Extra Virgin Olive Oil of Montepulciano

After our rental car broke down, we had to go to Florence to pick up another car. Our landlord connected us with a driver who was born and raised in Montepulciano. The driver entertained and educated us for the entire ride to Florence.

He told us about a local crop and and article of family pride — extra virgin olive oil.  Some of our photos have olive trees — they’re everywhere.  Our driver explained that every family grows olives and takes them to an olive press each year, to produce extra virgin olive oil from their own olives.  People might acknowledge that another family’s olive oil is good, but every Italian family knows that their own olive oil is the best.

From the time you pick the olives, you have 48 hours to press the olives before they deteriorate.  During the olive harvest season, the town olive press is reserved 24×7 so that every family can press their olives while they’re fresh.  As a boy, our driver went to the olive press with his father, to see their olive oil being made.

We were lucky — we were in Montepulciano during olive season.  Our driver wrote out the name of Montepulciano’s olive press “Frantoio di Montepulciano” and told us it’s near the bus station. We found the bus station and, with some help, found the frantoio.

Here’s the sign and the building.  Our driver said there are four recognized categories of extra virgin olive oil, based on the locale and growing of the olives.  Tighter locales and organic are better.  The sign talks about some of these categories: Tuscany, Siena, and organic. Vendita diretta means factory outlet.

Montepulciano olive press
Montepulciano olive press

We walked in and asked if we could see the olive press. A young man gave us a tour. The first step is to wash the olives and separate out any leaves and twigs.

washed olives
washed olives

The next step is to cold press the olives.  The machine is the olive press. The lady’s left hand is on the pipe where green liquid comes out of the press.  There’s a glass window in the pipe where you can see the liquid flowing.

olive press
olive press

At the end of the process, extra virgin olive oil streams out.  Perhaps the apparatus separates out water, leaving pure oil.

extra virgin olive oil
extra virgin olive oil

Here’s the proud owner with his olive oil.

olive oil and the proud owner
olive oil and the proud owner

When a family gets the new batch, they use last year’s oil for cooking and reserve this year’s oil for fresh use, such as salads.

At the end, I extended my right hand to palm a tip to the young man, but he waved it off as he went back upstairs. In an earlier post we talked about the reasons we initially chose to stay in Montepulciano.  We’re grateful for the warmth and kindness of the people of Montepulciano, and that makes it so easy for us to return to Montepulciano again and again.

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Perugia and Assisi

On our first day in Tuscany, we drove to Perugia and Assisi.

Perugia has an annual chocolate festival in October, and we were in luck.  Perugia has a long pedestrian street that is filled with stands of European chocolate makers.  We did as everyone else — we looked at the chocolate and ate.

One of our favorite foods of central Italy is porchetta — fatty, boneless pork wrapped in skin and roasted so that the skin is crisp.  On a previous trip, we visited this chocolate festival, and we had fond memories of the porchetta sandwich (panini) we bought at the bottom end of the chocolate festival stands.  We walked quickly through the stands, and we were rewarded. We shared this porchetta panini with veggies — grilled eggplant and peppers. With the moist veggies, it was even better than I remembered. 🙂

porchetta panini at Perugia
porchetta panini at Perugia

We found a nearby bench in the shade and savored our panini.  A young Italian family ate at the next bench.  The father and his young daughter (about three years old) were sharing a bottle of soda.  The girl wanted the bottle instead of the cup.  She fussed until her father gave her the full bottle of soda.  And then she ran off with the bottle and drank.  The father held his empty cup, and he asked her for some soda.  After repeated entreaties, the girl walked back to the bench and slowly poured a half-inch of soda into her father’s cup and stopped. He asked for more, and she’d slowly pour another half-inch and stop.  They went through this a half dozen times!  This little girl had wonderful coordination, and more important, she clearly understood how to take control of the soda bottle and use that control.

We also had a small cup of thick, warm chocolate.  We’d scoop some chocolate with a small, plastic spoon shaped like a shovel.  The chocolate was so thick that it started to harden as it cooled.  Sorry, we were too occupied enjoying the chocolate before it hardened to take a picture.

Similarly, I cannot report on Perugia’s art or architecture.  On both visits, we simply ate our way through the chocolate festival.

After lunch we drove to Assisi.  The Assisi Basilica, shown below, was built after St. Francis was canonized.  St. Francis was famous for his vows of poverty, and he truly lived as he believed.  San Francisco, California, is named for St. Francis.

Assisi Basilica
Assisi Basilica

The cathedral houses Giotto frescoes and relics and the tomb of St. Francis.  But they don’t allow photos.  The church complex is a World Heritage site.

Assisi Basilica from the valley floor
Assisi Basilica from the valley floor

Walking in Rome

On our other days in Rome, we visited the Borghese Gallery and walked around.

The Borghese Gallery was one of the highlights of our Rome visit. They don’t allow photography. 😦  The building and the art were collected by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who was appointed cardinal by his uncle, Pope Paul V.  Bernini did several amazing marble sculptures that show motion and emotion. Everyone had trouble finding the right bus, but we all purchased our tickets by our start time and were admitted.

Central Rome has pedestrian zones linking major sights. Great for walking.

We lived five minutes from the open air market in Campo di Fiore.  Here’s a picture of a stand decorated with pumpkins and other squash.

vegetable stand at Campo di Fiori
vegetable stand at Campo di Fiori

The Piazza Navona is another five minutes away, with several fountains by Bernini.

Four Rivers Fountain by Bernini. obelisk at Piazza Navona
Four Rivers Fountain by Bernini. obelisk at Piazza Navona

The Pantheon was built as Roman temple dedicated to all (pan) the gods (theos).  It’s now a church overrun by tourists, for good reason.  The hole at the top of the large domed ceiling provides natural light for the building.  The Pantheon dome served as the model for St. Peter’s Basilica, the Florence Duomo, and the Paris Pantheon.

Pantheon dome
Pantheon dome
Pantheon interior
Pantheon interior

We finally saw the Trevi Fountain on our last evening in Rome.

Trevi fountain
Trevi fountain

We saw Liam Neeson filming a movie “The Third Person” in the Piazza Farnese.  He’s the kneeling guy in the blue shirt. Lots of guys shooing tourists away and yelling “No photos”.

Liam Neeson kneeling
Liam Neeson kneeling

We toured the Villa Farnese, which is located on the Piazza Farnese.  Now the French embassy, it formerly held the Farnese collection that we saw in Naples.  No photos.

Naples Archaeology Museum

After seeing Pompeii we took the train back to Naples. These people were taking pictures at the Pompeii train station.  Wedding photos, perhaps.

photos at the Pompeii train station
photos at the Pompeii train station

In Naples we caught the metro and walked up the hill to the Naples Archaeology Museum.

First we saw the Farnese collection, Roman statues unearthed from the Baths of Caracalla and collected by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.  In addition to art, Farnese helped make nepotism infamous.  Nepotism is derived from the Latin nepotis for nephew.  Taking vows of chastity, a pope usually didn’t have children. Lacking sons, popes would appoint nephews to church positions.  Alessandro Farnese was appointed a cardinal at the age of 14, by his grandfather Pope Paul III. When the Baths of Caracalla were excavated in 1546, Farnese acquired the best pieces for his art collection.

The Farnese Hercules shows the exhausted Hercules after completing eleven of his twelve labors, stealing the golden apples of the gods.  Leaning on his lion cape and club, he has just learned that he must return the stolen apples and descend to hell.  The 10-foot statue is a third-century, Roman copy of the Greek bronze original.

Farnese Hercules.  The exhausted Hercules has one more labor.
Farnese Hercules. The exhausted Hercules has one more labor.

The Farnese Toro shows a woman being tied to a bull. In ancient Greece a king left his wife for another woman.  The former queen later bore twin sons, who, when grown, killed their father and tied the other woman to a raging bull, to be dragged to her death. This 13-foot marble statue is also copied from a Greek bronze. Badly damaged, the statue was restored by Michelangelo after the pope persuaded him to do so.

Toro Farnese.  Woman being tied to bull in revenge.
Toro Farnese. Woman being tied to bull in revenge.

The originals of the dancing faun statue and the Battle of Alexander mosaic are in the Archaeology Museum.

original dancing faun
original dancing faun

Alexander the Great is the confident, bare-headed horseman on the left.  Darius III of Persia is in the chariot on the right.  The mosaic was discovered intact in 1831.  The missing areas were damaged when the mosaic was moved to Naples.

original mosaic after Greek fresco – Battle of Alexander over Darius

We returned to the train station in the evening.  It had been a long day, and we were all tired.  There was an earlier train back to Rome, but we would have to buy new, expensive tickets to ride that train. We decided to use the money for dinner.

We looked for a restaurant near the train station.  There was a lot of construction, and  few people were walking after dusk.  We found a restaurant; the food was better than expected.

We had been warned about pickpockets in Naples.  We saw a lot of shuttered businesses, and unemployment is very high.  As we were walking back to the train station after dinner, one of our friends noticed guys loitering and watching pedestrians and that a guy came up and walked behind him.  Our friend moved his backpack to his front, and the guy went away.

We returned to Rome on our scheduled train without incident.