Olive Oil

 
   

olive oil extra virgin italy  tree excellent wines cultivars  bottle taste good harvesting first method pressing oils produced adulterations european rules color law italian country origin tasting buying density

There are many things to be said about olive oil and this is why i will divide what i write in paragraphs with titles, so if not interested, you can jump to the title which is more appealing to you.

About olive trees

Olive trees can live a very long life. In Italy close to Rome, there is one olive tree, that i personally saw, which is over 1500 years old. It is supposed to be the oldest in Europe although there are many other places that claim to have older ones.

The olive tree does not like the cold so this is why you do not see olive trees in the North of Europe and in Italy over 2400 feet circa.

Everything from the tree can be used and nothing is thrown away.

The wood is excellent for barbecue and if you have been in Italy in areas like the Chianti you can see the beautiful kitchen utensils and even sculptures made out of it.

 
   
 

 

 

About the importance of the olive oil in the ancient Roman culture.

The ancient Greeks brought the use of oil and wine to Italy.

For the ancient Romans, olive oil was not only used for preparing food, it was also burning in oil lamps and so giving light, for the preparation of cosmetics and medicines. Olive oil was also used as a detergent. You can try it even today instead of soap and you will notice that it leaves your hands clean. Also today olive oil is used in the cosmetic industry.

About olives

There are many different kinds of olives and in certain ways you can compare it to what is valid for varietals in wines. The correct name for different olive kinds is cultivars, and only in Italy, there are hundreds of different ones.  When you will buy a bottle of oil, very often you get a blend of different cultivars. The reason for it is to balance and harmonize the taste of the oil. It is sad this information is usually missing on the labels.

Most of the times the olives used for the production of oil have not a good taste to be edible, but there are also exceptions.

Harvesting of the olives

I will write about different methods of harvesting that i have seen and so there might be others i do not know about.

      First method and the best for the quality of the oil is the hand picking directly from the tree branches.

      Second method: a net is put under the three and the branches are moved by compressed air generated with a machine to make the olives fall

      Third method: Harvesting by shaking the boughs or the whole tree with special machines. This method cannot be always used as in some cases is damaging the trees or the trees are in difficult locations. (Think how often you see trees in Italy on the side of steep hills).

      Fourth method: a net placed under the three catching the mature olives. The problem of this cheap method is that the olives will be to ripe making bad oil with high acidity.

Extracting of the oil

I will not go into details but the good traditional method is to extract the oil by pressing the olives gently, what is also known as the cold pressing method.

There is the suspicion these days that cheap olive oils might be produced by using chemical solvents, mostly hexane and by heat. This method would make a bad olive oil, but it would not be dangerous as other oils like peanut oil or sunflower oil, are extracted that way.

Adulterations and European Community Rules

The extraction with hexane would not be the worst case as adulterations where discovered where other oils with help of color and flavor where sold as extra virgin oil.  The new European Union law took over the good Italian law of 2007. Producers are no longer obliged to declare the origins of the olives and where they where pressed. Due to the EU, oil can be sold whit the made in Italy labeling although olives where coming from Spain or other countries.

This until now, because since July 2009 things are going to change again, as it will be obligatory to print on the label the country of origin of the olives. It will take time until the bottles with the new labeling will arrive.

The new EU rule is also good in relation to the U.S. import rules, which states: US Customs regulations on "country of origin" states that if a non-origin nation is shown on the label, then the real origin must be shown on the same side of the label and in comparable size letters so as not to mislead the consumer.

 

Extra virgin Oils tasting 

First buying extra virgin oil gives you only the certainty that the oil has a low acidity. When I was in Italy, what i was doing is that i was buying directly at the producer. Living in the States this is no longer possible. Whenever I buy oil, i do a similar examination as i do while wine tasting. I first look at the color and density. The oil i was buying directly from mills had a higher density than the one you buy at the supermarket. This is a check that you can do when you buy oil directly at the shelves without opening the bottle. Keep in mind that too bright colors should alert you, as for example adulterations have been made by using chlorophyll. In addition, a too pale color should also alert you. This is often a sign of poor quality.

image olive oil

 The picture taken above is of three oils. The one on the left is a good oil from  Puglia, the one in the middle is an expensive and excellent oil from Tuscany. The one on the right is a cheap brand name olive oil from a supermarket. Not only the third one is pale in color but it is also very fluid.

At home, i continue with smell and taste. The first tasting is the oil by itself the second phase is the tasting with bread.

Good olive oils have a complex taste and smell that should recall like for wines different fruits. Depending on the cultivar a bitter or and spicy note could be felt at the end.

This is something i like and that i search for.

How to find good olive oil and the dop labeling

The best way to buy good oil from Italy without tasting it is to buy dop labeled bottles. This is the same principle of the doc and docg wines. Not only the oils are produced under strict controls, but on the internet you will be able to find the law, giving you a lot of information on which cultivars have been used, the area of production, the characteristics of the oil and so on.

These oils are always excellent, but also more expensive. What i usually do is to limit the use for special dishes like bruschetta salad dressing and so on.

Than for cooking, i reply to something cheaper.

How long can i keep olive oil?

Olive oil can stay good for long, even years as long as you keep it away from light and at constant temperature. With the time, it is losing fragrance, as the best taste is when it is very fresh.

 
     

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