Returning to Cosa bolle, different people have different obsessions, and Enrico Maltoni's is espresso machines. Not just espresso pots, though he also has plenty of those, but espresso machines of the kind one finds in Italian bars, and also their precursors. He has hundreds of the things (and a site dedicated to them), and brought quite a number to a presentation at the Salone del Gusto.
The first machines for making large quantities of coffee, we were told, were built in the late 1800s - early 1900s, while the first true espresso machine that used steam pressure to force hot water though the coffee grounds was made in 1901 by Ingegner Luigi Bezzera. It was an imposing machine, essentially a tall column of boiling hot water (there was a safety valve too) with cup holders on either side. But it did make espresso, and machines based on the design quickly became popular, though they were expensive enough that only larger locales in larger cities could afford them. Soon all the elegant bars were offering espresso, made by a barrista whose primary job was to tend the espresso machine.
Carefully, because the espresso machines based on Ingegner Bezzera's design could explode -- in 1946 one did, causing enough of a stir that a drawing of the scene made the cover of the Domenica Del Corriere.
One big problem with the Bezzera design is that it produced the same sort of espresso coffee one gets from a home pot, be it a Moca pot or a Neapolitan pot. The coffee is strong, and black, and bitter, and that's it.
In 1946, however, Achille Gaggia had a brilliant intuition and built a square machine with pistons to collect the steaming hot water, and force it through the coffee grounds under a pressure of about 8 atmospheres. The resulting coffee is creamy, and indeed the early piston machines say Caffé Crema Naturale to emphasize this fact. They also take a fair amount of effort to use, and barristi must have greeted the introduction, in the early 1960s, of machines with electric pumps to supply the pressure with considerable joy. And now, thanks to new technologies, the barrista can tailor each cup of coffee to the client's tastes.
We have come a great ways since 1901. And the place of the coffee machine has changed too. The early machines were objects of considerable pride, designed by stylists, made with brass and chrome puffed to a high shine, and placed on the bar, between the barrista and the client. The first piston machines were too, but things began to change in the 1960s, with the introduction of less expensive materials (plastic entered the picture in the 1980s), and during this period the position of the machine also changed -- no longer front and center, but rather on the shelf behind the bar; the change freed space on the bar so more people could enjoy coffee at once, and also (my interpretation) allowed a closer relationship between barrista and client: the machine is no longer in the way.
For more information, and a truly astonishing number of pictures, check Enrico Maltoni's site
Moving in a very different direction, if you visit a well stocked elegant delicatessen in Tuscany, you will probably find -- in the olive oil section -- a number of bottles that all look the same (though the oils will likely vary in color), with the word Laudemio prominently on the label, made by different people. What is going on?
Believe it or not, a reaction to cold. Tremendous cold; in 1985 Tuscany was colder than Moscow for almost a month. In Florence this meant joy for the kids, who got to play in the snow day after day, and hardship for the adults, who had to deal with the rutty slush in the roads (not much plowing, and no place to put the snow they did plow), and to try to thaw the pipes in the walls. In the countryside it was a disaster, because olive trees begin to suffer when the thermometer drops below freezing, and simply cannot tolerate weeks of temperatures below 0 F (about -18 C): They all died.
To say it was a grim moment for Tuscan olive oil would be an understatement and it was made all the worse by unscrupulous "producers" who brought in oil and sold it as Tuscan. Given the situation a group of central Tuscan olive oil producers decided to do something revolutionary, and introduce olive oil crus, in other words olive oils from specific olive groves (though the trees died their roots survived, and in the spring of 1986 began to put out new growth).
Production was to follow exacting standards; the olives were to be hand-picked before they had ripened -- this makes for lower yields but higher quality -- before November 30, they were to be pressed as soon as possible after picking, at the absolute most within 48 hours, and the resultant oils were to be tasted by a panel of experts, once in November and again in January.
What passed would be called Laudemio, a name suggested by Vittorio Frescobaldi, which hearkens back to Tuscan farming tradition -- the share the tenant farmers had to give the landowners (which was of course the best produced by the farm) was called the Laudemio. In 1987 30,000 half-liter bottles of Laudemio were produced, and at present the annual production is about 140,000, which accounts for 2% of Tuscany's olive oil crop.
Since Laudemio oils are from distinct olive groves each has its own distinct characteristics; some are more peppery, others more vegetal, some are darker, and others lighter, but they do share quality and distinctiveness.
Now, of course, with the emphasis on quality olive oils (which has even led to not one, but several olive oil guides) one might wonder at all the effort that went into developing Laudemio, but times were very different then: Before 1992 there were no European Union rules for olive oil production, and those who wanted to could buy cheaply, work the oils cheaply, and then sell them for high prices by associating them with well-known oil producing areas. Sleazy, I agree, but it happened.
And while the first European Union rules were a step forward, they were drawn up primarily to weed out frankly defective oils rather than promote quality. It is within this context that Laudemio was important, because it was a ground-breaking Olive oil initiative that showed what could be achieved if quality was the primary goal. Others took note, and if high quality oils are enjoying the success they are now, it is in no small part thanks to a miserable group of Tuscan olive growers who took stock of the devastation in 1985, and decided not to give up, but rather up the ante.
You will find a list of Laudemio producers and much more information about Laudemio on their site. Which Laudemio oil to choose? As I said, they are distinctive, and though they d share quality, each is different from the next.
Winding down, Thanksgiving in nearing for those in the US, and you have likely seen and heard all you want to about turkey, stuffed or otherwise. But perhaps not capon, and here's a stuffed capon with a rich stuffing based on Brussels sprouts, chestnuts and more. The recipe will also work with chicken or guinea hen.
- A capon, weighing about 3 1/3 pounds (1.5 k), cleaned
- 1 cup (250 ml) of meat broth or bouillon
- 2/3 pound (300 g) Brussels sprouts
- 2/5 cup (100 ml) Port wine
- 2 pears
- 1/2 pound (200 g) dried chestnuts, soaked
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 pound (200 g) sausage meat
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- A bay leaf
- A sprig of rosemary, rinsed and dried
- A sprig of sage, rinsed and dried
- Salt and pepper to taste
Flame the bird to remove stray pinfeathers, wash it inside and out, and pat it dry.
Wash the Brussels sprouts and boil them in lightly salted water until tender. Drain them and as soon as you can handle them cut them in half.
Boil the chestnuts until tender in water with a pinch of salt and the bay leaf; when the are tender drain them, discarding the bay leaf, and put them through a food mill or blend them.
Peel and core the pears and dice them.
Preheat your oven to 340 F (170 C)
Combine the sausage meat, pears, chestnut puree, pine nuts, Brussels sprouts, and Port in a bowl. Mix well and season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity of the bird with the mixture and shut the cavity, either by sewing it shut or using a skewer to bring the sides of the cut together.
Put the bird in a roasting pan, drizzle the olive oil over it, and season it with salt and pepper. Put the rosemary, garlic and sage with the bird and roast the bird for about 2 hours, basting it every now and again with broth.
When the time is up remove it from the oven, let it rest on a serving platter for five minutes, and then serve it at table.
The wine? Red, and I might go with a Montefalco from Umbria.
This time's proverb is Piemontese: La pas ant na ca a l'è 'n gran bel mobil - Peace in the home is a wonderful furnishing.
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.com
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