Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Olive oil - It runs in the family!

This week, I attended another great Stratford tasting session (see my Beer & Cheese post from last week, and come to Scotch & Chocolate on Saturday, Dec. 18!). This one was a free olive oil appreciation seminar held at the foodie-shop-come-lately known as Turnbull & Stewart, located at 439 Erie St. For the past couple of months, I've been rubbernecking as I've driven past this new spot for high quality & cutting-edge kitchen appliances and gourmet food. When I learned they were hosting an evening of olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting, I was glad I was finally going to see the place from the inside! 

Once I got in the store, I only wished I'd stopped-in sooner! This is my kind of shopping spot: full of big, shiny kitchen toys and all sorts of top quality cookstuffs, from implements like knives, to countertop appliances like coffemakers, and all the way to great recipe ingredients like Italian rice kits for authentic risotto. I spoke with Ken Dakin, the owner of this new culinary retail gem, (pictured above on the left), who informed me that he was neither "Turnbull" nor "Stewart"... or maybe he was both, since these were the last names of his two Scottish grandmothers, whose respective cooking powers earned them equal homage on the business name of their food-loving grandson.

I noticed a couple of gentlemen setting up for the tasting session near the back of the spacious store. I introduced myself, and started talking to Angelo Tramonti, the President of Sarafino foods. Angelo told me about the food company he runs with his dad, and how their specialty was incredible olive oil, which they imported from a family Olearia (olive-oilery) in the southern Italian province of Calabria.

I am half Italian. My grandpa immigrated to Canada from Calabria to marry my grama, whose family was also from Calabria. My mom Stella was one of nine Tedesco children. I knew the town my grandpa and grama's families were from - in San Giorgio, the Tedesco name has long been associated with the local brands of perfume and spirits. 

I asked Angelo Tramonti the name of the town in Calabria where his family's olive oil business was located.
He told me San Giorgio.

I told him that was funny, because that's where my family originated from. I told him I was half Tedesco, and described my Italian family's history in Canada. 

He smiled and shook his head in disbelief.

"Are we related?" I asked.

He nodded with a grin. It turns out his dad is cousin to my grandfather's cousin.

Angelo and I aren't just paisano, we're famiglia!

Love and passion for food runs throughout most Italian families, and clearly ours is no exception. Angelo is one of two certified olive oil tasters in Canada (and the other is his dad). The session he led was highly informative and interesting, as the dozens in attendance learned about the 8,000 year history of this fabled oil, which has been used in everything from bathing kings to currency to nursing infants.

Angelo's olive oil brand, Olearia San Giorgio, is the real-deal, which you can really appreciate when you taste it under the guidance of an expert. Apparently, the olive oil industry is awash with inferior, highly refined , dubious products made from mystery mixes of all sorts of non-olive-oils, some of which are barely fit to be burned as biodiesel. The oils from Olearia San Giorgio, however, are truly pure extra virgin or virgin products, as the olives are grown, cold extracted using no heat or chemicals, and bottled by the family producers in Italy. Their extra virgin L'Ottobratico is a monocultivar, which means that it was made using only one type of olive. It was my favourite, with a peppery kick. 

Their L'Aspromontano virgin and extra virgin blends were both spectacular and full of just wonderful clean flavours, as was the sample of organic extra virgin Angelo let us taste, which was served in little shot glasses presented upon a gorgeous serving board made of olive wood from the family orchard.

We also sampled a range of really nice balsamic vinegars from the Modena region of Italy (the location that also brought us such Italian food treasures as Parmasean cheese and Parma ham). They were all beautiful in their acidic-musky-fruitiness, especially the final one we tried, which was syrupy and fit for drizzling over any fine Italian dessert or great salad (which, we learned, is served as the last course of an Italian meal, not the first, to maximize the digestive benefits of olive oil and balsamic).

Most of the samplings were enjoyed as dips for breads, which were served up on nifty cutting boards created by the local family woodworking company Windbreak Farm, many of which were creatively composed of several different kinds of reclaimed barnboard. The boards were concaved on one end to accomodate the vessels for the oils and vinegars, which were handmade by local potter Chris Lass of Wild Violet Pottery. Chris has been selling her wares at the Anything Grows Slow Food Sundays market, and will be stocked up with special dipping bowls, salt holders, plates and bowls - perfect Christmas presents! - over the next two Sundays. The products created by both of these talented local artisans are also for sale at Turnbull and Stewart, which is definitely worth a look if you're shopping for any food loving folk.

I grabbed a bottle of  L'Ottobratico for myself. I am so happy that I now have a brand of world-class olive oil to which I will forever remain loyal - thanks Angelo! I look forward to visiting the orchard  in Calabria someday with you (now there's a blog post).


  1. Fantastico! Thanks for sharing your experience and this amazing family story. 3 years ago, I met Angelo and his company's artisanal food through a friend and discovered a whole new world. My family and friends are now enjoying a better life which I'm sure we'll continue treasuring for years to come. Leopardi balsamic vinegar was the first thing I tried which got me hooked on the Tramonti's passion, knowledge, lifestyle and willingness to share with everyone they meet.


  2. Aw steve's a good Italian boy! Bravo! Great read, as usual