Skip to content

la settimana dedicata all’ extra vergine
olive you 2: replanting the trees

Extra virgin olive oil continues to astound the International medical community, as one of the healthiest foods on the planet.

Now our olive trees are in trouble and we need your help. Come help Italy recover.

Olive Week Long Cooking Course at Castle in Italy

Olive You: The Week of Our Extra Virgin

A blight here has destroyed millions of trees but a cure is now available and we’re replanting. Pack your work boots and leather gloves. We’re going to spend a morning in the countryside, helping Italy recover.

But this is a class and you’ll learn to critically taste extra virgin, to properly analyse it, seeking not only potential defects but to identify individual taste profiles of the award-winning extra virgin olive oils from southern Italy. 

And we’ll head into the kitchen, learning to make fresh pasta from scratch (making it nearly every meal), learning to master vegetable cookery, the heart of the Mediterranean lifestyle.

You’ll learn to grill everything, from fish still dripping with the nearby Adriatic, to green winter onions to the fresh sausages that you’ll make from scratch, grilling them directly over orange tree wood in the castle’s main hall. You’ll learn the difference between cooking with oil and eating it raw and when can you do one and not the other. You’ll pour it generously over autumnal vegetables, each with a season and history of its own.

But it’s likely that it will be ‘learning to read’ olive trees, that will be your favourite take away from the course, each like a noble old farmer that spends too much time in the sun, each with a story to tell. 

Book now with an email

Where: Held in the historic centre of Lecce, with field trips.

When: the colder months, usually February

Where to stay: In the historic centre of Lecce. Stay anywhere you like but we have trusted suggestions in our Student Services.

Taught in: English.

Course cost: 1995 Euro.

Best way to arrive, depart, maximise your time with us: Everything is spelled out in our Student Services. You’ll be given access about booking.

Book now with an email!

Olive You!

A Week Dedicated to Extra Virgin Olive Oil!

The Winter Months, Usuall February

This is an example of our week-long Olive You! course held at in Puglia where we learn to taste critically and cook and anoint with, what is likely the world’s most perfect food.

And while we’ve lost 11 million olive trees in the last few years to disease, we’re also replanting, so this course has a happy air of rebirth, rising out of all the botanical devastation. We’ll also discuss the often, not-so-obvious problems of globalisation in agriculture and how to protect the planet in the future. And we cook each dinner lit by 100 candlesticks.

The order of the days will likely change based on the day that we’ll go to the countryside to help plant. 

Before the course

Weekend before

Book a room in Lecce for 6 nights or longer, but at least from Sunday night to Saturday morning. See Student Services after book your course for our list of trusted partners.

Arrive in Lecce whenever you like but plan on being here the Sunday evening before your course.

Lunedi

Monday

You’ll meet Silvestro at 10 am in Lecce’s main square- Piazza Sant’ Oronzo– under the column that used to mark the end of Via Appia (‘the Appian way’, the superhighway that connected Ancient Rome to Ancient Greece).

You’ll learn what makes Lecce and the Salento special— and decidedly geologically apart from the rest of Puglia. We’ll head to the city’s oldest market, meet the vendors and purveyors for the week and buy today’s produce.

We’ll head to the city’s oldest market to introduce you to the local vendors (and where you’ll return each day of the week).

After a two hour lunch, you’ll be walked back to the main piazza and given a three hour break to rest, nap, walk off the lunch wine and in general, just build back your appetite, returning hungry for more.

We’ll meet at 18:00 (6pm) under the column in Piazza Sant Oronzo and head to the Lecce school to make fresh pasta from scratch (easily Italy’s healthiest pasta).

We’ll make a different, local shape every meal so that by the end of your course you’ll have mastered ten different pastas, all local, all healthy and all southern Pugliese.

You’ll have a lesson in the kitchen about tonight’s dinner, then go about cooking the entire meal, applying what you just learned. We’ll move to the dinning room to have a guided wine tasting, followed by the engaging talk, God Smiled on Us: An Introduction to an Italy that You May Not know.

One of you will return to the kitchen to finish and assemble each course, guided by our staff, and then take turns presenting the dishes to your peers. (This is a deceptively effective learning tool, hearing first an explanation of a dish by our staff, then one by of your fellow students and then repeating it aloud when it’s your turn to finish and present one).

Dinner will run a few hours, the wine will flow like a mighty river and we’ll walk you back to the main piazza around 23:00 or even midnight.

Martedi

Tuesday

We’ll meet under the column in Lecce’s main piazza (always, always, each day in the same meeting place). We’ll discuss the themes of the day, answer any questions and then head for the city’s oldest vegetable market, focused on sourcing for the day but also making you a better, more engaged consumer of Italy, for the rest of your life. You’ll meet Cesare, Alessandro, Gianluca and Stefano, our longtime vendors, trusted relationships that are Italy’s informal currency, equal in importance to the Euro.

We’ll walk back through the historic centre to Lecce school, working in short stops that feature the impressive architecture that makes Lecce a part of a classical education in Italy (you’ll likely see several groups of visiting school children, all ‘tagged’ to their teacher/handlers by little coloured caps).

We’ll make a new fresh pasta shape from scratch, which will segue into a lesson in the kitchen. Then we’ll prepare lunch together (always, one antipasto, one pasta course, one secondo, four side courses and a dolce).

(Each meal all week will follow this format with the exception of our Thursday lunch at the seaside).

You’ll have a lesson in the kitchen about tonight’s dinner, then go about cooking the entire meal, applying what you just learned. We’ll move to the dinning room to have a guided wine tasting, followed by the engaging talk, Pasta, Polenta, Risotto and Old Bread: The First Courses of the Italian Peninsula.

One of you will return to the kitchen to finish and assemble each course, guided by our staff, and then take turns presenting the dishes to your peers.

Lunch will run a few hours and then you’ll be given a three hour break to regain your appetite as you see fit (walk the historic centre, shop, sleep or speed time alone or with your partner). 

You’re welcome to use this free time as you like but if there is any tendency during our 20 year history, it’s that most people start off overly-ambitious with planning the free time during the break, only eventually settling into using the pause to recharge. Same with eating between meals: in contrast with Spain’s constant snacking, you’re rewarded here in Italy from sitting down hungry twice a day.

We’ll meet again at 18:00 (6 pm) and visit a wine store to talk about Italian wine labelling, the DOC structure and why the choice of bottle shape is so telling of what the producers’ desire to communicate.

(You do not need to carry your wallet or purse the entire week, as everything -with the possible exception of souvenirs— is included in your tuition).

We’ll head back to Lecce school for a lesson in the kitchen, then prepare a complete dinner (we always serve everything family-style, allowing you to take as much as you like, so as to never need stand up from the meal feeling overly-feed, unless you want that).

We’ll have the talk, Kaveh to Coffee to Cafè: The Little Bean that Conquered the World. You’ll learn about the history of coffee, Italy’s contribution to it and how to order it in Italian, and like we do here. This talk will transform into a guided wine tasting and dinner will run a few hours- you and your peers explaining each dish as you bring it from the kitchen,. This is important to foster Italian table culture, the wine flowing and the stimulating, international conversation running late. 

We’ll walk you back to the main piazza around midnight.

Mercoledi

Wednesday

We’ll meet under the column but quickly head to a local espresso bar so that you can use your new coffee ordering skills (Silvestro will just be ‘dad’, ignored until it’s time to pay). We’ll head through the city’s sculpture garden (that celebrates one of Lecce’s most famous artists) on the way to the fish market. You’ll learn how to cook most of the world’s fish using only four, simple techniques. You’ll meet Salvatore and Spartico, our trusted fish mongers that source from the nearby Ionian Sea. You’ll learn about the lunar pull on the Mediterraneans seas and how that alters shellfish prices in Italy.

We’ll head to the vegetable market and source our vegetables before heading to the Lecce school to make fresh pasta from scratch. 

We’ll have two lesson in the kitchen, the first on kitchen gear— pots, pans, knives and glassware, acquisition and maintenance-  the second on what we are going to prepare for today’s lunch. We’ll move into the dinning room and have a guided tasting of the wine, followed by our fish-based lunch, as finished and explained by you and your peers.

A break and we’ll meet under the column at 18:00. We’ll visit a local dispensary and talk about the importance of grain and pulses in The Mediterranean Diet. You’ll learn how to source, maximise and improve your health by your choices. (Hint: the smaller and darker the legume, the healthier it is).

Back at the school you’ll prepare dinner, move to the table for our wine tasting and learn about, 1493: The History of Italian Vegetables. You’ll learn how much that we think of as Italian arrived late to the party, and how long most of it took to be accepted.

Dinner with yet another new wine, with each course explained by your fellow students. Plan on over- indulging. We’ll stumble back to Lecce’s main piazza around midnight.

Giovedi

Thursday

We’ll put on our work boots and head out into the countryside for a morning of replanting the olive trees. You’ll work side by side with the local workers.

We’ll have giant sandwiches under an olive tree and you’ll gain a new understanding of how difficult it is to make high-quality extra virgin olive oil and why that is not likely to be had in supermarkets.

We’ll run Thursday evening’s class as a sort of Italian dinner party, inviting locals and composing a meal that is high in pleasure, low in preparation. We’ll talk about the great changes in the history of Italian wine, with Da Mieru a Vino: How Italian Wine Become Modern. But Thursday night is for pleasure, perhaps the sun exposure earlier in the day or a week of flowing wine but the meal is a little friendlier, a little less structured.

Back to the main piazza after dinner. Many head for local wine bars.

Venerdi

Friday

Italy is usually fish on Friday and with us it’s no exception. We’ll head to different fish market and you’ll learn a little about each fish on Salvatore’s marble slab. We’ll discuss tactics and techniques and before lunch is over, buying, cleaning, preparing and eating fish will be forever demystified.

We’ll discuss why the Salento is so famous here in Italy for its rose wines and how exactly they are made. (Hint: there are three ways of making pink wine, one of which is highly illegal here in Italy). We’ll discuss tonight’s menu and then you back to the main piazza for a break.

We’ll meet at 18:00 and have a student-prepared, but nonetheless surprise dinner that will run late. We often open special, larger format bottles and after dinner we have gifts.

You’ll leave a message on the school’s chalkboard to the next class, suggesting to them how to get the best out of their time with us.

We’ll walk you back to the main piazza or we’ll visit a local wine bar for one last glass.

About a week after your course we’ll send you a password to all of our recipes online and include all the email address of the others on your course. Many if not most make life-long friendships while here. They send us many happy pictures of wine-soaked reunions, held all over the world.

Puglia produces half of Italy’s annual production (Tuscany, as a comparison, produces only around 3%).

As a nation we consume more than we produce, which begs the question, what is filling the world’s supermarket shelves as ‘Italian extra virgin olive oil’? (short answer, fraudulent and inferrior oil that has intentionally been mislabeled. This is about more than just taste, as the health properties that causes consumers to pay more extra virgin olive oil over other oils, are simply absent).

Colour has no bearing on quality: Professional tasters use cobalt blue glasses, to remove colour from the equation. Colour is the easiest element to fake- just press the olives with some leaves, to release chlorophyll-  but it is very difficult to entice consumers away from using colour to ascertain quality.

Well-made olive oil is always a balance between black pepper burn, bitterness on the tongue and fruitiness, which is most often expressed as vegetal, although banana and green apple flavours are present in some oils.

The three biggest tools in the multinational swindle kits are colour, label and fantastical name, such as ‘Pride of Tuscany’, for deodorized oil grown from multiple plant sources, in multiple countries,  shipped around the Med.  This is what pours out of their oil refineries and onto supermarket shelves all over the world.

Here is Southern Puglia a blight has wiped out 11 million trees. We’ve been interviewed about it in a lot of the world’s magazines, newspapers and investigative television shows. Things are improving and our school is playing a part.

We’re replanting. 

Q: How much of the week is spent working in the fields replanting?

A: One morning. The rest of the time we’re learning about extra virgin olive oil, in many different ways, including in the kitchen and around the table. 

Q: Can I take some home with me?

A: As much as you want to carry. We can send you the rest, as much as you like.  

Q: We just booked the course. Can you send us some oil in the meantime?

A: With pleasure.