Back in New York City, I have a collaborative partnership with the italian import company Gustiamo. I first met Danielle Aquino (the newest part-owner) while we both were working in Sicily. After graduating with a masters from Bocconi in Milan, Danielle moved back to the U.S. to join Gustiamo full-time. Now, I have started using more and more Gustiamo-imported products in my private chef and catering work. Besides the perfectly plump capers packed in salt from Pantelleria, my favorite go-to product is the Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Tenuta Pianogrillo near Ragusa in Sicily.
Lorenzo Piccione di Pianogrillo, the owner of Tenuta Pianogrillo, is a true "renaissance man." He is simply dolcissimo and completely impressive in his wide variety of talents. Lorenzo is an artist, a concert pianist, a farmer, a winemaker, and most importantly - an incredible olive oil producer. He is very savvy with social media (follow on instagram @pianogrillo_farm) so I felt like I've known him for awhile before actually visiting the farm. I sent my friend Anna Watson Carl (The Yellow Table cookbook author and contributor to Saveur.com) with a little checklist of things to do and people to meet in Sicily when she went for the first time in January... a Palermo Street Food Tour with Salvo Agusta, winery visit to Arianna Occhipinti, Modica chocolate shop to meet Pierpaolo Ruta at BonAjuto, and a trip to Chiaramonte Gulfi to see the Pianogrillo olive orchard.
When I was joining Silvestro Silvestori on this #CHEEKYbici bicycle trip through Sicily, he had just a few requests in the planning: if I wanted to visit any Sicilian ex boyfriends or try to track down long lost family members, I needed to take a few days and do that on my own. The agreement was this: my family is 100% Greek-American so we're all good there and if we plan to avoid Palermo and a few small villages surrounding Regaleali, we would have no trouble with i fidanzati siciliani. As we planned part of our trip around discovering the delicious DOCG Cerasuolo di Vittoria wines near Ragusa, I booked us an afternoon with Lorenzo at Pianogrillo!
Following the perfectly positioned street signs directing us towards Contrada Pianogrillo (yes, this sounds completely unbelievable In Sicily) we were greeted with open arms by Lorenzo Piccione; a tall, happy, salt-and-peppery bearded man wearing knee high riding boots. What a sight! After a few long exhausting bicycle trips around Ragusa, we were so happy to pack up the car, visit Lorenzo, then head north towards Mt. Etna for the rest of the trip.
At Pianogrillo, they are situated near the Iblei mountain range which is where the name for the olives comes from. The olives that are used for the Sicilian extra virgin olive oil that Gustiamo imports into the US are 100% tonda iblea - a special bright green, round olive that can be pressed for oil and also "da salare" to preserve and eat!
The property at Pianogrillo has a 30-hectare orchard of bio olive trees, and another 30 for grapes, citrus trees, gorgeous stables for horses and animals like the suino nero black pigs, little rabbits, chickens + goats. The new addition is the farm-chic cantina for winemaking. We tasted Curva Minore (a frapatto and nero d'avola blend) right from the barrels in the cantina and had a nice snack of salame, pane ragusano and a bottle of Grillo in Lorenzo's kitchen.
Silvestro, a true Pugliese olive oil snob, even purchased two cases of oil to bring back home. He loves the bitter boom-boom-pow that you get with oil from Puglia but was happy to try out the grassy buttery tonda iblea oil and even bring some mini cans back as gifts for his staff. Lorenzo packed us up with wine, estratto di pomodoro, salsa pronta made with cherry tomatoes, loads of olive oil and even two of his homemade black pork salami to smuggle back through customs.
It was such a special visit with Lorenzo Piccione at Pianogrillo in Chiaramonte Gulfi. Not every private chef has a chance to meet the people who make their ingredients or actually visit the small farms or vineyards where they are grown. I'm so lucky to be a Chef in a place like New York where there are companies like Gustiamo to help source these great international products for me. If I can't have a hotel with a garden near the sea in Sicily just yet, I'll stick with my importer to bring all the good italian stuff right to my front door in Brooklyn.
Azienda Agricola di Pianogrillo, Chiaramonte Gulfi (Ragusa), Sicily | www.pianogrillo.it
buy it from www.gustiamo.com | discount code: cheekychef