If you have followed me even a little bit you know that Pete and I are HUGE foodies! We honestly would go to the ends of the earth for a great meal.
That was one of the reasons we purchased our home in Calabria, Italy ten years ago. Obviously there are a million reasons, but the food in Calabria is the very best in the world (in my humble opinion).
And in Calabria, I am a great cook. I wow myself with almost every meal I make and I get wowed by every meal I eat there no matter who makes it.
So I knew that there had to be a SECRET to great Italian cooking. And there is!
I looked long and hard and finally found it! And it was so simple!
Even the best and freshest ingredients will fall flat in your dish if you don’t start with a really good basic ingredient and in Italian cooking the most basic ingredient is the super high quality, Italian olive oil.
Once I stumbled on that bit of brilliance, I started looking in my kitchen in California at the olive oil I had been cooking with. I thought to myself, Hmmmmmm, I bet that is not the best I can find.
And that, my friends, started me on a quest to research and find the BEST olive oils in the world and learn everything I could about them.
As I researched, I ran into so much false data and contrary facts. Everyone it seems has an opinion that they defend to the death even when it conflicts with everyone else’s opinions.
I had to go back really far into the past before all this weirdness began to find the correct data. And again I found it, this time in an obscure little book written by a Spanish olive nerd living and working in Italy in 1900 by the name of Dr. Alejandro Bizzarri.
Dr. Bizzarri wrote down in almost excruciating detail EVERYTHING that had to do with the cultivation, the harvesting, the pressing, the storing, and the transporting and selling of olives.
His book is part chemistry, part physics and part agriculture. I got it and translated it, pulling out the parts that I knew we all needed to know here in 2020 to understand, use and cook well with any olive oil.
And I took these golden nuggets of information and compiled them all in an easy to read and entertaining FREE Ebook so that you can have fun and learn about EVERYTHING OLIVE at the same time.
Since we understand that many people learn more visually, we created an online course of seven high quality videos, each one packed with vital information from Dr. Bizzarri’s book. Here is where we debunked the myths and dispelled the mysteries of everything olive. We also picked out a bunch of frequently asked questions to answer that I know you want to know because so many people have been asking them.
By then I had REALLY been bitten by the olive bug and I had to learn more!
So Pete and I ordered five of the top ranking Italian olive oils on Amazon.com. It was like Christmas when they arrived! We then researched the best way to taste them and compare them.
Then we created a video, side by side comparison of these five top ranking Italian olive oils and we were blown away by what we found! Each one was so different but so delicious! We loved the unfiltered ones for salads and pestos. Learning this was like opening a huge door to a completely different world of food and cooking. Who knew that one of the the oldest and most basic ingredients on the planet could create such a change in our every day lives?
So having tasted all of these magnificent olive oils, we decided to create a new and original recipe for each one of them.
We created a video series of cooking classes, one for each recipe featuring one of our Italian olive oils. These recipes were amazing as they each were created with a high quality Italian olive oil in mind.
In order to make it easier to purchase the other ingredients and follow the recipes, we then created an Ebook containing these recipes.
And, since we know that once you start in on this path, like us, you will be transported to true olive nerddom, I added Dr Bizzarri’s book from 1900, translated and annotated by me so that you can understand everything he was saying.
Pete and I had so much fun creating this package of Olive Mastery for you and we are so excited to make it available.
To start on your journey go get your FREE EBOOK right now. And welcome to a new life of great cooking and eating!
Big Italian cities in Summer are lovely however if you go in August, you will notice that things are a little different. Shops are shuttered, restaurants would be empty if not for the tourists and the traffic dies down to a dull roar leaving you wondering where the heck is everyone?
Most Europeans have all of August off. As soon as vacay time rolls around, they are off and heading to some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Where do Europeans go on Vacation?
Since August is pretty warm most everywhere in Europe, they naturally head to the beaches and the best beaches are along the Calabrian coast in Italy.
As you take the train south from Naples, you wind down along the shore past Salerno, through the Gulf of Policastro and if you are a European tourist, you very likely end up in Scalea.
Scalea lies about halfway between Napoli to the North and Reggio Calabria to the South. As you drive or taxi from the train station to your destination, you look up and see the picturesque Centro Storico (Historic Center) with its tiny houses clustered together on the hilltop like shy children, rising above while the more modern area pedonale (pedestrian area)with its shops and cafes, stretches out before it like Mama’s apron.
The large street, the Corso Mediterraneo winds up and down the coast to neighboring resort towns with hotels lining the shore and shops and apartments rising up on both sides. Beyond the Corso Mediterraneo lies the crystal blue Mediterranean reaching open armed out to embrace the horizon.
Here and there rocky outcroppings drop into water so clear and blue that swimmers look like they are flying and boats appear suspended in midair over the sea floor.
And those are only a few of the myriad of reasons Scalea is Europe’s favorite holiday spot.
Calabria is the epitome of Southern Italian culture and charm but it was not always a well known tourist destination. In fact much of Calabria was very poor until recently.
If you chat awhile with the elderly people in the hill towns, you will still hear stories about days of hunger when the harvests were scarce or the hunting was unsuccessful.
Those days have happily passed and Calabria is starting to boom as a tourist destination not only for Europeans but also Americans as we discover the unspoiled beauty of the region, the unrivaled Calabrian cuisine and the warmth of the people.
The Old Town
Back in 2010, my husband and I decided to go to Calabria and look for a house. We wanted to retire in a little house overlooking the Mediterranean where we could immerse ourselves into a village and become a part of it.
We contacted a real estate agent who recommended that we stay at Casa Cielo BnB. I remember his words clearly “Clive is a great cook”, and that sealed the deal.
Casa Cielo is not currently taking new clients as Clive and his wife Kathryn have retired and are traveling and blogging. However our agent was absolutely correct, Clive is a great cook.
Casa Cielo is situated right in the middle of the Centro Storico Scalea just off the famous main stair case that everyone photographs when they go.
The little medieval houses huddle together and spill down the hill to the sea creating a gorgeous village filled with vias and alleyways that duck under houses and turn off into tiny stairs that wind through dark tunnels only to end with a splash of sunlight in a completely different part of the village.
Walking down any staircase leads to the foot of the village and, across the Corso Medterraneo, the beautiful deep blue sea.
Restaurants and shops peek out from corners in the Centro Storico inviting you in.
And when you get to the beach, the lidos lined up dotting the beach with different colored umbrellas, beckon you to grab a resting place and perhaps bob in the sea for awhile.
The Monday Market
One of my favorite things to do in Scalea is to go to the Monday Market. Scalea generally has a fruit and vegetable market daily and there are any number of produce trucks lining the streets at any given time selling fresh produce. From Tropea onions, potatoes to fruits and chili peppers, all the produce is freshly picked and brightly colored.
These you can purchase for pennies and create a magnificent dish with just a few of these fresh ingredients.
However the Monday Market is something else. It takes up a couple of blocks and is stall after stall featuring everything you would ever need for life in Calabria.
I love the One Euro tables where you can find great T shirts and even dresses for almost nothing. The jewelry stands are likewise filled with treasures that you can purchase for a few cents.
Bright shawls from Africa billow in the breeze and bathing suit and underwear stalls are set up next to hunting goods. It is a free for all and way too much fun.
Every time I go to the Monday market, I meet several of my friends there. We stop and catch up promising to meet for coffee or lunch soon.
The Surrounding Towns and Villages
Scalea is a large resort town but some of its charm is the proximity to other hill and resort towns. Seemingly every mountain top in the area is crested with a little hill town. Each one has its own character and charm.
Maiera is quiet and reverent. Grisolia is bubbly and welcoming. Diamante is well named as it is truly a diamond set next to the sea. Its beautiful promenade is home to fun shops and gelaterias. Its old town hides beautiful murals and mosaics.
And of course one cannot discuss surrounding hill towns without bringing up my favorite hill town, Santa Domenica Talao.
Set on a hilltop overlooking the Sweeping green of the Lao plain and the Mediterranean beyond that, Santa Domenica Talao is an artist’s Mecca where seemingly every villager is a master of some form of art.
Our architect, Antonello Lucchesi recently unveiled his spectacular terrace just off the piazza with an unobstructed view of the sea and mountains beyond.
Under the terrace is a stunningly beautiful loggia with different levels and perfect stairs that open up the lower village and make it accessible as the stairs prior to this were pretty brutal to navigate.
Our neighbor Rosaria is a master chef and we have been beyond lucky to have been invited several times to one of her spectacular lunches.
Several villagers knit or crochet. After lunch one day Rosaria brought out her tiny crocheted teacups that were so small and delicate that I was afraid to pick them up.
I could go on and on bragging about the amazing people in Santa Domenica but I digress.
When you come to Scalea, give yourself time to explore the surrounding towns and villages. Each is a jewel in a perfect Mediterranean setting.
Calabrian cuisine is just now being discovered by the foodies of the world. America has known Calabrian cuisine of a sort since the late 1800’s when the Italian diaspora brought an influx of Italian immigrants to the US mostly from Calabria.
Once they arrived, pizzas pastas, breads and other Italian staples appeared on American tables but they were adapted to America palates.
The cuisine in Calabria is unique. At lunch recently Rosaria told me that some of the dishes she was creating (I should say “crafting” because that is what she was doing) were specific to Santa Domenica Talao and that each individual hill town had its own recipes.
This is a treasure trove of magnificent new food treats for us to explore and enjoy.
From the Arancini (little rice balls, filled, rolled in bread crumbs and fried) to the ragu to the bacalao (salt cod rehydrated and cooked to perfection) Calabria has something new for every day of the year and I have not even touched on the desserts.
Calabria also has many immigrants from Sicily who have brought their amazing cuisine and especially fabulous desserts. Our favorite restaurant in Scalea is Vulare Sicillienne where we find pistachio encrusted sword fish, beautiful seafood pastas and the world’s most perfect cannoli.
The first time I arrived in Calabria our plane slanted in over the Mediterranean and I saw the stretch of magnificent coastline. I suddenly felt like I was home.
I felt like I had been on a long muliti life time journey looking for who knows what and that I had finally found it.
Then when I came to Scalea and finally to Santa Domenica Talao, I knew that I was where I belonged.
In our city of San Jose, California, there is a spiritual hecticness, an anxiety that I can feel in the air. Wherever I go in San Jose, it is there.
When I reached Calabria, it disappeared. And truthfully, until I visited Calabria, I did not know that it even existed and that I had grown so accustomed to it.
It was like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders and I was there in the moment to enjoy all the gifts that Calabria was giving me.
I cannot describe it other than to tell you to come and experience it for yourself.