Flo Cornish visits the I&P olive groves

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Flo Cornish visits the I&P olive groves

Flo won the Leiths diploma prize for best mark in a practical exam.

You would be hard pressed as a Leiths student not be aware of the handful of awards dished out at the end of each year to the graduating chefs. The wooden plaques face you, head on, every day as you walk through the doors taunting, inspiring and stressing you out in equal measure. Well, they did for me in any case.

So it would be a mild understatement to say that winning one such award was a bit of a shock! By some luck / chance / fluke I was the winner of the Best Mark in a Practical Exam award sponsored by I&P olive oils last year (2015) which was incredibly special for two reasons – firstly, I didn’t even know that this was an award to be won and secondly, because I was just pleased I’d passed the damn exam, let alone gotten a high grade! When you’ve spent the weekend before making 18 cheese soufflés and sourcing unprepped lamb racks (MUCH harder than you think), just getting through those final four hours are enough of a blessing. So to win this award was certainly the icing on the cake.

The prize consisted of a two day trip to the olive groves of I&P oils – an exclusive and premium olive oil company, specialising in varietal oils all grown on single sites. However, with a chance to fly to Italy and spend some time eating our body weight in pasta and gelato, we decided to eek it out to 4 days in Rome, moving on to Canino later in the week – the small village where I&P are based.

Canino is by no means on the tourist trail and a half hearted Google search yielded minimal results on the history or day to day life of this town. But the second we arrived in Rome and told people we were heading onto Canino, the first response became ‘Oh, are you going for the olive oil?’. Canino is the Bordeaux of oil. Everyone in the town owns several trees and everyone is obsessed with the stuff. It’s hard not to come away with an appreciation of the intricacies of olive oil, especially in a place where it dominates the food and dining scene.

Very much like wine, the better the quality of fruit combined with consistency of climate and care all make for a really special product, something we came to appreciate hugely under the guidance of our host, Paolo Borzatta. Paolo had stumbled across olive growing quite unintentionally after finding out that there were a half dozen trees rooted on the land he bought to build a weekend house on. Slowly but surely, from processing the oil for personal use, to supplying friends and family, Paolo started I&P 15 years ago and has made it his mission to educate and promote olive oil as an ingredient in and of itself, not just a vehicle for frying or marinating. He believes that the minute differences in the flavours of oils are the same as in wine and should be appreciated in the same way.

We learnt this over the course of the 2 days, from helping to harvest the olives direct from the trees, to bringing them back to the mill to tasting different oils in the collection. We also ate out at local restaurants who used Paolo’s oils in their dishes, seeing the different varieties ‘in action’.

Returning to London was a challenge – mostly because we were both 2 stone heavier but also because it was a real eye opener to learn
about olive oil in so much depth. Paolo was right, we don’t see the intricacies and complexities of a product that is often just split into ‘plain’ and ‘extra virgin’.

I had the most amazing time on this trip which was made all the more special by the fact that it was so unexpected. I can’t wait for the next winner to experience it and come back an olive oil snob like we certainly are!

Keep up with Flo on her website or follow on Twitter @FlorenceCornish


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