Why you should cook with extra virgin olive oil

our baby production of wonderful Extra Virgin Umbrian olive oil
our baby production of wonderful Extra Virgin Umbrian olive oil

The definition of what is a good olive oil has changed a lot over the last few decades.
In the past, the majority of Italians were poor farmers and lived on a basic diet of grains, beans and vegetables. In the Center and South of Italy, people used animal fat for cooking as olive oil was expensive and mostly reserved to the upper classes.  When they they could afford to increase the  caloric content of their food. Therefore,  they preferred their oil to be rather bland and cooked it for a long time or at high temperatures so that none of its flavor was left.
To date, most of the big-brand olive oils that are  sold in the world are designed to have a bland taste. This is expected to please those users who are not acquainted with the relatively strong flavor of olive oil. Even though these oils are sold as extra virgin, they are obtained by mixing mass produced oils of various origins, especially from Spain and Greece. The label “imported from Italy” or “bottled in Italy” does not mean you are buying a high quality Italian extra virgin oil.

By the way, olive oils that are not virgin – e.g. light olive oil or pure olive oil – are obtained by mixing virgin oils and chemically refined oils. As the refinement process involves the use of solvents like hexane, I really cannot find any good reasons for using these oils in cooking no matter what is their smoking point.

Proper extra-virgin olive oil is fresh and should be sold and consumer no more than 1 year after harvest. The flavor and aroma are herbal with notes that vary from bitter to sweet depending on variety of olives. It might be spicy but should not taste like old walnuts as that indicates that it’s rancid. The texture is smooth and sligtly creamy, not watery or oily.

If you wish to buy Italian extra-virgin olive oil, prefer a single estate if available or at least a DOP certified (Protected Origin Designation) oil. Check the lable, high quality olive oils indicate the harvest date. Make sure to taste it pure and use it as soon as possible. Ultimately, by tasting different oils you will acquire a natural capability to determine if it’s of good quality and of course if it tastes delicious. Enjoy!

 

Comments

  1. Thankyou for your dedication and kind words. Sometimes in times of great tragedy and loss, we reach out to strangers across the world as a source of comfort and relief. Your site a reminder of the joys of simple things that sustain life- the joy of olive growing and cooking with the best olive oil, and the sustenance provided by cooking with good ingredients. Our olive trees in Saint Andrews may come back with the seasons- we will see. I look forward to your future stories very much.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend’s loss — the fires in Australia are absolutely horrible, devestating. I hope Morgana will be alright.
    This is a very interesting post, Letizia. I’ve learned a lot from you (and your classes!) about telling good olio from ordinary or simply bad! In fact, I’m planning to take my own olive oil when I visit my family in Alberta later this month because I’d like to cook for them and I know I won’t be able to find good oil in their area. (just bottles and bottles of cheap, bland knock-offs.)

  3. Ciao Sandra, thanks again for the wonderful stories about Umbria! May be in Alberta someone does sell good olive oil. Hopefully, after you family has tried the good stuff, they will go out and search for that magic bottle.
    Morgana, in Italy they say that olive trees never die. Their roots are so deep in the soil, that even upon damage to the aerial part, the plants re-vegetate after a while. A real symbol of hope.

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