Johnny takes us to Casperia along the evocative scenery of the Sabine hills. We walk up to the oldest part of the village, which seems to be almost abandoned (he tells us that sadly most of the shops closed in the last years, but during the summer it comes to life again) and we reach the temporary location ofGeko 107, his olive and wine-bar. The original location, close by and with a beautiful terrace, is currently under refurbishment.
In the small but cosy venue, with a wooden counter and Johnny’s food-related sculptures scattered around, with a glass of wine in our hands, the “olive oil lesson” begins. He shows us how to taste an olive oil and, with the help of some of the most relevant publications such as the Slow Food Guide and Tom Muller’s latest book Extra Virginity – he tells us (in English, of course) what a proper extra virgin oil should taste like, and how it should have been made.
Actually it’s more a pleasant chat then a lesson, and for he who doesn’t dare “drinking” olive oil Johnny prepares some toast – using the fantastic bread made by the famous Roman baker Gabriele Bonci — to enjoy it at its best (I have to drink it as I am there as a journalist, but I would love to taste this special bruschetta!).
We taste three olive oils made from different local producers: each of them has its own character, depending on the cultivars and the farm’s style. I particularly like the Colle Magrini Dop Sabina, a blend made mostly of a local variety Carboncella with Frantoio and Leccino: it has a gentle smell, but the taste is quite intense, nicely bitter and herbaceous and extremely harmonic.
Then he lets us taste a special sample: the color is an astonishingly brilliant green, the smell is not too strong but the taste…it’s explosive, with a strong yet pleasant bitter. This is an experimental extra virgin from Cilento (Southern Italy) obtained from olives picked on the 5th of September! That’s what I call “early harvesting!”
With our tastebuds still bewildered, we leave the Geko to reach the agriturismo for lunch. On the road, we stop to visit an olive grove on a hill just opposite Casperia (if it would have been the right time of the year, we would have visited an olive mill). It’s a magical place, with an ancient farmhouse turned into a nice countryhouse by the actual owners — Johnny’s friends – a great view on the ancient village and a lot of quite old olive trees, so twisted and gnarled you can hardly believe they are still alive.
But lunch waits for us! A short drive to Poggio Mirteto and we are at agriturismo Terra Sabina , a very nice rural restaurant where Serena and her family (including the 88 years old granny still working in the kitchen) welcome us for a “light lunch.” This includes a rich set of antipasti (starters like ham, cured meat, ricotta and matured cheese, herbs omelette, olive tapenade, beans cream and of course the bruschetta), wonderful home made pasta with tomato and mushrooms sauce with local Pecorino cheese, roasted sausages and chicken and a rich and delicious cake.
But before we start eating, Johnny has three more olis for us to taste, all made by the same multi-award winning cooperative from Blera (in the Viterbo province), Colli Etruschi. Usually cooperatives in Italy don’t easily reach high standards, but this is an exception. Its product are always good, but the 2011 extra virgin – made only from olives of the Canino variety – is stunning: with its spiced flavor, it has a round yet perfectly clean body and it leaves a tasty pungent aftertaste that lasts so long.
Time to leave: but before taking us at the station, Johnny stops for one last, surprising visit. In Canneto Sabino, just out of Fara Sabina village, there is the Ulivone: a massive 2,000 year-old wild olive tree said to be the biggest in Europe. It used to be property of he Farfa Monastery but since 1870 it belongs to the Bertini family. Visitors are welcome to admire this huge, old giant that still produces olives (it started again after the 1985 frost).
This is really the best way to say hello to Sabina, to my fellow travellers and to Johnny. Tomorrow is a Monday, work starts again and I’ll have to wait one more week to relax on my sofa. But this was really worth the early rising.