Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Report from ... Visit to Casa Toscana in Grimsby - October 20, 2012

What an incredible experience, definitely not something I expected to find in the little town of Grimsby, Ontario; Toronto sure, but not in this little hamlet in the Niagara region.  Allow me to back up a minute and let me to explain what exactly I am talking about an give you some background as to why I am so impressed.

A number of years ago I found myself in downtown Toronto at an Italian Trade Commission event tasting a variety of Italian foods and drinks, including a booth that allowed you to taste through a number of olive oils, it was the first time I realized that not all olive oils are the same.  From that day on whenever the subject of olive oil came up I were refer back to this impromptu tasting and tell people that there is a difference in olive oils like there are differences in wines and if ever you get a chance to do an olive oil tasting to do it (I’ll be honest, the topic doesn’t come up that often and if it does it is usually with my wife).

Entering the Shop
Fast forward a few years and I find myself in Italy (Veneto) tasting Amarones, Ripassos and Valpolicellas ... at each winery fresh bread, meats, olives and olive oil find their way to the table - at some of these places the olive oil is just to die for, like I mean they're all good but some are like nothing you have tried in your life.  It is at times like this that I spend a few extra minutes in an attempt to persuade the proprietor to sell me a bottle of their homemade private-stock olive oil to take home to my wife, who, as a foodie, would consider these special treats, and to try and make my point about the difference in olive oil flavours.  On my last trip I was able to bring three bottles homes and she has been using them sparingly because they're "not like that bottled stuff you get at No Frills" - we use these olive oils like some people use their "guest towels".

Luca talks oils, balsamic and cheese
But now here we are on a Saturday morning in downtown Grimsby, Ontario (16A Main Street West) in a little shop called Casa Toscana with Luca Vitali as our host (he is also owner and partner of the shop).  Casa Toscana imports (in bulk) three styles of olive oil made in Tuscany by Luca's brother from his own trees, his mother's trees and their neighbour's trees.  And half an hour with Luca I can definitely tell you that not all olive oils are made the same.  We taste thru these oils as Luca explains why they are so different (it has to do with the time of harvest) each one tasting just as good or better than the next - depending on your palate (we end up preferring the two more flavourful – fruity and peppery). 

The three kinds of olive oil
Then he proceeds to give us a balsamic vinegar lesson and tasting - something else they import in bulk directly from Tuscany.  As we dip the fresh bread into the different kinds of balsamic (4 in total) Luca explains the difference between mass-produced balsamic (addition of sugar and caramel) and real, authentic balsamic from Tuscany (all grapes, 100%, and lots of time in wooden casks) ... I'm not going to steal Luca's show here because to learn you've gotta to visit.  We tried 1 year old, 3 year old, 5 year old and 9 year old balsamics - each batch got thicker, richer and more flavourful as we went.  Our preference here was the three year old, which kept its acidity and robust flavour the best ... but we also opted for a balsamic glaze for those dishes that needed that little bit extra.

Three kinds of pure balsamic
But the Tuscan show and tell did not end there ... Luca also imports Tuscan cheeses including Pecorino and real Buffalo Mozzarella, which should have my mother jumping up and down with glee cause she can't stop talking about how great that cheese is since her trip to Italy 5+ years ago, and how she can't seem to find a good one in Toronto.  We taste thru a few cheeses like a 2 month old Pecorino, one aged in hay and a first grade Parmesan - plain and then a piece with a dollop of balsamic glaze on-top (this was the coup to gras that made us want to buy a bottle) ... everything just made us want more, or better yet, to go to Tuscany – and if that’s your fancy Luca and his partners have planned excursions to their home twice a year for small groups.

Drooling over the cheese
Luca tells us of his plans to expand the shop, just a little - to give customers more elbow room and an even more in-depth downtown-Grimsby-based Tuscan-experience; this would include a few tables where you could sit and taste cheese, oil, balsamic and Luca's brother's award winning wines straight from Tuscany (that brother is a one man industry).  But these plans are a year or two in the future, but are definitely something to look forward to; especially that chance to taste some of those wines, which has been rated in the top 100 in all of Italy.

For now it truly is a great experience to taste what makes Tuscany one of the world's great Mecca's for food ... I'm not going to lie and tell you it's a cheap visit - you'll definitely walk out with an arm load of goods to take home - but dinners and special occasions will be so much more the better when you use these special ingredients.  Now if you'll excuse me, I see a Margherita pizza with fresh basil (from our garden), Buffalo Mozzarella with a drizzle of balsamic and a little Caprese salad on the size waiting for me on the dining room table ... which can only mean it's time for lunch.  As Luca said to my wife as we left, "Ciao Bella hope to see you again" – we’ll be back and I recommend you go too.

Casa Toscana
16a Main Street West, Grimsby, Ontario


Eugene Johnson said...

Good going Luca! We also sell his product at our little store Cheese Secrets in the heart of "old Town" in Niagara on the Lake.

Eugene Johnson said...

Good going Luca! We also sell his product at our little store Cheese Secrets in the heart of "old Town" in Niagara on the Lake.