This post is dedicated to my friend Morgana who lost her house in Melbourne’s fires last Saturday. Coraggio Morgana!
The definition of what is a good olive oil has changed a lot over the last decades in Italy.
In the past, the majority of Italians were poor farmers and lived on a simple diet of grains, pulses and vegetables. In the Center and South of Italy, people used as much olive oil as 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.
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. Of course, there should be no residues of solvents, but I’d rather buy a product obtained with mechanical means such as the extra virgin.
I mean, I do not have to buy olive oil, because we produce it. However, until we produce enough to be able to actually sell it, I promise I will tell you how to buy a good extra virgin. Soon.
Update: from November 2011 we’ll actually be able to sell our wonderful oil, drop me a line if you are interested!