January 14, 2011

The hunt for the perfect Olive….

Puglians are proud proud people! Ask our Executive Chef Angelo Garofalo what he is and he’ll tell you Puglian first, Italian second. Puglia, down by the heel of Italy’s boot, is known for its year round sunshine helping Puglia to produce consistently delicious food. And the largest of the crops are Olives. Puglia produces around 70% of Italy’s olives; a pretty impressive olive CV and just one of the reasons Angelo’s so fiercely proud of his roots.

Angelo’s love for all things Puglia was naturally infectious and so we thought we’d better go and visit. And with it being harvest time, awash with a rainbow of olive nets, bustling with local olive pickers and the air filled with the aroma of piccante olives, what better time to go than November?

So back in November we went on a mission to find the best olive oil producers and cooperatives in the region, to source Zizzi’s extra virgin olive oil and secret recipe chilli oil which we both use and sell liberally in the restaurant. After a beautiful scenic drive into Puglia we found them at their olive farm and renovated farmhouse. Introducing the Driscolls…

Married in a town hall in Vieste, Oliver (very apt) and Joanne took a huge leap of faith six years ago by escaping ‘the big smoke’ and buying the Vallecoppa olive grove. They, along with their little’uns Jack and Indie, never looked back. An obsessive passion and an influx of ‘olive expertise’ from the locals made their venture all the more successful and made it all the more necessary for us to meet them.

The uncompromising insistence of picking olives at the very best time, the consciousness of using ethical tree brushes over more harmful machines used by bigger companies and the intense process that results in the production of the ‘liquid gold’ itself, means you won’t find a purer, higher quality olive oil anywhere in the world.

Perfectionists you might say…and our kind of people. We thought we’d have a go, so after 50 minutes of hard pressing, our Extra Virgin Olive Oil drips slowly and satisfyingly into our vat; thick, cloudy, syrupy and smelling of unadulterated Italy.

An introduction to the Head Chef of Ristorante Al Trabucco (recent victor of ‘Best Seafood Restaurant’ in Puglia), Mario Ottaviano and his wife Lynsey who run Zia Nia, a rural retreat in the Gargano countryside, was the next stage of our mission.

Mario is Mr Puglia when it comes to food and travels around Italy sharing his Puglian food expertise with other top chefs. An Italian feast to savour along with the luxury of learning about all things Puglia and food from the main man himself, marked the perfect end to our trip.

So did we leave with what we came for? Well, Oliver and Joanne have decided to work with Zizzi to produce the very best olive oil for you. And we could not be happier. So not only can you now try and buy our beautiful nutty Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but our distinctive, peppery chilli oil is also perched on your table ready to be drizzled all over your next Zizzi feast. Here’s to finding some equally inspiring suppliers in 2011.

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