My husband recently returned from an extraordinary trip the Tuscan region of Italy- he was there to sip, savor and soak in the beautiful Italian vineyards that make up the majority of their countryside. I wish I was able to join him on his journey, but alas, it was all business (the business of wine) and this little chicky had to watch from afar and only enjoy the photos once he returned. That's ok, my time will come. I keep teasing that one day *I* will be the one going on a faraway adventure without him to some magnificent place that only serves meat on a stick and sparkling wine by the buckets. Oh wait, Spain. Been there, dying to go back. Anyways, the hubbs is always a darling when he travels. He spends a significant amount of time searching for the perfect gift to bring home to me and every single time these treasures have blown my mind. He very specifically tries to find something local, regional, hand crafted and unusual from whichever country he happens to be visiting. From Bordeaux, France I received an incredibly gorgeous and apparently rare satchel made of buttery sand colored leather. From Navarra, Spain he brought me a dress coat, made of wool with slick, modern leather cuffs and belt. From Italy, his most recent trip, he brought back two pairs of my favorite Italian designer sandals, some handmade venetian glass jewels and olive oil. A LOT of olive oil. Bless his heart, I adore the shoes and necklaces, but the oil! The oil is pure joy.
I use olive oil in practically everything I cook, in copious amounts. Sometimes, before a incredibly rich meal, I will shoot 2 tablespoons of olive oil to keep my stomach happy for the duration. I can't recall where I learned to do that- oh yes, it was Peter Mayle who described such practices. As nasty as it sounds, the hubbs and I have made a regular "spoon full of sugar" habit out of it. It's really quite tasty and effective. In fact, I'd say olive oil is probably one of the most versatile, useful fats in existence. Homer called it "liquid gold."
Quick Fact: Olive oil is produced by grinding whole olives and extracting the oil by mechanical or chemical means. It is commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps. And the entire world uses some form of this wonder liquid, even though 75% of olive oil is produced in Spain, Italy and Greece.
Here's just a few favorite oils I have in my kitchen at the moment, although I am always discovering and buying in excess...
This collection was brought back for me from Italy, compliments of Felsina. From left to right- Moraiolo: "A dense, limpid hue between golden yellow and rich green. Very complex in character, it releases its richness only over time. It displays notes of tomato and green apple, with a note of artichoke on the finish. Perfect when drizzled on soups, beans and minestrone, and when cooking or grilling any red meat." Next, Pendolino: "A dense, limpid straw yellow in appearance. It releases hints of tomato leaf and fragrant green olive, and at times of apple and hazelnut, concluding with an intriguing touch of black pepper. Its delicacy makes it ideal with light dishes, poached fish, breads and lightly-sauced pastas." And then we have Raggiolo: "A very dense, limpid hue between golden yellow and a vivacious, shimmering green. The nose conveys banana, hazelnut, and tomato, along with spicy notes of black pepper. An oil of great finesse and depth that is wonderful with traditional Mediterranean cuisine, and with salads and legumes, as well as drizzled over meat and fish." And lastly, the Leccino: "Dense and limpid, with golden highlights. Emanates lovely hints of fresh-mown grass, with hints of fruit and of crisp, slightly bitter tomato and basil. Very well balanced, with a rich finish, it is the perfect partner to delicate dishes, mushroom salads, raw or boiled fish and lighter meats." All four are amazing and came delivered to me in a beautiful gold embellished case. So lovely.
Three Hoots Wines. The oil "is grown 65 miles east of Napa Valley (in Lodi) where conditions are perfectly suited to olives. The tree-to-bottle process averages 6 hours, preserving the fresh and lively flavors given by nature." It is a rich, smooth, buttery yellow with very little spice on the aftertaste- which I prefer. I love pouring it in a little bowl and using a nice crusty bread to sop it up. A premier oil, if you can get your hands on a bottle of it. At the moment, Three Hoots has sold out of this bottle of bliss.
Petrolo estate, located in Tuscany, on the Chianti hills, "is producing organic extra virgin olive oil from the sole 4500 olive trees growing on their estate. The harvest is carried manually and the lives milled daily with the traditional method. Olio Petrolo is made with 70% Frantoio olives and 30% Moraiolo olives and is bottled without filtering." This is the mother of all olive oils and the folks at Petrolo were nice enough to present us a bottle as a kind gesture. A favorite of celebrity chefs as well, I can't even explain the taste and texture of this olive oil. It is amazing. It is exquisite. You have to search far and wide and be willing to pay a very (VERY) pretty penny for this gem, but believe me, it's worth every drop.
try the Sunday downtown Walnut Creek farmers' market) and fine grocery stores. Bariani Olive Oil "is committed to producing an authentic extra virgin olive oil. Produced in a limited quantity, the olive oil is a registered organic product and with the particular and discriminatory taste of the family, the quality is always guaranteed." And it's made right here in California!
Greve in Chianti. Santa Christina a Pancole extra virgin olive, hand pressed, bottled and labeled with care. This is a dark, spicy olive oil, best used for sauce, marinades and the like. When I first tasted it I was quite taken aback by how different it was from other oils I've sampled. This is one bold example of how regional differences can change the flavor in oils. A very different but delightful style. Unfortunately I wasn't able to locate any information on the makers of this particular batch. Perhaps a trip is required to track down more info *wink*.
A few more helpful tips for all of you soon-to-be olive oil connoisseurs:
- Extra-virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. Extra Virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries; the percentage is far higher in the Mediterranean countries (Greece: 80%, Italy: 45%, Spain 30%). It is used on salads, added at the table to soups and stews and for dipping.
-Virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only, has an acidity less than 1.5%, and is judged to have a good taste.
- Pure olive oil. Oils labeled as Pure olive oil or Olive oil are usually a blend of refined and virgin production oil.
- Olive oil is a blend of virgin and refined production oil, of no more than 2% acidity. It commonly lacks a strong flavor.
Remember friends, there are thousands upon thousands of different oils out there to try, just go to your local fine grocery store, get out to those farmers' markets and sample away. Most wineries tend to produce olive oil as well because the vineyard environment is perfect for olive trees. You can find some pretty amazing varieties out there if you try. The one thing I've learned and am still learning is that no two olive oils are alike- they vary as much as a fine wine, complicated and unique. The range of tastes and flavors is unlimited and unusually broad. Go out there, grab a loaf of sourdough, tear it to pieces and get dipping!