Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Olive Oil, Italy's Liquid Green Gold

Olives are grown all throughout Italy, from the northern shores, to as far as Sicily and Puglia, meaning each region naturally claims to be the best producer of olive oil. Here's a brief look inside this fascinating industry, to help you pick out the perfect bottle on your next trip.

How Do Oils Differ?

Within 24 hours of harvest, olives are crushed whole to maintain their naturally low acidity. The pump is pressed and the liquid obtained comprises water and several oils, the two most common are:

Extra-virgin olive oil - The highest quality oil, noticeably green, with acidity of less than 1%, made by cold-pressing the olives - though the use of heat provides more quantity of the oil, the lack of it provides for a better quality.

Virgin olive oil - Produced with no chemical treatment, occasionally cold pressed method, with slightly higher acidity between 1% and 3%.

There are three distinct categories of extra-virgin olive oil, each suited to specific dishes and preparations.

Mild - Light and buttery, ideal for raw meats and carpaccio, fish, vegetables, soups and pasta sauces.

Fruity - Slightly stronger and fruitier flavor, complements grilled meats, pastas or rice in mild sauces, cooked vegetables and bruschetta.

Fruity-Spicy - Aggressive taste, perfect for accompanying rustic dishes like the panzanella, Tuscan bread and tomato salad; ribollita, Tuscan vegetable soup; or pasta with beans.

How To Taste Oil

Like wine, olive oil is a high-quality product with body, acidity and fruitiness that vary from product to product. Experts recommend tasting it before you buy, so it helps to train your palate to distinguish one form the other. In general, good olive oil is sweetish with a peppery tone to it.

Olive oil tasting should be carried out in a controlled environment. Begin by purchasing a couple of top-quality extra-virgin olive oils produced in different parts of Italy along with one of inexpensive brand to compare.

1. Look at the oil against the light to get an idea of the color. For example, greener oils for usually pressed from earl-season olives.

2. Smell the aroma of each of the oils and sort them from mild to strong to establish the ideal order for tasting.

3. Taste them either on a piece of unsalted bread or from separate glasses, using about a teaspoonful of each oil. Cup the glass in your hand to warm it and rotate the oil to release its aromas and flavors. Sip and inhale to vaporize the oil in your mouth.

4. Do not swallow. Spit the oil out and rinse your mouth with some water, or have a small piece of fruit to cleanse your palate before the next sampling.

How To Buy Olive Oil

Buy olive oil in small quantities, since it ages and oxidizes. Check where the olive oil was bottles and ensure the color is green or a dark green. Look for the DOP label, a standard organization that defines the various grades of olive oils: this signifies improved quality.

The best place to buy olive oil is in frantoi in Italy, where olive pressing takes place. You can also find top quality oils on estates throughout Italy, from the farms, or from other specialty shops such as an enoteca where you buy wine as well.

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