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Recipes, Lore & MoreRecipes, Lore & More

 

About Olive Oil

"Olive oils vary as do wines."1

The fruit of the olive tree, Olea europea, and the oil which it yields, foods which originated in the Mediterranean region are often thought of as symbolizing it. The importance of the olive tree and the veneration which it has aroused since prehistoric times are widely attested, for example, by the use of the olive branch as a symbol for peace. Biblical, classical, and other literary references abound. Lawrence Durrell wrote in Prospero's Cell's, that the whole Mediterranean ‘seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives. A taste older than meat, older than wine.’

It is not only in literature that the trees and their fruits have been memorably portrayed. Maggie Beth Klein (1994) remarks on the manner in which the Impressionist painters captured their spirit and in how many different ways.

The northern limit of olive cultivation remains a major landmark across Europe and Western Asia. However, in recent centuries olive growing has spread far beyond these traditional regions The Mission variety (as it is now called) was established at Spanish Missions in California before 1800.

Major producers today include: Spain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, Morocco, and California. Small quantities are made in Provence, Syria, Israel, Australia, S. Africa, Chile, and several other countries.

"It is impossible to think of all these countries without the olive tree rising gnarled froma parched, rocky soil, its sivery green leaves shimmering against an azure sky. Given of light and solace, nourishment and blessedness, the fruit of the olive has also brought a flavor unique to the cuisines of Western civilization."2

In most countries during the fall and winter months preoccupation with the ancient tradition of olive harvesting reverbrates. The olive groves rustle in a big silvery green seeming ocean. There are certain similarities and many different rituals of the harvest from country to country, region to region. The exact time and particular method of harvest are only two of the factors that influence the ultimate virtue of an Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Hand picking is the preferred method of harvesting. Hand picking is labor intensive, and is just one of the reasons for the high cost of extra virgin, liquid gold, olive oil.

"The moment of truth: Waiting for oil at the press."2

The sounds are high pitched, the smells are heady. As the farmers await the result of their hard work and nature's grace, good humored banter alternates with tentative concern. The olive mills whirl into action. Newly harvested olives are washed, deleafed, and crushed by huge, sometimes centuries old granite stone wheels, into a paste made up of the olive pulp and pits. The paste is then spread on hand woven hemp mats that fit snuggly on the disks that are stacked one atop the other. The disks are wheeled to a hydraulic press where extreme pressure is exerted upon them to squeeze out the liquid which drips from the edges of the disks. The mats allow the oil to drain and at the same time filter out the solid olive matter. The liquid is collected and pumped into a seperator which whisks off the water by centrifigal force and leaves a steady trickle of oil pouring out of its spout.

"The olive tree is surely the richest gift of Heaven." Thomas Jefferson1

Extra Virgin olive oils are cold pressed, unfiltered, no heat or chemicals are administered to extend or alter the oil, thus an acidity level of less than 1 percent. Extra Virgin olive oil can have no more than 1 percent acidity.

"Extra Virgin Olive Oils, I like them all, but especially the olive. For what it symbolizes, first of all, peace with its leaves and joy with its golden green oil." Aldous Huxley3

Always store extra virgin olive oil in a cool, dark place, away from heat and light. When stored properly extra virgin olive oil has a shelf life of 12 to 18 months from harvest.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil does not not age like wine — they will mellow, not become rancid, but simply lose some of their characteristics.

" Buying extra virgin olive oil is like going to the doctor. You must have faith in whom you are dealing with."3

Old or bad oil might be chemically reconstituted and mixed in. It might be cut with vegetable oil or who knows what. There are so many ways to manipulate oils.

Sources:
1The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson
2Olive Oil From Tree to Table, Peggy Knickerbocker
3Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit, Mort Rosenblum

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