Buck Knives and Open Borders

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Our friends Bob and Francesco came over for dinner tonight. (oliviotree.com) They (Francesco mainly) cooked for us a while back  (https://fitzwritesinitaly.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/buona-note/).

So it was our turn. I cooked a chicken-sausage gumbo. “First, you make a roux…” They’d never had gumbo (not sure gumbo has ever been served in Le Marche, actually) and really liked it. I was quite pleased. They’re both quite well traveled and well versed in wine and food, so I was hesitant to say the least. But for an excellent Italian cook to say my dish was good… well, it made my heart leap up.

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(Wine, water, oil, vinegar)

 We talked about travel a lot, and how with the EU’s open borders, Europeans travel more than Americans. Francesco’s family is from Naples, in the south of Italy. Every summer his family would spend all of July in the north of Italy in a little mountain village in the Dolomites. The Dolomites just happen to be on my rock climbing bucket list.

We’d had a really productive day around Casa Mosaico. Bob did a lot of plumbing for us (hot water at the kitchen sink, thank you baby Jesus), and I did my odds and ends—door knob for the guest bathroom, chopping kindling wood for the fireplaces, hanging the 8 cup hooks on the newly hung cabinet, clearing leaves from the pool cover, etc. After dinner, over dulce, I asked Bob if he carried a pocketknife. I have 2-3 at home, but never got in the habit of carrying one regularly. My father always did. 

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(Fine Italian design… it’s everywhere. This is the carrier for our dessert dish)

I happen to pack mine for this trip… as it happens, a nice Buck knife my father gave me when I was probably a teenager. I’ve kept it sharpened and oiled all these years, but just never got in the habit of having it in my pocket on a daily basis. Fitz (my father) was a country doctor, so surgery was only one of the many things he did in his practice. Fine steel was always important to him. From his scalpels to his hunting knives to his daily pocket knife. He passed that appreciation on to me. A fine, sharply honed kitchen knife is a joy to me to this day, and I always keep a sharp Gerber folding knife on my climbing harness.

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So, bucking my usual habits, I packed Fitz’ Buck knife with me on this trip. I find myself reaching for it several times a day here. Every day. Slicing open the packing around some dishes sorella stashed in the attic; prying out an errant screw I just mis-placed; cutting apart the sashes that held together sorella’s old twin bedframes (in preparation for the new frame delivered by our new favorite store, Fallimenti); carving up an apple for an impromptu al fresco lunch; getting the seemingly ever-present gunk from under my nails (please don’t tell my now-departed mother. She’d think it uncouth.) I don’t feel dressed unless it’s in my front pocket now (handkerchief ever-present in the back).

So what do good food, good friends, travel, and pocket knives have to do with each other? I’m still working on that. But I think that when you open yourself up to new experiences, you become a more versatile and useful utensil of the universe. Something that will deliver when called upon. Something that adds to the experience at hand. Something that can slice prosciutto, pecorino fresco and pears and still slit open a love letter with grace and aplomb.

Peace out.

Making the donuts ( o rendendo l'olio di olive )

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Making the olive oil.

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? It’s not. Well, it IS an industrial process. BUT it does produce a heavenly, romantic, sensual product. So why quibble, right? Non importa.

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We went to the Oleficio Piccinini today. Our olives had already been delivered and rendered earlier, so our guide (and neighbor) Bob took us just to see the process. The fruit of our work was already at home.

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It’s not unlike a modern printing press: you have to schedule time on the press so that your olives are pressed on their own, and not tainted by your neighbor’s inferior growth. The Bruno family olives here are– I’m sure– perfectly fine.

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Olives go into a big hopper where they are separated from the leaves and other detritus. They are fed into a masher– in the picture, three mashers are going at once, with three different batches of olives– each are identified by name. Oh– and I’m sure they’re not called “mashers,” but that’s what they do. The mash is then fed into a centrifuge, which extracts all the water and somehow miraculously does not eliminate the oil.

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It comes out and some old Italian gentleman bottles it– either in your own huge stainless steel cask, or your raffia-wrapped jereboam or whatever you happen to have. They’re not picky.

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 Oleficio Piccenini has won numerous awards for their olive oil. And you’ll see them when you deliver your olives. You’ll know the awards because they’re covered in dust and stuck haphazardly into machinery that looks like it could take a finger off.

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This is a picture of an old “cold press” on the walls of  Oleficio Piccenini. There are still cold presses around, but our friend and guide Bob, who formerly designed and maintained canning equipment for CocaCola (so he knows his manufacturing shit) far prefers the method we saw today. Much more efficient, and he likes the product better. And the product…

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It doesn’t suck, no.

Ciao.