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BRISIGHELLA - OLIVE OIL
Food & Wine | Escapes | Restaurants
Stumbling across that perfect little restaurant out in the country is the traveler’s version of winning the lottery, except that you have less, not more, money afterward. I would love to say that I found Locanda La Cavallina on my own, holding it up as a sign of higher culinary intuition. But the chances of having done that are so remote that they make buying a lottery ticket seem like a blue-chip investment.
La Cavallina hides on the far side of the railroad tracks in Brisighella, taking cover around a bend on a residential street and down a flight of stairs. It is not in the Michelin Red Guide or Osterie d’Italia from Slow Food. The only hint of its presence is a sign that is smaller than a license plate and doesn’t even have the word “ristorante” on it. Here you pay in euros, but also in homage - to owner Vincenzo Casadio in that you knew where to find him.
With the Ghiacciola and Orfana, we’re down to drops in the bucket. There are only 3,500 half-liter bottles of Ghiacciola, which is sold under the name “Nobil Drupa,” produced each year, and 600 half-liter bottles of Orfana, which is sold as “Orfanello.” These are unique oils, the lack of a D.O.P. designation notwithstanding. Both quilt the tongue and palate, with Orfanello being the lighter of the two. It is neither fruity nor peppery, which is why it’s often given to babies as “a starter oil,” according to Spada.
Whereas the Ghiacciolo offers layers of grassiness and hints of citrus, then turns brashly peppery in the back of the throat. No sooner had the town gotten the D.O.P in 1996 than it was paid a strange compliment: the entire harvest, 27,000 liters, was stolen. The thieves drove up to the cooperative in tanker trucks on a Sunday night, pumped out the contents, and were who knows where by the time the oil shortage was discovered on Monday morning. On the way back to town we stop at Pieve del Tho, a church that dates from the 10th century. It has a single nave supported by a motley collection of columns - differing heights, some with decorated capitals, some plain—and it smells pleasantly of stone and damp. Down the left aisle affixed to the wall is a crucifix of olive wood that dates from the 1200s—that’s the era of Giotto! When is the church open to visitors, I ask the attendant. “I live right over there,” he says, pointing out the side door. “Just ring.”
Where there’s great olive oil, there’s great food, and Brisighella is proof. Nearby are three restaurants in the Osterie d’Italia guide, and in Brisighella itself there’s a wonderful one called L’Infinito. Like everything about this place, L’Infinito is hidden, in this case up the via del Trebbio, which looks like nothing more than a paved pathway climbing up from the center of town, which, in fact, it is. But a few switchbacks up, you arrive at L’Infinito - or rather, the ground floor.
Up another flight is a dining room, all white and very chic, and up another flight is the kitchen, run by Maria Teresa Cortecchia, who is also the manager and maitre’d. In a semi-private dining room opposite, I find her sister, Loredana, rolling out pasta. Then we turn a corner, cross a metal bridge, and climb stairs hewn into the rock to the outdoor dining room. Above us, the clock tower has become an enormous sundial, the dusk slithering up the side. Down below, the terra cotta roofs of the town twist this way and that. Right here, the prosecco is going down easily.
It’s a moment of perfect equilibrium: the garden a fulcrum of day and night, and a bower of fine food and relaxed service, with Signora Cortecchia taking orders and chatting to guests. I am infatuated with it all—the swallows careening overhead, the bells striking, the aromas of cedar and what the French call garrigue—which is why the only dish I remember is a pillowy, lighter-than-air pasta, the artistry of Signora Loredana. Brisighella seems to me perfectly placed, close to Florence and Bologna. So where is everyone? It turns out that the Florentines don’t cross the Apennines, and I guess you can’t blame them, given the beauty of Tuscany. And wealthy Bolognesi prefer the hills south of the city for their weekends. Milan? Too long a drive, even by Ferrari or Lamborghini. Which leaves Brisighella for the rest of us. Stumble upon it while you can.
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