Italian Food and Flavours
Olive Oil : Producing the Real Thing
Olive Oil : Producing the Real thing
In the spate of recent reports about several large Italian olive oil companies doctoring their oil and still labelling it extra virgin, I’d ike to share with you me and my family’s week of harvesting and producing the real thing!
On an Italian food and flavours holiday you can learn how to distinguish between supermarket oil and top quality oils – believe me I don’t know a local Italian who would even consider buying an oil from a supermarket! Learn how it should be done from harvesting to bottling.
Also read below for some tips to make sure that you purchase only the best extra virgin olive oil!
We own about 30 large olive trees and 30 young trees, with a variety of olive types – there are over 100 types, the most popular here is leccino but we also have frantoio and carbenlla. When the time is right, ideally when the olives are turning from green to black and a few days of fine weather is forecast we begin.
We first place the special nets around the tree and secure, making sure that there is no way that the olives can roll off the net!
The olives are then manually raked from the tree – it’s like combing through very tangled hair. The olives should pop off and drop onto the net.
Once the tree is finished the olives are placed in crates, then spread in our work room. It is important that once picked the olives are milled asap, ideally within 24 hours.
Making the oil
We spent a whole afternoon watching our olives go through the elaborate process of milling and cold pressing. We used a brand new local cold press which means the olives are not heated. Not to get too technical we believe the oil is superior to centrifugal mills which don’t cold press the olives.
The Milling process in 5 stages:
1)The olives are shaken free of leaves and twigs although a few leaves, I am told, add a special something to the final product.
2) Next is the grinding with rotating mill stones which presses the olives into a delicious smelling muddy sludge.
3) This paste is applied to circular mats which are then threaded onto a huge hydraulic piston
4) This is pressed for several hours to release the liquid components – oil and water.
5) The oil/water mix is collected and separated so that all that pours out at the end is the luscious green olive oil.
Everyone is careful to ensure one person’s olives are totally separate from the next inline. Although a traditional cold press, the machinery was brand new, efficient, and the people working there very proud of their skills and knowledge. It is, believe me, so exciting to see your hard work resulting in the gush of green olive oil. Even the owner is smiling with you.
Five tips when buying extra virgin Italian olive oil
1) Look for oil from the first pressing, from a single estate/producer and ideally buy directly from them– the term extra virgin is not terribly useful and as in recent news been fraudulently used on bottles. It refers to the acidity of the oil which should be 0.8 % or below but if you follow all these tips then you should be ok
2) If its cheap then don’t buy it.
3) Smell and taste it. Like wine there are many different types of good oil. Ours is peppery, almost bitter green and hits the back of your throat with a sharp kick. Some Italian oil are fruitier and milder in taste. During our autumn course we all learnt how to smell and taste oil and we didn’t even want to taste the supermarket stuff! We were taught to allow only our senses of smell and taste to assess the quality.
4) Check the harvest date and buy the freshest oil possible. In le Marche there was almost no harvest last year and so we are all celebrating this years bumper crop. A shortage of Italian oil last year meant oil from other countries being mixed with Italian oil and then sold fraudulently as pure Italian Olive Oil – read the small print!
5) Join us next year and we will ensure that you can taste and buy oil directly from a local producer!
With the company Nudo, set up in Le Marche you can purchase olive oil or adopt a tree from a local producer we visit on our cooking holidays. Tiziano Aleandri is passionate about olives and has taught us all about real extra virgin olive oil.
By partnering with Nudo he makes sure his olive oil can be directly purchased by the consumer. The adopt an olive tree idea is a great way to be part of the process and what a fantastic idea for a foodie christmas gift!