The Florence School of Olive Oil Review - Food Market Trip, Oil Tasting, and Chatty Cooking Lesson

Silvia Maccari shows us the difference between masculine fennel (left) and its feminine counterpart (right)

Fennel is called masculine or feminine?  Who knew? 



A good cook in Italy knows. 



You use the wider and larger male fennel for salads.  You use the more delicate female fennel for cooking with butter and parmesan or béchamel sauce. 



We followed Silvia Maccari to Florence’s less touristy Sant’Ambrogio Food Market in search of such tips and other food-borne windows into Italian culture. 



This was a first stop before a quick olive oil tasting and short cooking lesson where we learned how to make delicious pasta from scratch. 



Silvia is used to Americans. 



One of her sometimes gigs is training Marriott chefs from across the States and other places too on the do’s and don’ts of Italian cuisine.   



More regularly she is what Americans might call an olive oil “nose”.   She has extensive training in identifying the quality of various olive oils through taste and smell, working for producers and processors throughout Italy’s olive oil industry. 



OLIO, The Florentine School of Olive Oil, “Italy’s First School devoted to Extra Virgin Olive Oil”, has a training room set aside for you or your group to get a quick course from Silvia on discerning the good, better, best, bad and ugly of olive oils.  Though Silvia comes across as a somewhat reserved person, it’s here that you get a glimpse of her passion, albeit a relatively muted sampling of the passions about food and wine that strike you like loud tympani as you travel elsewhere in Tuscany. 


With several oils put before us we tasted and chatted about each.  Alas, we failed the test of spotting quality but gained the knowledge that olive oil in Italy is serious stuff.   If defects --- identified by nose and mouth—are in the 0-3 zone you get to call your olive oil virgin.  Over 3 and its “lampante” and not suitable for sale.  Sometimes producers get around the “lampante” designation by cleaning their oils and mixing them with extra virgin olive oil.  That wouldn’t fool a nose like Silvia’s though, to say the least.  



It was from Silvia that we learned for the first time that it was the extremely rare olive oil producer in Tuscany who bottled any oil last year.  Weather was such that many insects laid eggs in the olives –far more than usual—spoiling an entire season’s crop. 


It was interesting to hear Silvia’s report, but actually far more dramatic later when we heard it from the proverbial “horse’s mouth”, i.e. the great number of farmers with hundreds of olive trees who let the fruit go to waste rather than spoil their brand. 


Silvia’s knowledge of olive oil is vast and if this is a subject of great interest to you scheduling an olive oil tasting here is a top recommendation.



Even Silvia’s partner, Barbara Desderi, who does the cooking lesson part of the school, acknowledges that she too has picked up a tip or two from Silvia and has changed which oils she uses when in her cuisine. 



Barbara, like Silvia, seems quite familiar with American mindsets. 



She happens to be the daughter of an opera singer such that she travelled around the world as she grew up to follow his tours. 



What fun to make pasta from scratch with Barbara showing you the ins and outs!  Your hands get full of flour and you rekindle the sort of joy you felt in kindergarten exercises with clay. 



Better yet, you get to share the spoils of this tactile cooking lesson with Silvia and Barbara, though you should expect them to take small portions as they are doing this all day, most days.



Olio, The Florence School of Olive Oil

Via Fra’ Paolo Sarpi 5d

50136 Firenze (Florence), Italy


(+39) 055 5386283




For more information visit the Florence Olive Oil School Website.












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