Sunday, December 18, 2011

Like an Extra Virgin

In November, I wrote a story about going to the olive mill to press the oil for this season.

There are so many layers of information regarding olive oil, that most consumers are confused. I think it is important to write another entry, this time about the importance of fresh olive oil.

Before I begin, I'd like to point out that as consumers we are being bamboozled regarding olive oil. Since a low percentage of olive oil is high quality, the majority of producers have lobbied to keep the labeling as deceptive as possible.

First and most important: the olive oil must be fresh.

Beyond freshness, there are the different grades of olive oils:

Extra Virgin 
(lowest in fatty acids, no chemical process used to extract the oil from olive fruit)
Note Below: Raccolto 2008 means the olives were harvested in 2008
Olio Extra Verine di Oliva means it has less than .8% of fatty acids according to the International Olive Council (IOC).
In Tuscany and Umbria, the oil is made with unripened olives, what is referred to as early harvest, so the fatty acids are often as low as .5%! That leads to a fantastic flavor if you use it fresh.

Virgin Olive Oil 
(higher in fatty acids, but still pretty good, nice for cooking)

Olive Oil 
(even higher in fatty acids, no so great on flavor)

aka Olive cake or Pomace
(sloppy seconds!)
What's all this talk of fatty acids? Just remember, the higher the fatty acids, the more waxy and thick the oil will feel on your tongue.
For more juicy information about olive oil, click here and go to bottom of page.

Back to the freshness factor. Most Italians (especially the Tuscans and Umbrians who are super proud of themselves) wouldn't buy a bottle of olive oil more than a year old. Why? Because olive oil is made every year! That's why! So guess where the lesser quality, aging olive oils get unloaded??? Northern Europe and North America, for the most part.

A fantastic book has been written about misleading olive oil labeling and laws. Author Tom Mueller was recently covered on Fresh Air with Terri Gross. According to his book, Extra Virginity, Americans are being duped the most of all world consumers!

There are two simple rules governing extra virgin olive oil and flavor:

1)The younger the oil (you can use it the minute it comes out of the press!!!) the fresher and greener it will taste.
2)The quality of the olives used to produce the oil make a huge difference. There are about 700 different types of olives out there. If the olives are fresh off the tree and pressed immediately (within 48 hours) the oil is going to taste a lot better than if the olives were riper, fell to the ground, and then got pressed.

So, guess what? Even if you buy a first cold press extra virgin olive oil, which should in theory taste really good, it is going to taste pretty average if it is not fresh! The words first cold press are not a guarantee the oil will be good. You've got to be sure the oil is fresh, because no one is going to point out that the oil is old. They want to unload it somewhere!


Let's throw in a quote from one of the best Chris Farley scenes of all time (I'm just cutting an pasting from this site):

Another great scene from Tommy Boy.
Tommy: Let's think about this for a sec, Ted. Why would somebody put a guarantee on a box? Hmmm, very interesting.
Ted Nelson, Customer: Go on, I'm listening.
Tommy: Here's the way I see it, Ted. Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box 'cause he wants you to feel all warm and toasty inside.
Ted Nelson, Customer: Yeah, makes a man feel good.
Tommy: 'Course it does. Why shouldn't it? Ya figure you put that little box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by and leave a quarter, am I right, Ted?
[chuckles until he sees that Ted is not laughing]
Ted Nelson, Customer: [impatiently] What's your point?
Tommy: The point is, how do you know the fairy isn't a crazy glue sniffer? "Building model airplanes" says the little fairy; well, we're not buying it. He sneaks into your house once, that's all it takes. The next thing you know, there's money missing off the dresser, and your daughter's knocked up. I seen it a hundred times.
Ted Nelson, Customer: But why do they put a guarantee on the box?
Tommy: Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of shit. That's all it is, isn't it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for now, for your customer's sake, for your daughter's sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality product from me. 

Please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that and olive oil that has been pressed with the first cold press is bad, I'm just pointing out that the term is on labels so you think you're buying the best, no questions asked. If it is super fresh, it will be fantastic. But if it is over 18 months old, it will be on the way to rancidity.*
If you don't know better (and most consumers do not) and buy an old oil, even if it was and extra virgin, first cold pressed olive oil, as Tommy Boy puts it:  "...all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of shit."
So, Three more rules:

1)Repeat after me: I will not buy old olive oil. I will check the date the oil was produced before buying it. If I cannot even find a date anywhere on the bottle, I will run in the other direction. I will also not buy oil on the top shelf under neon lights in a grocery store, since it will deteriorate at an even faster speed.

2)Even though I like things ergonomic, I promise to keep my olive oil in a cool and dark place. I might have to bend down to get it but it will be worth the strain on my knees and back. I'll use my abs. I will not, for the love of God, keep my olive oil next to the stove for ease of use, nor in the window sill because it looks so pretty. I will take care of my olive oil and use it while it is fresh.

3) I will not horde my oil until it is too late to use it. I will use my olive oil fresh and young and bask in the glory of tasting good olive oil instead of rancid, old olive oil. I will insist on buying good olive oil, since the stuff isn't cheap, until the olive oil producers have no choice but to send the good stuff to my country because they've realized we are no longer uninformed.


So, use the good stuff raw, use the cheaper stuff for heating/sauteing, and throw any of the old stuff away! 

Freshness Hint: 
If it tastes/smells of wheat grass, artichokes, almonds, green beans, pepper, it is fresh.
If it tastes/smells of putty, crayons, old peanuts... it has kicked the bucket.

(*On rare occasions, olive oils can last up to 3-4 years. However, this happens very rarely- so try to keep your consume your olive oils before they reach their 2nd birthday.)

1 comment:

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