Olive Oil: Good and Good For You

If you ask anyone the question, “What is Italy famous for,” you are likely to get many answers, with the top spot going to Wine.  You’ll also hear “pasta,” (which was actually an immigrant from China via Marco Polo), cheese, prosciutto/salami/cotto, and finally, olive oil.  Italy’s olive oils are known the world over and with extremely good reason.

Some of the best olive oils hail from Tuscany.  The type of olive tree grown, the soil, how much sun and even how much rain all play an important part in determining the flavor of the olive oil.  Many different olive trees are grown.  The majority of the olives grown in the Tuscan region are Taggiasca, Moraiolo, Frantoio, Maurino, Penolio, and Leccino.  Clay or good loamy soil with plenty of drainage is important.  Annual pruning is essential and olives are picked by hand to ensure little damage to the fruit.  They are washed to remove dirt and soil and within 24 to 48 hours of being picked, the olives, including the skin and stones are crushed into a pulp using a stone mill or perhaps a metal grinder.  The pulp is then pressed.  This is known as the first pressing and strict guidelines must be followed during this process.  These bottles are labeled as “first cold pressing” if a traditional wooden press is used or “cold extraction” if more modern techniques are used.  Olives must be pressed at a temperature below 27 degrees (which is why yours truly, does not engage in the pressing of olives! Cold is one of my least favorite things…Although the picking of the olives is an adventure I believe everyone should try when in Italy).

Olives that are picked too soon or too late throw off the acidity of the fruit and will affect the flavor and quality of the oil.  To be considered Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the acidity must be less than 1%.  Once bottled, olive oil needs to be stored away from direct sunlight and should not be exposed to temperature extremes.  Once opened, it should be used within a year, though I cannot conceive of a bottle of this stuff lasting that long…I personally go through at least a bottle every other month!

While olive oil is a “fat” it falls into the “good fat” category because it is a monounsaturated fat, which can help to lower cholesterol levels, but like anything else, moderation is the key.  It is also a powerful antioxidant.  There is so much to love about olive oil, so I suggest try some for yourself and see.  I use olive oil on just about everything, but one of my favorite uses is to drizzle some on a thin crust pizza crust that is spread with pesto and topped with fresh mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes.  Extra Yum!