Pacific Sun Gourmet Olive Oil Blog
Studying in Sardinia
Due to the generosity of Pacific Sun, I was able to take an olive oil tasting class in Oristano, Sardinia for ten days at the beginning of June. I am excited to tell you about my wonderful learning, dining and cultural experiences in Italy!
Due to the generosity of Pacific Sun, I was able to take an olive oil tasting class in Oristano, Sardinia for ten days at the beginning of June.
The main teachers of this official seminar were Pierpaolo Arca, an olive oil expert who leads the prestigious Montiferru olive oil competition, and Marzia Migliorini, from Florence, who is in charge of the selection of olive oils for the DOP (Denomination of Origin Protected) of the Chianti region in Tuscany.
Pierpaolo and Marzia were colleagues and friends of Marco Mugelli, an olive oil expert with whom I studied and from whom I learned the essentials of olive oil making. Marco was a great innovator and researcher who developed a whole new set of ideas in the field. He did so by working with producers, olive oil tasters and scientists.
It’s now seven years ago that Marco recommended I meet Pierpaolo, since at the time I was going to visit Sardinia, Italy. Unfortunately, I could not meet Pierpaolo on that trip because I got sick in Alghero, and could not travel.
Last year, Marco died unexpectedly. As he and I often discussed the idea of him presenting a class in California, I thought that it would be good to carry on with it now, with some of his closest collaborators. Thus, I contacted Pierpaolo and Marzia to go on with the project. The class, which will be sponsored by Pacific Sun, will finally take place the 27th and 28th of July at UC Davis.
What I did not know when I called Pierpaolo and Marzia is that they were teaching this seminar in Sardinia. I ended up there, happily going to class every day and getting many old questions answered.
Life on the Island
Sardinia is truly a unique place. The second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, it has a wealth of influences, history and traditions that very few places in the world can match. It’s the only region in Italy where the native inhabitants are recognized as ethnically diverse.
Along with the Japanese people of Okinawa, the island has the highest presence of centenarians in the world: 22 for every 100,000 (around 330 in total).
Longevity has often been linked to diet and, of course, to lifestyle. Both elements seem to be of importance in this case. The island never got seriously industrialized like othre regions of Italy. This lack of industrialization led to an un-stressful, family oriented life. The inhabitants are also blessed with a six-month summer and gentle winters.
Regarding food, I could write pages and pages on Sardinian cuisine and its many authentic ingredients such as the famous bottarga, or mullet roe, the Pane Carasau (a very thin bread called “musician sheet”), seafood pastas, distinct honeys and wines, and myrtle liquor. I enjoyed sampling the food, but above all, eating with the locals helped me understand how a regional cuisine develops and works.
Due to Sardinia’s geographical position of isolation (where 80% of the island is covered by mountains) and the fact that it has humble resources, people must do their best with what they have. Many of the most interesting cuisines were born out of necessity; they have learned to be creative with the local ingredients -- the only ones at hand -- out of a desire to face poverty with good spirit and dignity.
During my experience there, most meals were simple, though always tasty and often delicious: bread (almost always Pane Carasau), olives, vegetable soups, seafood pasta, fish, salads and a glass of local wine. Pecorino cheese was served with varietal honeys for dessert.
Everything was cooked in olive oil and there was always a bottle of local olive oil on the table. Even when the quality of the oil was not always the best, I highly appreciated that they served the olive oil in a labeled bottle.
The waiters were as hospitable as one can imagine. Most naturally and consistently they told me the origin of the food: We made this ravioli here this afternoon. The mullet roe is made 6 km away in a fisherman’s coop. The wine is from a winery in the next town. The artichokes are in season and are from this province, etc.
A feature of regional cuisines is that people are aware and proud of what their region produces. Food is part of their culture and their identity. And in Sardinia, this is a rich, happy and healthy part of life.
On behalf of the Pacific Sun Olive Oil team,