of its varied microclimates and olive cultivars, they do not have a monopoly on quality olive oil. So long as the climate allows the olive tree to thrive, any country can make great oil. What it really comes down to is the individual producer as there is an inverse correlation between quality and quantity. If the producer is pruning the trees properly, hand harvesting at the right time and getting their olives from the tree to the mill in mint condition as quickly as possible, then quality oils can be made around the world. I was recently invited by Alice Waters to tour some of the finest olive groves in Northern California. Even though it is a relatively new industry out there, I found some outstanding oils being made from some very small-scale producers.
Nick Coleman sampling a flight of olive oil in the Frantoio Franci tasting room
Tell me about your harvesting experience this year?
This year I had the opportunity to tour various olive groves in Sardegna, Liguria, Tuscany and Umbria. One of the highlights for me was visiting Franco Boeri of ROI in Badalucco, Liguria. He is kind of like the Willy Wonka of olive oil production. He built his house directly above his Frantoio, so when you are having lunch with him, the wine in your glass will be shaking ever so slightly because they are crushing the olives directly beneath you. He makes some wonderful monocultivar taggiasca oil using the traditional method of granite millstones and a physical hydraulic press. He taught me that the olive is a sponge, which absorbs the perfumes and aromas of whatever grows around it. To exemplify this, he explained that if you left a crate of olives in your garage near a tank of gas and pressed them into oil the next day, the oil would embody the gasoline aroma.
Nick Coleman & Joe Bastianich band practice
Why is olive oil so important to you?
Olive oil is king of the Italian pantry. With a few simple ingredients, one can make truly delicious meals in their own home with a quality bottle of extra virgin olive oil. Whether I am preparing seafood, meat, vegetables, sauces, pastas, soups, or just dipping bread, olive oil is the first thing I put in the pan and the last thing I use to finish the dish.
Describe your personal opinion on the relationship of Americans with olive oil (a product that is difficult to market and sell here in NY)?
The issue here is that Americans have very little relationship with olive oil because most Americans have never seen an olive tree. They think that so long as a bottle says “Extra Virgin Olive Oil, First Cold Pressed” then they are getting the highest quality oil. But in reality, this is just the tip of the iceberg in classifying an oil. Fortunately, we are experiencing a period of sea change, and I see a growing awareness of consumers actively looking for single estate producers and harvest dates to ensure that they are getting the freshest oil possible. This is very encouraging. The more Americans reach out and buy quality oil, the more we are sending a message to the industry that we will no longer tolerate rancid oil being labeled as extra virgin and sold in our supermarkets.
Nick Coleman tasting a flight of single estate Italian olive oil, NYC
How do you see yourself in five to ten years?
A life of leisure…