Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Olive Oil Hunt

On our drive out to the country
We wanted to keep our weekend light on activities, but not boring, mainly because we thought my grandmother might have some jet lag from her 16+ hour trip here (she did not). But still, we needed a light weekend ourselves. Nathan had to go in to work for half an hour or so, so we went with him and read our Kindles in the sun before heading out to the mountains to find an olive oil factory. I'd read about one on a Facebook group, so we thought we'd take a little drive. The address for the company (from their website, mind you) took us right into the center of a little, mountain town rather than to the actual store (this is why a GPS is only marginally helpful here). Naturally, we arrived during riposo, but eventually found three men hanging about - none of them had heard of the olive oil factory. Odd. So we finally found some carabinieri (police) and asked them. No luck again. We just drove on the main street of town and off in a vague direction the carabinieri suggested we try, and voila, olive hunt over. It turned out to be a coop, where farmers bring their olives, have them pressed, and take home olive oil. What we didn't figure out, and it was too loud to try to ask someone in our Italian (then actually try to understand the answer), was if the farmers were taking home olive oil from their own olives, leaving some behind as a "payment," or if farmers bring in olives, then just take home a payment of any old olive oil. Regardless, we were able to purchase a couple of bottles. We're developing quite a collection of olive oil, and since it really doesn't keep, we're going to have to get hopping on our usage. We're slowly developing quite a taste for particular items here that are going to be quite expensive once we return to the United States. Quality olive oil, good prosciutto, mozzarella di bufala (a specialty of Campania, our region surrounding Naples), the sweetest clementines on the planet that will be available for about .02 apiece in another month, and naturally, the gelato!

Having successfully found our olive oil, I turned my eyes toward dumpster diving. The countryside is the place for keen eyes to spot a discarded damigiana, very large glass jars used for storing wine or olives. They're most often in a green color, but can also come in a gorgeous, light blue or a smoky gray. Last year, you may recall, we found two while on vacation far south of Naples. Americans love these things, and the Italians here in Naples have caught on, so they're starting to sell them rather than drop them off at the nearest dumpster. Business savvy, wrought iron workers have developed lovely, candle holders that drop down into the center of the damigiana. People who have found sources of free or cheap demijohns (another name for them) keep those sources a closely held secret. The point is, finding a damigiana is a big deal. And we had success. We had double success except I made a rookie mistake. After I screamed, "There's one," and Nathan hit the brakes, executed a U-turn, and sped back to the spot, I hopped out and ran to my prize. My eyes had not deceived - there was a beautiful, huge, damigiana. One problem, there was a champagne bottle half in/half out of the neck. I, in my zeal, moved the damigiana before moving the bottle, thus shifting the bottle and causing it to drop inside...and shattered the damigiana's sides as well as my own excitement. I half-heartedly shifted a few bags of trash, and thankfully, was able to recover my error with a second find. This one was a clear, olive damigiana completely enclosed in a plastic basket with handles. It's five days later, and I have yet to actually take the top basket cover off in fear that this one, too, is broken.  As long as I don't look, I can revel in a successful treasure hunt.

Nathan's question as we drove off was a great one: "Why do we like these again?" His point was, do I like the demijohns just because it's the "thing to do." For me, no. I like them because they are so uniquely Italian. Maybe other countries in Europe use them, too - I don't know. But they are something that I won't find in the United States - at least not sitting by the dumpster. Much of what we can buy here as "souvenirs," we can get pretty easily back home. Our world is so global now that Italian ceramics are sold in T.J. Maxx, for crying out loud. But finding a beautiful, glass jar that some farmer used to put his homemade wine in after hours and hours of labor producing that wine, then sharing his wine with his friends and family, then discarding that demijohn for some reason or other where I find it, take it home, clean it up, put in a candle, then sit back and enjoy the glow - that's a connection to a practice, a life, a culture that I won't get in America. And that is why I love the demigiana.


  1. Okay, caught you in a bit of "creative license". The photo appears to be YOUR demijohn with YOUR candle thingy in front of YOUR patio doors. No longer ensconced in plastic, eh? Congratulations!

  2. Stephanie here, posting from Nathan's account: I should have clarified - the damigiana in the photo is one I actually paid for, not the one I still haven't opened washed (still haven't, three weeks later!). Yep, I actually forked over cold, hard cash for one...but not that much. It was an acceptable trade!