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Our News from the Bellybutton of Italy

Celebrating (quietly) our 20th year at Poggio Etrusco

2020, a year to remember
(as much as we might like to forget it)

This year has given me plenty of time to think.

I have been writing and re-writing this newsletter in my mind for quite some time. I’m not sure how it came to be November already. I remember my mother telling me, during one loooong and boring summer waiting for school to start, that the busier you are, the faster time goes by. In any case, in spite of having no business this year, we have stayed very busy, and the days, weeks, months have flown by.

Two photos: Pamela Sheldon Johns and her husband, Courtney Johns with their dogs; and Pamela with her daughter, Alaia reclining on a patio with their dogs.

We are lucky to have our land to move about during lockdowns (now this has become plural), and when the weather became more welcoming, we were doing our best to manage our 15 acres with 800 olive trees, 400 grapevines, and caring for the kitchen garden without our usual hired help. I’ve loved the work. I am leaner, browner, and stronger as a result.

The seasons have defined our daily agenda and, now that winter is coming, I will miss the mindlessness of working on the grapevines, sometimes listening to podcasts, often in silent meditation. These ritualistic jobs... weeding, peeling tomatoes, shelling walnuts, pruning... were a balm. I had time to think.

Thinking about lifestyle, consumption, sustainability... about my work and the possibility of resetting the entire picture.

Trying to figure out how to trim our already frugal lifestyle.

Honestly, I see this as a gift. All that we (everyone) have been doing needed to be analyzed for quality of life and priorities. I love my work, but I think I work too much. Up until this year, I have been on the computer day and night... marketing, creating, and then implementing what I need to keep it all going. I needed this filter. And the time to work it out.

Everyone has been affected in some way. I compare it sometimes to the stories I've heard of WWII here in Italy; there are some similarities... no work, no money, no food. Death. And fear, but a different kind of fear...not of bombs or snipers...but of the invisible unknown floating in the air or settling on a surface.

In our 20 years here, we have been through other screeching halts in tourism: 9/11/2001, the 2003 Iraq intervention, the 2008 economic crisis, and the 2010 volcano in Iceland...there have been floods, droughts, insects....

But we are still here.

And we will celebrate that with you in 2021!

An angel statue in a garden.

In the meantime, you can help by supporting our olive oil sales, our new online shop, and with gift vouchers for future cooking classes and stays at Poggio Etrusco.

Read on...

A collage of freshly picked olives, olive oil pouring into a container, and olive oil on fresh bread.

THE OLIVES AND OUR OLIVE OIL...

Pace da Poggio Etrusco organic extra-virgin olive oil since 2001, our 20th harvest!

We had an amazing crop this year...but unfortunately, half went on the ground in an epic 30-minute hailstorm which had its epicenter in Localit√° Fontecornino (rural area where our farm and 3 other small farms are). However, after bemoaning the massive number of olives on the ground from hailstorm, I had a wonderful surprise. We took in 3300 kilos (7260 lbs) of olives, the best harvest we've had since 2013.

2014 was the year the olive fly arrived in great numbers.

That was the year we had a zero harvest, and we have fought the good fight every year since then. This year, during the quarantine, Johnny was out hanging our organic treatment in over 500 trees. This is a bottle that contains my special recipe to attract the female fly before she starts boring holes and laying eggs in the olives. The ingredients include brewer’s yearst, sardines, and water.

Most fingers point to climate change for that insect invasion. The fly was already thriving in the southern Mediterranean areas, but each year the weather changed. We had fewer cold winters (needed to kill the over-wintering larvae that bury themselves 20-30 cm underground), and we had more wet and temperate summers, not hot enough to stop the fly in her tracks.

A fresh olive and its leaves and stemThere was no fly this year. None.

I believe it is because we had a little climate change with the full lockdown in the spring. After three months of no one driving, few planes drizzling pollution on us, everything seemed more normal, weatherwise, with very fresh and clean air. We had a normal spring that was long and so pleasant; I felt a bit guilty to not be able to share it with our usual guests. Summer was hot, with just the right amount of rain.

And the fall has been perfectly on time, and absolutely glorious. Having become accustomed to flaky weather and worried about the fly, I decided to pick at the same time as last year (each year we have picked a bit earlier to avoid fly issues and because the weather called for it). It turns out I could have waited... you can see the high percentage of green olives, but the oil is amazing! That pizzico that you’ve been waiting for since last year’s harvest... WoW! (pizzico is a peppery bite that indicates the oil is rich with healthy polyphenols).

My resa, the yield, was about 10%, quite a bit lower than usual. That is because the olives that were able to stay on the tree had some damage from the hail. But, unlike the holes (and eventual worms) that the olive fly makes, these bruises scabbed over quickly and sealed the olive from external forces. It did add weight to the olives, which also reduced the volume of oil from the olive... so when the amount of oil made was calculated, the percentage was lower than if they had ‘given their all’ without the hail damage.

A tin of olive oil with cups of olive oil in the foreground and a stem from an olive tree in the backgroundBut, still... we ended up with 3300 kilos of olives. Our acidity this year was .17%... an important factor in the quality of an extra-virgin olive oil (which can have up to .8% acidity; the lower the acidity, the better the quality of oil). Our polyphenol result was 539, a very good indication for the anti-inflammatory properties of the oil.

Because I picked a little earlier (because, really, the weather has changed, and people are still picking as I write this)... the oil is grassy, a brilliant chartreuse green with a spicy fresh vegetable/artichokey flavor and just the right notes of amaro (bitter).

Our costs have gone up: the bottling, the price of containers and tops, the printing of the labels, the labwork, and the crew that picked for us, not to mention the shipping.

I know this year has been hard on many people in many ways.

I didn’t want to make a blanket price increase because perhaps some people would not be able to do that. So I am offering the usual price, and the option of adding 10%, if you can. It will be appreciated!

MORE INFO at Poggio Etrusco organic olive oil.

Are you missing the flavors of Tuscany?

We’re still working on our online store, check us out!

We are featuring some gift items you might like to add to your shipment.

Plus gift vouchers for future cooking classes and stays at Poggio Etrusco.

AND why not add a bottle of our friends’ organic Podere della Bruciata Rosso di Montepulciano

Descriptions, pricing, and shipping costs are at this link:

Tuscan Flavors, Scents, and Art from Poggio Etrusco

A screenshot showing items for sale from Poggio Etrusco

Special Offer

No charge for shipping for some items if we send it with your oil order... Applies to:

Cucina Pazza Herb Salt, Johnny’s art prints, and our Aprons while inventory lasts

Send your order to info@Poggio-Etrusco.com

  • Include your name and shipping address with zip code, and a phone number for the shipper.
    Let us know what items you would like to order.
  • We will send you an invoice from PayPal (with an option to pay from PayPal, or just use your credit card, or send a bank wire).
  • You will receive a tracking number from the shipper..

Thank you!

VOUCHERS!

A collage of various scenes from Poggio Etrusco

VOUCHERS for cooking classes at Poggio Etrusco

Voucher valid for cooking classes with cookbook author Pamela Sheldon Johns in her farmhouse kitchen. Poggio Etrusco is an organic farm in the countryside halfway between Florence and Rome. See more  details at the Poggio Etrusco website.

€175 per person for cooking class, minimum 2 persons.

Special diets can be accommodated with advance notice.

To order, email your request to info@Poggio-Etrusco.com.

We will respond with an invoice payable with PayPal, your credit card, or bank wire transfer.

Voucher will be sent by email. No refunds. No expiration. Credit allowed for cancellations of reservations with 90 days notice. Transferable.

Photo of the Tuscan landscape by Dave Treece

VOUCHERS for stays at Poggio Etrusco

We can’t wait for you to come back!

Voucher valid for a stay at Poggio Etrusco, Montepulciano, halfway between Florence and Rome.

Voucher minimum €150, applies to a minimum two-night stay.

We have a range of accommodations from a double room to one- and two-bedroom apartments, all include a farmhouse breakfast. Each apartment has a fully-equipped kitchen and living area with a fireplace. They are tastefully decorated with antiques and Johnny Johns’ artwork.

Guests are encouraged to pick fresh, seasonal produce from the kitchen garden and will enjoy homemade jams and preserves from the plum, fig, apricot, peach, and cherry trees at breakfast.

The views are breath-taking from every angle. In the distance you can see the charming hilltown of Cortona and Lago Trasimeno; nearby we see the ancient towers of the historic towns of Montepulciano and Chianciano Terme. Poggio Etrusco is in the countryside, but has close access to everything you will need. More into at the Poggio Etrusco website.

To order, email your request to info@Poggio-Etrusco.com. We will respond with an invoice payable with PayPal, your credit card, or bank wire transfer. Voucher will be sent by email. No refunds. No expiration. Credit allowed for cancellations of reservations with 90 days notice. Transferable.

Wine offerings from Podere il Bruciata including Ermete: Rosso di Montepulciano; and Cesiro: Nobile di Montepulciano CRUOne more offer from our friends at Podere il Bruciata

Organic Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Add a bottle, or several, to your order!

Shipping for six bottles is €72; request pricing for other quantities

OH! and Chianti Cashmere!

On your next trip to Italy (soon, I hope!), you should include a visit to my friend Nora's cashmere goat farm. In the meantime, you will enjoy her lovely products... Please order directly from her at Nora's Chianti Cashmere.

Pamela wearing a cashmere scarf.

Wondering about the weeklong workshops? I am dividing and conquering my newsletter. This mailing is just about Poggio Etrusco. I will be sending an email about Italian Food Artisans culinary excursions separately. There are some important changes evolving there, so stay tuned.

Various scenes from Italy

The Mailing List

If you’re new to my mailing list you may be wondering, “How did I get added?”

I took advantage of the rainy days this year, when I couldn’t go work outside, to start going through some boxes of papers and cards with a lot of emails on them. These have been gathered for over 20 years, and I suspect many of them are no longer valid.

These lists came from classes I taught on tour in the US and UK, from clients who inquired or stayed and/or cooked at Poggio Etrusco, students and colleagues from my cooking schools in California (1980s at Ma Cuisine and 1990s at my Cooking School at Jordano’s in Santa Barbara), and includes fellow educators from my special ed. days, and re-discovered high school friends (50th reunion approaching!).

I loved my cryptic notes made on the edge of the cards and scraps of paper...

Met on a plane, met in Angelo’s orto at Ristorante Lancellotti, CIA, fellow judge at Slow Food Awards, Patagoniacs, my talk on gelato in Rome, met at a political demonstration at the train station in Torino, in Ocala, in Ludlow, in Berlin, in Nice, in Bellingham... and so on. Memory lane!

As tedious as this task was, I had some fun revisiting memories with emails that had very recognizable names. I got a laugh out of many of them... puttnut, dork, lorax, ciaothyme, nomiddlename, pmsandme... wino!

I noticed many multiple entries for one person with several different emails. Please, if you received more than one letter, kindly choose your preferred email and unsubscribe the other(s).

We feel grateful to have the gift of meeting so many people from all walks of life, from all over the world. Very grateful, also, for social media to keep us in touch.

Pamela, Johnny, and Alaia want to see you again!

We are ready to cook, dine, drink wine, pick grapes and olives, hunt truffles with you, and more.

Stay well,

Pamela Sheldon Johns and Co.


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