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Friday, November 14, 2008

Chasing Family Roots Near Verona

Our first stop in Italy was Verona. We wanted to check out the city and use it as a base for exploring the nearby countryside where one branch of my wife's family, the Salvagno clan, is from.

In one day we would see the town Sandy's great grandfather left in the early part of the last century to come to America and visit the Salvagno Olive Oil Co. to meet some of Sandy's distant cousins who make a very fine olive oil.

In the morning we got a driver to take us into the countryside to Nesente Valpantena, where olive groves mix with vineyards and Salvagno Frantoio per Olive is located. Sandy and Brhea really wanted to see the place and I don't think we were expecting to really meet any Salvagnos, but before we were done introductions were made and hugs exchanged.

Francesca Salvagno, 26, acted as our tour guide and we were joined along the way by her father,Giovanni. We also got the chance to meet a sister and a cousin. In the conversation we somehow discovered that we nearly bumped into Francesca last fall during our 25th anniversary trip to California. She went to Califronia in late October at nearly the exact time we were there to visit olive producers and spent time at Pietra Santa Winery in the Cienega Valley where the Blackburn family and Italian winemaker Alessio Carni also turn out olive oil.

The Salvagno Olive Oil operation was founded in 1923. The family was originally from Venice, but moved to Nesente, to the north of Verona and near Lago di Garda, to start farming. Before long they were growing olive trees.

It takes about 100 kilograms of olives to produce just 15-20 kilograms of oil. The family grows and buys olives from 600 area farmers. They use five different kinds of olives -- Leccino, Grignano, Pendolino, Frantoio and Favarol -- and cold press the oil. The oil is filtered through cotton or, as the locals like it, consumed unfiltered. The company makes about 200,000 liters of extra virgin olive oil each year. In addition to the oils, the company has a line of olive snack products, plus olive-based beauty products.

In addition to the personalized tour of the well maintained production facility, we were given an olive oil tasting. It was a real treat for all of us to make a Salvagno connection in Italy.

After we were driven back to Verona, we headed to the train station for the quick 25 minute trip to the Lago di Garda town of Desenzano. For most of the trip grape vineyards were visible along alternating sides of the rail tracks. It was raining heavily when we arrived and it continued for the two and a half hour visit.

We made a stop in one of the few cafes that were open during the late afternoon for some snacks and wine. Sandy had a glass of local red, while I had a white blend made from Veneto vineyards. These wines were not very remarkable, but they were perfect for the casual meal we were enjoying.

Upon returning to Verona we stopped at a wine shop just steps away from our hotel and picked up a bottle of Bertani Villa Novare 2005 Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore. This was a deep red, purple color wine with a nice fruit aroma. The wine was very smooth and drank like it was much more expensive than the 14 Euro price. It put a perfect ending to a day of discovering some of Sandy's Italian roots.

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