Fritz Maytag, founder of Anchor Steam brewery, once said, quite wisely, "There are a lot of good products out there, and there's a lot of good stories. The challenge is to find a great product that's also got a great story behind it." I agree. Fortunately, we have more than our fair share of those here at Zingerman's. Take Poggio Lamentano, a terrific Tuscan olive oil, made by a fascinating and fair minded family, with a label drawn by a world famous artist. That the artist is also part of the family and the man who makes the olive oil . . . that gives you some idea of what Poggio Lamentano is all about: art, agriculture, and aesthetics; light and color, both delicate and delicious, forceful and forward but only in the most elegant, thoughtful and caring way you can imagine.
Artist and farmer, Michael Zyw, crafted both the oil and the label. It’s a pencil sketch, a study in grays and whites. The oil is equally complex, but, by contrast, is also much more colorful. It has much of the bold pepperiness and flavor of fresh cut grass and artichoke that are hallmarks of Tuscan oil, but as is often the case the location near the sea seems to bring a nice softness to the mix. Where the oils from the Tuscan center are far more aggressive, the oils from the coast are mellow, more mature perhaps in their presence. The Lamentano starts big, softens a bit midway through and finishes with a meaningful but moderate amount of pepper. The flavor, I suppose, is not unlike one of Michael Zyw's paintings—layers of colors, complex, caring, a lot of work and a bit of a beauty in the world.
The oil is unfiltered which I always believe helps enhance the complexity of the flavor. It starts soft with a bit of banana and green grass... the pepper pops up in the back and it finishes in a forcefully refined way. I've been eating the Poggio Lamentano on the Martelli family's spaghetti, on fresh mozzarella, on simple salads of arugula with a bit of grated Tuscan pecorino cheese, a few chopped hazelnuts and a bit of roasted red pepper. Definitely great with beans. I've used it to finish off a few fish stews to great effect. Excellent for dipping steamed artichoke leaves. And of course, maybe it's best at its most basic—poured liberally (and of course colorfully) onto toasted Farm or Paesano breads from our Bakehouse. A taste of Tuscany, a bit of history, a lot of art, a whole lot of good flavor all in one nicely labeled bottle.
The 2013 harvest of Poggio Lamentano is one of the bigggest oils I've tasted this year. It smells like freshly cut grass and green apple. It has a bold bitterness right from the first taste and a huge peppery kick - this is definitely a cougher.
Zingerman's Food Tours is visiting Tuscany in October 2014. Join us for a behind the scenes journey to traditional food makers like this.