Opening the box from Mia Emilia, the black rooster label on the bottle of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil immediately grabbed my attention. One drop, and before the fullness of its flavor was complete, I felt the familiar spiciness that burns ever so slightly in the back of the throat. This is it. This is Italy.
There is something so special about drizzling olive oil and seeing a rich green color emerge from the bottle. More special still, to know the land it came from. To be able to picture the olive trees amid cypresses on a sprawling Tuscan hillside. To remember moments in time that passed too quickly with the people who live there. It is this beauty and simplicity of life that produce the most complex of flavors.
The little black rooster commands respect, and at the same time he always makes me smile, remembering the story of how he came to be the symbol of this beloved region called Chianti.
Sitting around the table at our favorite winery, the winemaker’s grandson told us how this came to be, and how today the little guy is recognized all over the world as the symbol of excellence from the region.
Siena and Florence, two great Tuscan cities, were long rivals. So, the legend goes that to determine the borders of the Chianti region and which of these great cities would control it, the two cities agreed to each send a rider out at the rooster’s crow on a designated morning. Where the two met, the lines would be drawn.
Siena chose a white rooster and fed him a nice big meal the night before. Anyone who has had the pleasure of a Sienese meal is probably not surprised at this!
Florence chose a black rooster and opted to keep theirs a bit hungry in hopes his hunger would arouse him early.
Florence won. Their black rooster crowed early that morning and the rider departed for Siena, coming quite near the city before the Sienese rider emerged. Tuscany’s beloved Chianti region would be under Florentine rule thanks to the black rooster who awoke that morning hoping for an early breakfast.
Today’s Chianti region embraces the legend, but the rivalry has been replaced by peaceful vineyards and rolling hills. No doubt, the rooster would be quite proud to be represented on the label signifying authentic, regulated products originating from the borders he helped establish hundreds of years ago.
When you see this label on a bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil marked with the letters DOP, you can be assured the bottle has earned this seal by meeting all the stringent requirements.
DOP stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta. A few of the regulations are that the oil must contain an acidity of 0.5% or less, olives must be at least 80% from some combination of the 4 main types of trees (Frantoio, Leccino, Moraiolo, and Correggiolo), and other varieties not to exceed 20% must also be cultivated from the region. This oil may not be mixed with any others not meeting these requirements, or from a different year. There are more regulations still, determining temperatures, picking methods, pressing methods and storage times.
The Dievole Chianti Classico Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP is made from olives of the Frantoio, Leccino, and Moraiolo varieties.
At the first taste of it, I’m back at the table in Chianti hearing the story of the black rooster and tasting his nonna’s Ribollita soup and pomodoro pasta drizzled in that same spiciness only these hills can produce.
Is it any wonder that the word gusto, our English word for “the enjoyment or vigor in doing something”, is the very same word, pronounced a bit differently, as the Italian word for, “taste, flavor”?
In this flavorful extra virgin olive oil, you can taste the gusto in both senses. Not only the ancient land, its legends and history, but the enjoyment its people celebrate in producing something of quality from this land that gives them life.
Gusto. I can think of no better word to describe Italy or its people. Intense flavors. Intense joy in the art and spice of life.