Thomas Jefferson had it right when he said that “the olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven”
Olive oil has always been present in my kitchen and on my table. It has always been the condiment of choice for cooking, dressing and even snacking without any thought. Whether store bought or pressed from the olives of my nonni’s groves in Calabria, it was ever present. Growing up I simply enjoyed it without any particular thought about where it came from or its beneficial qualities. That has since changed.
Thanks to a campaign called “Flavor Your Life” my knowledge on the subject has grown exponentially. At a recent olive oil tasting event featuring the oils of Frantoi Redoro I received a hands on (or rather taste buds on) education.
For those who are unfamiliar with Flavor Your Life, it is a campaign funded by The European Union and a consortium of European olive oil growers. The program aims to educate consumers on the benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Europe, including: Taste, Health, Functionality, Heritage, and Quality. Just like wines, there are different oils for different occasions and this program is aiming to educate consumers on different oils to complement different meals.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is a true European classic, generations in the making. Many groves house trees that are centuries old. The olive tree in fact has been revered in Europe since antiquity. Over the years, hundreds of varieties of olive trees (known as cultivars) have evolved, with each being optimized for different terrains and environmental conditions. The type of tree, the region and the time of harvest all impact the taste and offer a vast array of flavor profiles. Here are some of the facts I learned about EVOO:
- Olives harvested early in the season (late August) are under-ripe and produce oils that are greener , more bitter and pungent whereas olives harvested at the end of the season (late November-December) are over-ripe and tend to have a mild and buttery taste.
- Each European grower has its distinction. Spanish olive is typically golden yellow with a fruity, nutty flavor; French olive oil is typically pale in color and has a mild flavor; Italian olive oil is often dark green and has an herbal aroma and a grassy flavor; and Greek olive oil has a strong flavor and aroma and tends to be green.
- Monocultivar oil are produced from single varieties of olives and possess the signature taste of their region while blends are created are created by skillfully selecting and combing oils from different cultivars bringing out the best in each other and creating a unique aroma and taste.
As previously mentioned there are different types of olive oil but the one we tend to be most familiar with is Extra Virgin Olive Oil. EVVO contains polyphenols, vitamin E and natural antioxidants as well as being rich in monosaturated fats (the good fats) that are all linked to longevity and good health. The following are key points on how to recognize EVOO and how to cook with it:
- EVOO is made by pressing without heat or chemicals, known as first cold-pressed; it is the freshly pressed juices.
- EVOO must be virtually free of acidity (oleic or fatty acid). Anything higher than 0.8% indicates improper production and rancidity.
- The amount of oxidation (aging that has occurred as a result of exposure to oxygen, light and heat) must also be low.
- A panel of expert tasters trained by the International Oil Council test for taste defects and the presence of positive attributes of fruitiness, bitterness and spiciness. If the oil doesn’t have the signature fruity taste and harmonious balance it won’t pass as extra virgin.
- Oil should be stored in a dark, cool place (57 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal storing temperature) with its cap screwed on tight after each use to protect it from air.
- To ensure freshness, oil should be consumed within 6 months of opening.
- EVOO has a high smoking point which makes is suitable for cooking and can enhance any dish by drizzling it on as a finish.
- Robust oils can be paired with hearty foods such as steak or spicy soup that stand up to the intense flavor while delicate oils should be used for salad dressings or as a condiment over mild foods like vegetables, fish, eggs or potatoes.
Extra virgin olive oil is a true classic of exceptional quality and opening a bottle just brings to the simple pleasures in life. I am fortunate to have learned a little bit more about the incredible result of centuries old bond between people and land and have an even greater appreciation and love of this liquid gold. Buon Appetito!
Photography courtesy of Vanessa Galle Photography & Graphic Design Inc.
For the full photo highlights of the tasting event visit my Facebook Page