Understanding Olive Oil

Olive oils from around the world

For the past five years, I have been doing seminars for our local farm market.  I concentrate on sharing inside information that I have learned from my passion for food.  This year I decided to investigate olive oils from around the world.  With all this hype on olive oils lately what do we really know about them?

So, let me share how it came to be that I am so passionate about olive oil.   As you probably know by now if you have been following my blog entries, my parents came from Italy to the US in the late 1950’s. So, while growing up we would often go to Italy to visit our relatives.  My dad came from the town of Monte di Procida while my mom was from the island of Ischia.  Both overlooked the bay of Naples.  There is one memorable experience that made a real impact and was the catalyst for my passion for food.  I must have been around 10 years old.  My nonna handed me an empty green bottle and asked me to go to the corner store ‘Rosarios’ to fill up the bottle with olive oil.  My chest filled up with self-importance with this chore.  Never been allowed to walk to ‘Rosarios’ by myself before, I relished this task.  That may be why I paid extra attention to Nonna drizzling the thick green oil over the tomatoes we were going to have for lunch.  I noticed that when she put it back in the cupboard she placed it next to a clear bottle of oil.  I asked nonna why she had 2 bottles of oil.  She explained to me that the clear bottle is used for frying and the green oil is for everything else. That afternoon I took notice on how delicious the tomato salad was.  That taste of olive oil was embedded into my memory.  When we came back to the US I often wondered why we didn’t have that same olive oil.  When I moved out of my parents’ home I was on a mission to find a comparable olive oil.  So, while my friends were all tasting their first beer I was tasting olive oil.

You think I am weird?  Recently I had the occasion to ask my son who went to Italy to visit with his grandmother at the age of 10 years old what he remembers most about that trip. I had been talking to my cousin who resides in Italy and her kids to this day talk about when Josh went to visit.  It was 19 years ago, so I wondered if my son even remembered.  And this is how I know that he is my son.  He said that he still thinks about that delicious tomato and tuna salad that my cousin made.  He still is searching to find that same taste! And I believe it’s the olive oil.

The reason both he and I are so crazed about this olive oil is that it wasn’t until the 1980’s that extra virgin olive oil was even made available in America. In the 1980’s the International Olive Oil Council started sponsoring and promoting research about the healthy “Mediterranean diet.”  This coincided with the Slow Food movement emerging from Turin, emphasizing the European style artisanal approach to crafting food products.  Finally, olive oil was distributed in the U.S. It was successful marketing of olive oil that contributed to the olive boom!  Because of the wide marketing campaign of healthy olive oil, consumption of olive oil worldwide from 1990 to present blew up.  The US consumption increased by 250%.  The United Kingdom increased by 763%. Consumption in Italy Greece and Spain increased minimally because it was always part of their diet. So, Olive Oil business has become a gold mine and everyone wants to get in on it.  So, that’s why you see so many more countries involved in growing olive trees and making oil.

As I have been talking to people and reading up about olive oil, I realized that many Americans although knowledgeable about the health benefits of olive oil, don’t know what a good olive oil is supposed to taste like. For that matter, Americans may not realize that to have health benefits it has to be unrefined extra virgin olive oil.  We have all become so accustomed to the cheaper supermarket big chain olive oils that we have no idea what a good olive oil is even supposed to taste like. Our palates have become accustomed the bad characteristics of Olive Oil as typical. That’s why I have this need to share with you what I have learned about Olive oils and what you may be missing out on!

Good Characteristics of Olive oil are the following:

Fruity, Bitter and pungent (the peppery characteristic you feel at the back of your throat. Olive oil should taste fresh and not heavy and oily.

The bad characteristics are:  Fusty from olives that are gathered in piles.  Musty when olive is stored in humid environment. Sometimes metallic if it comes in contact with prolonged contact with metal during storage. And the most common is rancid.  It has gone bad. Almost like the taste of stale crackers that are made with fat. Olive oil only has a shell life of 2 years.  But once it’s opened you need to use it within a month or two.

   During my seminar, we all tasted olive oils from around the world. So, to understand what we tasted I went over a few things that are important when picking out an olive oil.

There are several factors that impact the taste of olive oils. So, that by understanding what you like will impact what country olive oil you will gravitate to.

  1. variety of olives used
  2. location and soil condition
  3. environmental factors and weather. 2 years ago, Italy had a disease that affected many olive groves.  This past year Spain has been having lots of rain that impacted the olives groves where production was at an all-time low.  You will see a rise in the price of Spanish olive oil.
  4. Olive ripeness. Green olives are bitter while ripe olives are fruity
  5. Timing of the harvest. If you wait too long the olives get too ripe and will bruise causing the olive oil to not taste good.
  6. Length of time between the harvest and pressing. The longer the wait between harvest and pressing the more the olive gets damaged and bruised yielding a terrible olive oil.  That’s why estate olive oil is so much better.  They go directly from the tree to the press.  The bigger national olive oils will collect olives from all over and transport them to a manufacturing plant.  The olives get too ripe and acquire mold.  They are cheaper because it is mass produced but the olive oil is not very good.
  7. The very best oils come from small producers who have complete control over their orchard, the harvesting of the fruit, the pressing of the olives, and the storage and eventual bottling of the product. Ripe olives are easily bruised…
  8. Additionally, the press and the bottling facility must be readily available, ideally on the farm itself. Ripe olives are easily bruised and must be held in small containers before pressing in order to avoid being squeezed by their own weight and begin deterioration. A controlled environment with ultra-sanitary conditions is paramount. The pressing process must be accomplished in the briefest time possible.
  9. Pressing technique. The best oils are pressed within a few hours, and certainly not to exceed 24 hours after the harvest, any delay beyond this time frame has a detrimental effect on the quality of the oil.  The pressing to extract the oil must happen quickly and at a controlled temperature of (ideally) of less than 80 degrees F.
  10. Packaging and storing.
  11. Being a fruit, olives contain natural antioxidants that protect the plant during its lifetime. When the olive tree is very old it contains more of these antioxidants. This is one of the reasons that olive trees are often hundreds of years old and create antioxidant rich products

 

 

Estate olive oils –  are the cream of the crop.  They are produces using olives from a single farm.  The olives are usually handpicked and then pressed and bottles at the estate.  In Italy, they are called DOP.  These olives oils are more expensive.

Blends – two types of blends are either blends from different countries or olives from diverse areas of one country are combines.  The bulk blended oils are the most economical but are still high quality.

Color –

  1. Green comes from unripe olives and are slightly bitter.
  2. Emerald tinged have fruity, grassy and peppery that dominate the food that you use them on.
  3. Golden color is made from ripe olives. Golden olive oil has a milder, smoother buttery taste without bitterness. These are good with foods that you don’t want overshadowed with olive oil taste.

Acidity

To start with, if you purchase quality EVOO the acidity level is already low at no more than .8% (That’s less than 1%) Acidity levels are determined solely by the variety of olive and by production methods. Some olives have a naturally higher acidity level. If they are not harvested with care and quickly processed into olive oil they will have even greater levels. Some on the other hand have lower acidity to start but if they are not harvested and processed properly the levels will increase. This is why olives from the same variety and the same grove can produce different grades of olive oil. If the olives are picked and pressed within 24 hours, as all of the ones in my line are, they will never have acidity levels greater than the required .8%.  If oils are blended, as is done routinely with lower grade and refined olive oil it can produce lower acidity levels and then be passed off as “extra virgin”.

So long as the oil is real EVOO (and many are not even though they claim to be) there is no reason to choose based on acidity. It should be based on taste and what one wants to do with the olive oil

Refined Olive Oils

Only about 30 percent of all olive oil production ends at extracting the oil from the olives. Refining involved using solvents and high heat to neutralize the tastes of the oil. This allows producers to use olives that are not in the best condition, and blend from oils from a wide variety of sources (even countries) because the bad tastes resulting from oxidized olives and the mass production process are chemically removed. When you see “Pure Olive Oil” at the store, or a bottle that says simply “Olive Oil,” “Genuine”, “Light”, “certified”, these are refined.  Refined has no antioxidants! So, they don’t meet the criteria for International Olive Oil healthy diet.

HOW TO TASTE OLIVE OIL

Tasting olive oil straight is the best way to judge its quality. Pour a little in a small glass and warm the glass in one hand, while covering it with the other. Now put your nose into the glass to sense the aromas. Hopefully, it reminds you of things like fresh olives, grass, bananas and apples. Hay, cardboard, vinegar, mud and mustiness are some of the aromas that indicate an olive oil has gone bad.

STORING OLIVE OIL

You can keep unopened olive oil in a cool, dark place for up to two years (high quality olive oil will last longer than one that wasn’t great to begin with).

Once you open the container, the oil begins to degrade much faster. A good rule of thumb is to use it within a few months after opening. Keep the bottle tightly capped and away from heat and direct light. The best strategy is to use olive oil often, and go through it quickly.

Extra virgin olive oil and wine also share the same “enemies:” heat, oxygen and light.  Olive oils have a relatively short shelf life and once the bottles are opened and exposed to oxygen, the oils will naturally begin to break down and lose both their organoleptic and nutritive properties.  Freshness therefore, becomes a huge issue, although older oils can still be excellent cooking oils. Storage after purchase is also important.  If possible, extra virgin olives oils are best stored in a cool, dark place like a cabinet.  Do not store or display your oil on or near your stove or on a window sill.

What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

  1. the oil must come from fresh olives that were milled within 24 hours of their harvest.
  2. it must be extracted by mechanical means, not from heat or chemicals. It’s called unrefined.

3.They must not be treated chemically in any way.

  1. Extra virgin oil is, in fact, fresh olive juice.

5.Being a fruit, olives contain natural antioxidants that protect the plant during its lifetime. When the olive tree is very old it contains more of these antioxidants. This is one of the reasons that olive trees are often hundreds of years old and create antioxidant rich products.

Extra-virgin olive oil (cold pressed) is the best. 

          But how do we know if it is the real thing and not a fraud olive oil?

7 Tips for Recognizing Real Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1.Do not buy light olive oil or a blend; it isn’t virgin quality.

  1. When extra virgin olive oil costs less than $10 a liter it may not be real.
  2. Only buy oils in dark bottles, as this protects the oil from oxidation.
  3. Look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council (IOC)
  4. Look for a harvesting date on the label.
  5. Olive oil can get old and rancid. A simple test for a “good” olive oil is to taste a little on a spoon. Not rancid, real olive oil will have a fruity taste in the front of your mouth and a peppery taste in the back of your mouth.
  6. How about the fridge test as stated by Dr Oz? He said that when you put a real extra-virgin olive oil in the refrigerator, it will become thick and cloudy as it cools completely. That is not a for sure test (some oils made from high-wax olive varieties will even solidify) according to a Fridge Test

Olive Oils from Around the World  

When buying olive oil, you’ll see varieties from all over the world.  Most of the world’s supply are grown in Spain, Italy and Greece.  Traditionally olive trees have been located in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea because they need hot summers and mild winters. But now other countries are participating in the production of Olive Oil which includes other oils that we will be trying from California, France, Turkey and even Israel!

HOW TO TASTE OLIVE OIL

Tasting olive oil straight is the best way to judge its quality. Pour a little in a small glass and warm the glass in one hand, while covering it with the other. Now put your nose into the glass to sense the aromas. Hopefully, it reminds you of things like fresh olives, grass, bananas and apples. Hay, cardboard, vinegar, mud and mustiness are some of the aromas that indicate an olive oil has gone bad.

The following Extra Virgin Olive Oils are Available at Adams Fairacre Farms

Turkey – Kristal –

  1. ($16.63 per quart 25 fl oz. is 12.99 Turkey)
  2. Rich and Intense or smooth and fresh depending on olives used. We are tasting the smooth and fresh
  3. Major producer of olive oil having a long history of growing olive trees

California, US –  California Olive

  1. ($18.91 per quart $9.99 for 16.9 fl ounce)
  2. oil Blend – This all-American pick wowed testers with its smooth, subtle taste—think gentle apple notes with a hint of spice.
  3. Californian olive oil is light in color and flavor, with a bit of a fruity taste.
  4. For cooking!
  5. California heads in production in the US with their 250 different types of olives.
  6. Texas, Florida and Oregon also have entered the market.

Sicily Italy –  Partanna 100% organic      

  1. ($25.59 per quart $19.99 for 25 fl ounce)
  2. This buttery, sometimes it is unfiltered selection
  3. Use it over grilled vegetables and fish.
  4. Modest price for drizzling!
  5. Adams Private Label Olive oil is from Sicily

Israel – Sindyanna of Galilee

  1. ($30.09 per quart 17 oz is $15.99)
  2. fruity blend with green apple and fresh thyme notes
  3. Israel along with Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are actively increasing their olive growing.

Greece –  Gaea Sitia (estate grown) Green and fruity Gold award in 2016 NY International Olive Oil Competition

  1. ($30.10 per quart $15.99 17 fluid ounce)
  2. Greek olive oil packs a strong flavor and aroma and tends to be green.
  3. Greece produces about 13 percent of the world’s olive supply.
  4. History has it that Greece is the place of origin for olive oil because the olive and the tree have a large part in Greek mythology and the olive branch was given to winners at the Olympic games. Although Spain and Italy have surpassed production.

Spain – Pio del Ramo – mild- arbequina or intense Picual or balanced blend        Tasting the Picual today!

  1. ($35.95 per quart – 16.9 fl oz is 18.99)
  2. Spanish olive oil is typically golden yellow with a fruity, nutty flavor.
    1. Spain produces about 45 percent of the world’s olive supply. Largest producer and volume is heavily directed toward export. They export in barrels where Italy is primarily bottled.

Northern Italy – Lucini Premium extra virgin olive oil.  Gold award in the 2016 NY international Olive Oil Competition.

  1. ($37.63 per quart $19.99 for 17 fluid oz)
  2. They have 20 regions that they grow loves along with the island of Sardinia and Sicily.
  3. Italian olive oil is often dark green and has an herbal aroma and a grassy flavor.
  4. Italy grows about 20 percent of the world’s olives. 2nd largest producer of olive oil.

France – Le Chateau d’Estoublon single variety olives

  1. ($85.16 per qt $17.99 for 6.76 fl oz)
  2. French olive oil is typically pale in color and has a milder flavor.
  3. While French production of olive oil are very small by world standards they are very proud of their quality and distinctive taste.

 

White Bean (Cannellini) Soup

( Easy and quick to make and so delicious!!)

Ingredients

1 can of cannellini beans

½ cup of 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce

2 bay leaves

2-3 shallots

a clove of garlic (crushed with the palm of your hand)

1 quart of vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 piece of Parmigiana cheese rind

 Extra virgin olive oil

Chopped parsley

 

Procedure 

  1. Chop the shallots in small chunks, not too fine.
  2. Put in a pot the shallots, garlic, bay leaves, 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce, Parmigiana cheese rind, and beans with the stock
  3. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 mins.
  4. Add salt to taste if the stock is unsalted
  5. Serve with a spiral of olive oil and some chopped parsley.