What do you know about Italian Olive Oil? For sure, if you tried our Florence Food Tour, you know it’s really tasty. Maybe you did eat a bruschetta or two, on your Tuscany trip. And I’m sure you enjoyed it.
Tasting olive oil straight is the best way to judge its quality. You can do it pretty easily by yourself (if you try a guided lesson, though, you will learn lots of useful stuff) a little in a small glass and warm the glass in one hand, while covering it with the other. Now put your nose into the glass to sense the aromas. Hopefully, it reminds you of things like fresh olives, grass, bananas and apples. Hay, cardboard, vinegar, mud and mustiness are some of the aromas that indicate an olive oil has gone bad.
The flavour matters a lot too. Try the green Tuscan oil, quite ticklish on the tongue, that tastes like fresh artichokes, or maybe the golden southern oil, from Puglia or other southern regions, that has a smoother taste. This depends on the variety of the olive, on the terrain, on the climate. The way it’s made it’s the same for every good one: after olives are picked and washed, they’re crushed – sometimes between two big stones, but now more commonly by steel blades. The resulting paste is stirred to release the oil droplets in a process called maceration, before being spun in a centrifuge to pull out the oil and water. After the water is removed, what is left is olive oil. The picking process might be pretty different though. In Tuscany we pick the olives from the trees, while they’re still greenish (that’s why they have that “fresh grass” flavour), while in Puglia farmers wait for olives to fall naturally on big nets on the ground. Therefore, this oil tastes more mature. If you manage to try them one after the other, the difference will be enormous. But I bet you won’t be able to decide which one you like the most – well, you can always assign them different purposes.
We cook with olive oil… basically everything. We use it to cook, to fry, to make cakes, we even make ice cream from it (have you tried it? Do it, it’s amazing)! Some gourmet chef invented the crème brulée with olive oil on the side, and it’s a fancy mix.
There’s a lot of stuff you can do with olive oil: why do we keep choosing it over and over again, even when we do have cheaper products? Well, it’s not only because of its flavor. Infact, olive oil is one of the ealthier products on Earth (and yes, we keep telling that to ourselves while eating fried stuff). I will always suggest to use olive oil for cooking. Believe it or not, is skinnier than any other oil, and lighter. Replace other fats like butter with at least two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil every day, eat lots of veggies and go for a walk. I mean, if you kill an entire parmigiana di melanzane, you cannot blame the olive oil for feeling “loaded”, do you?
So, what makes olive oil so good for health? Well, for example, olive oil is extremely high in oleic acid which is used to reduce blood pressure. Olive oil also contains many antioxidants including vitamin E, carotenoids and oleuropein. Researchers are doing their job, founding out that it might be a real help for heart diseases and even for cancer, but this is something we do not know for sure yet.
What we know, is that it is a major “fountain of youth”: it contains a high amount of polyphenols, which helps the cell renewal. That’s why there is also a large market for olive oil soaps and skin care products, of course: but I really do suggest you try, once (maybe not with “olio nuovo”), to wet your skin with tepid water and then moisturize, until absorbed, with some olive oil drops. The result is amazing, I do that sometimes. No, I actually do something else, I make myself a scrub with sugar, honey, lemon and olive oil, and my skin is thankful every single time. You’re welcome too.
Do not though – seriously, do not – use it “to improve your sun tan”. This is actually the most dangerous thing you might do. It burns, it’s oil, it fries up your skin and so much for eternal youth. Use protection, and eat a great cucumber-carrots-oil-salt-and-pepper salad after your day at the sea!
Just one warning: be sure that you’re using a true extravirgin olive oil. Lots of cheap products are the result – just as for Aceto Balsamico – of a mix of different oils or chemicals, or are made with non-italian olives. Of course greek or Turkish oil might be good: but cheap imported products aren’t probably the same thing. So, how to manage when a tasting is not possible, like in a supermarket? I have two tips. One is: do not rely on the price. Always check the tag and the ingredients. But if it’s suspiciously cheap, leave it there. The other one is: treat yourself! Buy the “DOCG” products and you’ll be safe, sound and happy.
The very last thing I want to share with you about oil is about its storage. Oil, because of its chemical composition, suffers a lot from oxygen. Therefore, if you buy a big bottle, either you finish it really quickly, or you fill a lot of little bottles and close carefully the others, storing them in a dark and dry place, and opening them only once you finish the previous one. They will mantein their properties much better.