The Veronese delight in effortless good living. It's not hard to see how or why. Theirs is the best of many worlds. Beautiful ancient buildings, opera, romantic history (this is, after all, the home of Romeo and Juliet), and just ten minutes away the lovely countryside - and within 30 minutes driving the mountains where you can ski in winter and towards Venice - which is also within a stone's throw - seaside. What more could one really ask for in life? Good rice? It's Ferron. Good wine? Try the Amarone. An aperitif anyone? Try an Aperol or Campari Spritz - for this is also Prosecco territory. It is no wonder than their citizens are relaxed, sophisticated and cultured. They actually do have it all...and they appreciate it.
So it is always with a sense of pleasurable anticipation we visit the Salvagno family, suppliers of the appealing, excellent extra virgin olive oil, olives and black olive paste, we have stocked since we started 20 years ago.
On one occasion the olive paste was referred to by a witty foodwriter as 'yuppie' Vegemite, and indeed it's a healthy delicious spread as well as a good pasta or risotto ingredient. Another time Gianni asked us whether everyone in New Zealand ate his olives in front of the TV every night as they are so popular here, and certainly we do our best not to run out of his exquisite pitted olives in extra virgin olive oil as they and his ones in brine are a staple of many of our longterm clients. People who do not like olives, often like these. The only challenge to us visiting Verona are the rather confusing narrow inner city streets which defeat our GPS every time. HoweverFrantoio Salvagno is ten minutes out of town, so to go there does not present a problem.
We have over the last few years watched a rather large hole in the ground become a rather large elegant building which is where Salvagno now house their pressed oil and host educational groups. The family company is headed by Gianni, who seems to be known and liked by every citizen of Verona we meet, his wife Elena, and a small team including his two now adult daughters Cristina and Francesca who play an important role in the business, as well as the very bubbly other Cristina, who is a demon sales woman in their little shop, and a handful of people in the office and warehouse.
The night we arrived we took ourselves into Bottega e Vini, a classic restaurant of the town, to which Gabriele Ferron has a connection, where you can try all manner of local wine and food - including 'cavallo' (horse), which we decided, along with touching the statue of Juliet's well polished breast for luck, were two things Helen should do.
They politely smiled when we explained in NZ, it is regarded as a pet or as pet food as, along with risotto and polenta, it is a local staple of this region. This time, it was not served as a tartare with salsa verde as we had first had it, but in a cooked form, so if you did not know the translation, you would have just experienced a nice meat dish.
The next day we went for lunch with Francesca and Cristina to a restaurant closer to the Frantoio which is run by two sisters in their eighties who daily feed locals their delicious pasta, polenta, meat and sauces made in their kitchen and, if appropriate, cooked over a traditional fire.
Following lunch Gianni took us to meet another friend of his. We had been talking about the delicious local high end wine Amarone (of which Valpolicella is the younger, less complex version) and he felt this particular winemaker offered, as he does himself with his oil, an excellent quality value ratio. And so we were introduced to Vanio of Tezza. A small production well regarded winery run by he and his two cousins.
A visit to Verona would not be complete, and particularly for Helen, without a drive up to the cloistered nunnery (where she elected not to stay), followed by visit to Piazza Erbe and an Aperol Spritz at Caffe Mazzanti, run by Zeno, the husband of Cristina - which is where we dined before we headed on our way, via a couple of outlet shopping villages (definitely worth a visit!).
News is that Gabriele Ferron himself - of the famed Ferron risotto rice will be paying us a short visit this August.