Sicily’s topography is as diverse as its vivid human landscape. Lush, subtropical flora and desert landscapes alternate with stunning coastlines, volcanic archipelagos, rugged mountains and an active volcano (Mount Aetna). Trapani province’s vista is softened with endless carpets of citrus orchards, olive trees and vineyards, and studded with the vestiges of crumbled empires, ruined Moorish forts and enchanting medieval towns.
The fruits of Trapani are many, among them olives, transformed by masters of olive oil into some of the best oil in the world. Three things combine to make this possible: the mineral-rich volcanic soil, single olive cultivars that are indigenous to the area (there are 500 different olive varieties in Italy), and a dedication for making oil that can best be described as a religion. Unfortunately, many Sicilian oils are not exported. One exceptional Trapani label made from these monocultivar olive varieties (biancolilla, cerasuola, or nocellara) that has been able to make its way into American markets is Frantoio Torre di Mezzo D.O.P. (Denomination of Protected Origin) [www.frantoiotorredimezzo.it ]. Another is the Falconero (“black falcon”) D.O.P. label [www.fontanasalsa.it], produced by Dr. Maria Caterina Burgarella, a pediatrician and olive oil producer. Several years ago I visited her working ancestral olive estate and agriturismo (country inn), Azienda Agricola Fontanasalsa (same link as for the olive oil) with restaurateur Tony May and the Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani, a trade association that aims to educate Italian restaurateurs abroad about authentic Italian food. This is not one of those rustic Italian farm holiday places in the countryside. Rather, it is a gorgeous working azienda in the aristocratic Sicilian style about which I can’t say enough. Dr. Burgarella’s excellent Sicilian chef served forth an abundant spread of beautiful local dishes for a taste of genuine provincial cuisine based on the olive oil she makes. Di Palo Fine Foods on 200 Grand Street, New York, carries Trapani biancolilla, cerasuola, and nocellara olive oils, and also ships.
It was a revelation to me that the Trapanese use extra-virgin olive oil exclusively in baking as well as cooking (much healthier than butter). If that seems like an odd notion, don’ t imagine aggressive olive oil. From the biancolilla olive flows a delicate, light and fragrant oil with the scent of orange and lemon blossoms upon it. The same oil is used for frying fish, making sauces, pastries and sweets or cannoli shells, or drizzling straight from the bottle for finishing dishes or dressing fresh cheese.