Family farm to family table

Having lunch with the Morano family at Lago, their restaurant in the Silver Lake section of Harrison, means knowing the warm embrace of an Italian family. The wine flows — as do several lines of conversation. The dishes keep coming — as do the laughs.

WAG first introduced you to Val Morano Sagliocco — scion of the family, director and principal designer of Morano Landscape Garden Design in Mamaroneck and co-owner of Ridgeway Garden Center in White Plains — in our June “Passion’s Tides” issue. A tiller of the soil with a head for business, Val explored the idea of planting olive trees in an underused section of the family’s ancestral estate in southern Italy’s Calabria region with his grandfather, Angelo, while he was still a teenager. Sadly, Angelo passed away a short time later in 2001. But Rosina — the eldest of Angelo’s three daughters and Val’s mother — was undeterred. She planted 2,000 2-year-old olive trees. (The olive grove, which is organically treated, totals about 30 acres.)

“They’ve grown to be so beautiful,” she says. And fruitful, yielding an extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil that beginning this month will be used in dishes, featured on tables and available for purchase at the restaurant.

The Moranos are no strangers to olive oil production — or winemaking, for that matter.

“We make wine there for our own consumption,” Lisa, the youngest of the Morano sisters says, adding to laughter, “and we consume a lot.”

Similarly, the family has always made its own olive oil. (Originally, they had 500 olive and chestnut trees.) But Val’s dream has become the family’s avocation, particularly with three-quarters of the new trees producing 7,000 liters of olive oil.

“This has been a learning process for all of us,” Rosina says.

Olive oil is a complex undertaking so the family turned to an in-law, an olive oil baron who lived in a neighboring town. He told them they needed three kinds of trees — noccolare, lecchese, and roggianese  — to produce the three kinds of olives necessary for the right acidity, color and density, Lisa says.

This is tricky, because the olives must be picked right before they mature for maximum flavor and each type has a different maturity date (between November and mid-December). The olives must be handpicked. None can touch the ground as that messes with the acidity. Once picked, they must be cold pressed right away, each kind separately. Only then are they blended together.

Challenging stuff but the oil’s slightly nutty flavor makes it all worth it.

Olive oil is part of Val’s larger plan to take Lago beyond farm-to-table. He’s creating what will ultimately be an enclosed 3,500-square-foot space nearby to grow organic fruits and vegetables that will feed Lago patrons. It includes an herb garden on the restaurant patio.

“I am, after all, a gardener,” Val says.

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