Domestic Reserves

Americans no longer need to look abroad to satisfy their need for oil—Tuscan-style olive oil, that is

That freshness means volatility, so olio nuovo should be used fast—by the first flowering of spring, when the season's full-fledged oil, filtered and allowed to settle for a few months, appears. By that time the sediment in olio nuovo will have begun to oxidize in a dark pool at the bottom of the bottle, and the oil will become rancid. Some producers resist selling olio nuovo for fear that customers will open a bottle after May and wonder what went wrong. But a number of the state's most notable producers take the risk, and it's worth calling (see box) to see who still has some available. Olio nuovo is like an instant snapshot of the season's oil; the first of the season's oil is like a fresh finished portrait. I plan to order bottles of each kind from DaVero: I intend to taste that tablespoon I picked.

Olive Oil and Wine
Suggestions for keeping it all Californian

On the theory that things that grow together taste good together, I asked Darrell Corti what wine would go well with a dish that features olive oil prominently—say, braised fennel with lemon and chicken stock, a dish that always brightens my winters, from the recipe in Barbara Kafka's encyclopedic new Vegetable Love, a book rich in olive-oil suggestions.

Corti recommended one from the foothills of the Sierras in the San Joaquin Valley, near olive orchards: President's Reserve Primitivo, made from the grape that is the genetic ancestor of Zinfandel. The name refers to the president of California State University at Fresno, the only four-year university with a commercial winery that operates as a teaching laboratory. Unlike the better-known teaching winery at the University of California at Davis, Fresno can sell its wine—which is made entirely by (supervised) students. They're doing well in their studies, as both Corti and Ken Fugelsang, a professor and the Fresno "winemaster," told me recently. The Primitivo won best of class in the Italian-varietals division of the 2002 LA County Fair, whose prizes carry weight for both wine and olive oil.

Fugelsang describes Primitivo as a subtler, better-integrated version of the familiar, powerfully fruity California Zinfandel. It's also much cheaper, at about $10 a bottle (call 559-278-9463 to order it). Corti also highly recommends Fresno's "magisterial" Barbera, a usually expensive Piedmontese wine that sells for only $13 a bottle. It would go well with the osso buco from Kafka's book—cooked, of course, with olive oil.

Five California Olive Oil producers

California Olive Ranch
Oroville, CA, 530-846-8000, The state's largest producer, it uses mechanical harvesting to compete with bulk oils in price—and still guarantee freshness.

Healdsburg, CA, 888-431-8008, Carefully made Tuscan-style oils from Sonoma, including practically the only tolerable flavored oil, pressed with Meyer lemons.

McEvoy Ranch
Petaluma, CA, 866-617-6779, Especially peppery Tuscan-style oil, pressed at perhaps the state's most sophisticated olive mill.

Nick Sciabica & Sons
Modesto, CA, 800-551-9612, A San Joaquin Valley family firm that kept the olive-oil business alive almost single-handedly for decades, making mostly mild oils from traditional California varieties.

Berkeley, CA, 800-865-4836, Central Valley oil made from mostly traditional California varieties; the "house oil" is blended to be smooth and mild but not dull.

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Corby Kummer is a senior editor of The Atlantic. More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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