`Farther Afield on the Olive Riviera - Olive Oil Times

Farther Afield on the Olive Riviera

May. 23, 2011
Laura Rose

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The tiny island of Palmaria, just a hop from the Ligurian coast of Italy, is an escape from an escape, a get­away that seems to exist beyond the known world. The olive tree-blan­keted island is reach­able only by boat from Portovenere, already a dream of a town along the oth­er­wise tourist-con­gested Riviera, but Palmaria, with its smat­ter­ing of fam­i­lies and vast, over­grown veg­e­ta­tion, is a rare expe­ri­ence. The hos­pi­tal­ity of the olive-oil pro­duc­ing Basso fam­ily gives you the chance to stay on this enchanted island.

Our guide is local beauty and agri­t­ur­ismo owner Federica Basso, who meets us on the main­land at her family’s restau­rant Iseo, at the water’s edge of Portovenere.

Feeding us like locals, we start with eight remark­able fish appe­tiz­ers (yes, eight), each as fresh as any­thing I’ve ever had in my life­time, and smoth­ered in La Maiella” olive oil that the Basso fam­ily pro­duces on Palmaria, just across the straight.

Everything from the orata pas­try to the home brewed limon­cino is a taste of true Ligurian cui­sine, full of fresh fla­vors and built upon a foun­da­tion of the Taggiasca olive oil. The table was filled with an impos­si­ble num­ber of fish dishes, and every mouth­ful was an expe­ri­ence.

A short boat-ride took us to Palmaria, where the Basso fam­ily runs an agri­t­ur­ismo known as the Locanda Lorena next to the hills of their olive groves. The restau­rant, over­look­ing the bay and sit­u­ated right at the dock where the Basso boat will drop you off, is a favorite with celebri­ties who appar­ently love hav­ing their pic­ture taken smil­ing next to Gianbattista, the patri­arch and will of the Basso fam­ily.

Here you can also find Gianabattista’s unique inven­tion- the world’s first Pestomat, dis­pens­ing con­tain­ers of the Basso family’s pesto. This Ligurian spe­cialty is even bet­ter when made with their own oil and dis­pensed, freshly made, of course, from this bizarre machine.

Later, I dis­cover from Italian foodie friends what Federica mod­estly left out about this island out­post. The Locanda Lorena is actu­ally quite well known, listed in the Michelin guide, and is a favorite des­ti­na­tion for com­mit­ted din­ers, espe­cially those that love the famous local Taggiasca oil.

Made from the small, intensely fla­vored black olives that are native only to this Ligurian coast­line, the olive oil here is pro­duced, because of small ter­ri­tory and old-fash­ioned meth­ods, in batches too insignif­i­cant for mass con­sump­tion. The unique woody and nutty fla­vor of this oil is much prized and quite expen­sive, with an extremely low acid­ity, five cen­turies of pro­duc­tion, and the D.O.P. sta­tus (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) that rec­og­nizes it. A visit to the Riviera town of Portovenere and the ver­dant island of Palmaria is the most sat­is­fy­ing way to expe­ri­ence it.

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