Saturday, July 31, 2010

Give us our daily bread

Bread here in Italy is important. It is brought fresh every day from a local bakery. Here in Umbria, a considerable number of bakers still bake over wood fires.

The bread comes in a considerable number of shapes and sized all of which have names - rosetta, tartaruga,  comune etc. There is no such thing as popping our for 'just' a loaf of bread.

The other thing here in Umbria is that in the 16th century the Pope put a tax on salt which was very common the those days. The Umbrians took umbrage at this and stopped using salt in bread making. This has continued today. I personally think that Umbrian bread would benefit from the addition of salt but after over 500 years without, this is probably wishful thinking on my part.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Burocrazia Part 1a①

I went to the post office this morning to post off a couple of adopt a tree pack to a couple who will be celebrating their ruby wedding anniversary soon. I hope they like the present.

I collect a receipt for this so I can claim it against tax. Any stationery shop in Italy will have at least one wall covered with a vast array of different types of receipt book.

So what happen is I pass my book over to the assistant in the post office who fills it in and stamps it and then retains a copy of my receipt book confirming what I have paid them in postage. Why would they need a copy of my receipt confirming this. Made in Italy.  

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Danger grass!

I took Winnie our Westie down to the vet yesterday for her booster jabs. As is normal they gave her the once over and they found a grass seed head like this one in her right ear. It was in quite deep and near her eardrum. They are quite dangerous and can penetrate the skin, enter the blood stream and kill the unfortunate animal. On finding it the vet exclaimed as she often does 'povera bestia' - poor animal.

The vet tried to extract it with me holding Winnie but she was having none of it. The vet suggested we return later and to bring Rachel. We duly did but Winnie won this battle as well. So there was nothing for it but for Winnie to have an anaesthetic and then the vet was able to remove the seed head.

The other thing we learnt was that an eardrum in italian is timpano - like the timpani in an orchestra.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

100% Natural

There are many claims made for olive oil. From its good for your skin because of its high levels of vitamin e or its anti-inflammatory properties or its help in reducing cholesterol levels.

Maybe one of the reasons for this is that it is a very natural product. Nothing is added and nothing is taken away. When you buy a bottle of olive oil that is all there is in the bottle - no additives, no preservatives nothing more.

Also when olives are pressed the process is clean. The fruit is crushed and then water added and then the mash is spun at great speed to separate the oil from the pulp residue and then finally the water naturally separates from the oil.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Drooping, sagging and getting heavier

The olives are slowly getting bigger and their weight is causing the branches of the trees to droop down as you can see here. By the time we come to pick the trees are quite burdened and the branches spring back upright once you have removed all the fruit.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Market day

Yesterday was the monthly farmer's market in Trevi. Casa Margherita took a stall as normal selling it's extra virgin olive oil. The market was quite quiet with people preferring to enjoy the weather elsewhere.

One of the other stallholders was selling these garlic bunches for €5 which give your kitchen at bit of bellezza.

Another vendor sells pulses and various types of flour - chick pea, chestnut, farro, corn, potato to but name them all.

These different types exist from necessity. If you didn't have wheat to make flour then you couldn't afford to buy and so needed to make the best of what you did have. Needs must ....

We like the farro as it helps make a very moorish onion bhaji.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Nocturnal noises off

The hills are alive.....with nocturnal activity. Our Westie, Winnie, loves the evenings now as the air is full great scents and smells and she can happily spend an hour or so on our doorstep - as seen here - drinking in the night air. Occasionally she will run off barking like mad or more infrequently, but more worryingly for us, is when she darts off silently. Or as silently as a slightly rotund Westie can be.

The cause in part of the nocturnal noises will be wild boar (chingiale) and also porcupines. We see evidence of their digging in the grove and can no longer have bulbs in the garden as they all get dug up and eaten.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The annual visit

The grove below our house is owned by Avvocato Finocchi who lives and works in Spoleto but spend the greater part of August in his summer house in Trevi.

Every year he comes up with Alveiro who tends them on his behalf to see what the harvest prospects are. I also work with Alveiro when pruning my trees as he has spent his life working the land and so it is good to tap into his knowledge.

They make a strange couple Alveiro and the Avvocato but it is good that he sees it as important to look after the olives rather than just abandon them as others have done around us.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pizza pizza

The best pizzeria in Trevi has re-opened its doors again after a refurbishment - La Casareccia. We will eat outdoors in the main Piazza and have a pizza with a thin thin crust straight from the oven and not a hint of pineapple to be seen on the menu. Washed down with a bit of their decent house white and then on to listen to a concert.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Il Chingiale

I love this monoprint that Rachel has done of the Italian wild boar - Il Chingiale.

We saw them quite close to the house very late at night one time but since then the sightings have been rare and from afar. Which is probably actually good news.

Anyway, a New Yorker got in contact with rachel the other day to ask if he could use the image on a limited number of bottles of wine he is producing for friends later this year. Rachel said yes of course - as long a we get a bottle as well! Check more image out at

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Making hay

This is a shot of the valley in Manciano where they have been busy making hay. Sometimes the round bales can look like some sort of art installation when you see them scattered around a field.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Shepherd's Seat

It's all ready and waiting for him. Lunch is in the plastic bag hanging from the tree and there is nice bit of shade for him and the dogs for a couple of hours during the heat of the day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Nice bit of pork

Not really but we have just planted  leeks, cauliflower and broccoli which are all excellent accompaniments to a nice bit of roast pork in the cooler days of autumn.

The orto (veg garden) is doing us proud at the moment with a regular supply of salad items as well as beetroot, zucchini, potatoes. The chillis, peppers and tomatoes are all bit behind but will soon be producing.

You can never finesse an orto in terms of what it produces so as there only two of us we give any excess we have to neighbours. These tend not to be Italian as they all have their own orto.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What are olives worth?

Here you see our house (blurred in the middle of the photo!) set in the middle of the olives groves. In times gone by olives were worth considerably more than they are now and indeed if you had olives that you were likely to be relatively well off.

The converse of this is that olives, around harvest time, were likely to be stolen and so houses or outposts like ours set in the middle of olive groves were good vantage points and so used to protect the olives. Our neighbours have told us a story that someone was shot and killed from our house trying to steal olives from the surrounding trees. This was between the two World Wars and so likely to be during the depression years.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


What better than some cool sounds come summertime. Check out these great beat combos that are appearing exclusively in Cannaiola. I'm they are available for weddings and bar mitzvahs as well.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tin Man 2

Drove a couple of hours north today to just south of Florence to pick up some tins for our olive oil. All our local suppliers are not getting any new stocks in over the summer.

Actually it was ok as they were a lot cheaper direct from the manufacturer although the car temperature gauge did touch 39 degrees on the way back - ouch - thats just a little bit too hot for me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Not had that happen before

The phone rang this morning and it was Trevi tourist office who had an Austrian couple who had seen our olive oil in the Trevi Olive Oil Museum - - and wondered if they could adopt one of our trees. We said yes of course and guided them to the website and then about an hour latter they had arrived in our local village of Manciano and wanted to come and meet us.

Rachel picked them up and we gave them a short tour of the grove. They were very nice people who were coming to the end of their holiday staying up by Lago Trasimeno and so bought some tins of oil to take back as gifts.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beetroot 1st

After years and years of research here at Casa Margherita we have finally perfected the world's first bonzai beetroot tree. Seen here for the very first time. Quite impressive I'm sure you'll agree.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Garlic and grapes

We have just dug up our garlic and this year is the best we have had so far. Normally we have really small bulbs but this year we've gone large.

I like garlic as a vegetable as its very easy to grow and you plant it on the shortest day on the year and harvest on the longest. These are rough guides but right up my street. Also garlic is very low maintenance. We do have more than this by the way.

Also this year after years of having done nothing our vines are bearing fruit. We are a very long way from being able to produce a Casa Margherita Classico but this space.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Got up and walked Winnie (our Westie) up the hill into our village of Manciano. She had a great game with some of the local dogs but was very very overheated on the way back so i think that will be the end of walks until it cools down a bit.

This afternoon I was packing up sets of Casa Margherita infused olive oils for our olive tree adopters. They get a chilli infused, a thyme and a lemon infused olive oil which will be perfect with those summer bbq's.

During this there was a thunderstorm which lasted less than an hour but in that time took the temperature down from 35c to around 22c. A drop of over 13c. It is warming up again and so is our poor laptop which each summer we think will give out on us as it gets so hot. Hopefully not quite yet though.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Il Obolo

Sunday in Italy for a substantial number of people means Mass. During Mass the collection plate will make it's way up and down the pews. Durin g the Sunday closest to the 29th June the monies collected go towards the Catholic Church's charity works rather to the local Diocese.

These offerings are known in Italian as Obolo di San Pietro and in English as Peter's Pence which I think is  rather wonderful.

Here endeth the lesson.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Don't call me hardy!

Olives are very hardy plants indeed. They are perfectly adapted to the Mediterranean climate of long hot summers and cold winters.

Below is a shot from an adjacent grove where the owner is reducing the number of trunks from 3/4 down to one but has not yet removed them and so there remains a stump a couple of feet high which you can see is sprouting new growth.

A lot of other plants would not survive this kind of treatment but the olive continues on.

We have here at Casa Margherita pruned some trees by chainsawing a trunk back to a metre off the ground and then developed the re-growth into the classic wineglass shape. After 3/4 years the tree will be bearing fruit again.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What are you EVOO, DOP, IGT.............................

Well we are EVOO. Extra virgin olive oil is regulated by the International Olive Oil Council as oil having free acidity at less than 0.08%. Casa Margherita oil is tested and is extra virgin.

As for DOP we are in a DOP region. All of Umbria is DOP, but the Italian system is such that our grove is DOP land but we cannot claim ir label our oil as being DOP as you need to get your fruit registered as DOP which is an expensive and not suited to a small producer such as ourselves. The same goes for IGT.

Many producers are trying to find ways of getting their oil to stand out. Mono cultivar oils, the above labels, organic or biologico as it is here. Picked early, picked late, crushed between virgins thighs (male and female of course). Everyone is trying to find an angle.

I think I have found one. Having checked on an search engine and had a lowly response I can proudly announce that Casa Margherita olive oil is a boutique olive oil. It is also probably the only boutique oil made in Trevi as well. A market leading oil.

The only trouble is that boutique brings to mind for me, Twiggy, the 70's, Carnaby Street................

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What's in a name?

I have noticed that there are a handful of Italian christian names that are very simple and direct. For instance:-

Agosto      -   August
Domenico  -   Sunday
Ottavio      -    Eight
Primo         -   First
Quinto       -   Fifth
Sabatino    -   Saturday

This list is not exhaustive and does not go into surnames which follow the English where there are some that describe what trade the person/family had.

I like their simplicity and directness. I would imagine these types of names are declining in popularity as the parents go for something more sophisticated.

However, in the English speaking world I am sure there is some celebrity baby (Paris Hilton?) who is called Wednesday and a very happy child it is as well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


The fruit has now set on all the olive trees. The flower has finished and the small olives are growing. They start green as seen here and then ripen to a deep dark reddish black come harvest time in late October/November.

These olives are for oil only and should not be eaten as they are extremely bitter.

So now we largely wait for harvest time. I have yet to finish cutting the grass but hope to get that done in the next couple of weeks.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sunday - Le Due Mondi

Last night we came over all cultural and went to the final concert of the Due Mondi festival in Spoleto.

This was held outside in the PIazza Del Duomo which is pictured below. A great location for a concert. The band was the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi who played Bernstein's West Side Story and then Mahler's 1st.

Both were very good if maybe a bit too quiet but then we were in the cheap seats at the back!

Afterwards we had dinner in Spoleto after having bumped into someone from Trevi who is going to order some olive oil. Which was nice.

Remembered today that it was almost 4 years to the day that we came to Italy to live, so it was a nice celebration of that.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Roundabout an olive

The Comune (local council) of Trevi has recently built two roundabouts in Borgo Trevi. These were built and left without any landscaping being done.

I have been mutterlng darkly under my breath that given that Trevi is the olive oil centre of Umbria the least the council could do would be to plant a few olives in the centre of the roundabouts.

Just last week my words were half heeded and this strangely shaped olive appeared in the centre of one of the said traffic islands. I like the stone base on which it is mounted but I think the watering system just detracts a little from the overall effect.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday is..

,,market day and here we have the lovely Luciana (on the right) on the fruit and veg stall. This is a very different from shopping at the supermarket as nearly everything here is available seasonally. So as it is summer there is lots of great fruit to be had - cherries, peaches, nectarines, melon, water melon, plums, and apricots to name nearly all.

Seasonality for me means that you appreciate the fruit when it's best and at it's freshest and so miss it when it's no longer available.

I remember as a kid not liking the summer months as this mean't new potatoes and so no chips. Still do actually.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Strange olive shapes

Occasionally during an olive trees growth it will become somehow distorted. We like the shapes they create and tend to keep them if we have had need to cut the tree or trunk down. This means that Casa Margherita has a load of these natural sculptures dotted around awaiting us to do something with them.

This one reminds me of a distorted face - maybe Elephant Man?