After All About Pasta I thought it was a good thing to look up the other famous “Made in Italy”, his majesty the Olive Oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the most common seasoning on Italian tables.
Italy is one of the biggest producers of olive oil; a market worth about 2 billion euros, thanks to 250 million olive trees cultivated on 1.2 million hectares of land that make Italy the second European producer just behind Spain.
Classifications of Oil
Olive oils are not all the same: from the most precious under the category of “Virgin” oils, of which the “Extra Virgin” oils represent the absolute excellence always to be preferred.
Virgin olive oil
The regulation defines as “Virgin” olive oils those “obtained from the fruit through purely mechanical (and non-chemical) operations and without any mixing or addition of other oils“. In general, the levels of acidity (oleic acid) of this type of pressing can reach 2%.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVO)
According to the minimum quality standards set by the European legislation, it is called “Extra Virgin Oil” or EVO for short, when its acidity levels do not exceed 0.8% and when its extraction takes place exclusively by cold mechanical methods, ie at temperatures below 28 degrees. Cold extraction ensures that the oil does not undergo alterations caused by the different thermal conditions.
Olive oil, which is commonly sold in supermarkets alongside extra-virgin olive oil, is made from a mixture of refined oil and virgin oil with a maximum acidity of 1.5%. For refined oils we mean oils subjected to chemical procedures aimed at lowering their acidity, bleaching them and sometimes even deodorising them: the frying oils, of that soft and semi-transparent color, are refined.
It is the least prized among the olive oils on the market. It is obtained from a mixture of olive pomace oils treated by using solvents and virgin olive oils. Its acidity does not exceed 1.5%.
How to choose oil: practical advice
It is not always easy to distinguish an extra virgin olive oil of inferior quality, also because not all characteristics can be perceived by taste: for example, it is impossible to grasp the acidity because the pinch in the throat while tasting some variety of oil, especially the “strong” ones from of Southern Italy, determines a high presence of polyphenols and therefore beneficial elements for our body.
What to do
Before buying it is important to pay attention to a few things
- Read the label … and the bottle well. The labels are the identity card of the product. In fact, it is mandatory to indicate the geographical origin of the olives. The designation of origin DOP (PDO), for example, indicates that the oil was obtained 100% from Italian olives; however, there are also extra virgin olive oils obtained from olives of the European Community that are not necessarily of inferior quality. Bottles packed in dark bottles or covered with foil in order to prevent the oil contained in it to be exposed to light is usually a sign of a good quality product. The label should state who milled the olives, where they have been milled and where they have been harvested for the production of that particular oil. It may happen that olives come from one or more countries of the European Union, or that they have all been collected in an Italian region and then processed in a mill in our country. In this case it is stated “100% Italian product“.
- If you have been attracted to a label that reads “unfiltered”—like I once did—think about it for a moment: despite the aura of genuineness, unfiltered oil is actually less stable. The filtered oil, on the contrary, guarantees that the quality of the product lasts longer.
- Keep an Eye at the price. It is really difficult for a good extra virgin olive oil to cost less than 7€ per liter. Beware of exaggerated promotions.
- Observe and smell; Extra virgin oils have a bright color ranging from green to yellow, not a soft and transparent color. Also, “they are recognizable” by intense aromas. Odorless and colorless? It is not extra-virgin.
- How about Bio or organic oils? Yes, because to threaten the quality of extra-virgin olive oil is the use of pesticides to eliminate the parasites that settle in the olive groves. But also the presence of acidity correctors.
The provenance is guaranteed when buying a DOP/PDO oil “because the Protected Designation of Origin oils must be produced in the area of origin, otherwise they can not obtain the authorization from all the various control institutes connected to the Ministry of Agriculture ».
Extra virgin olive oil, EVO, is not all the same: some derive from monocultivar olives, others from a miscellanea of olives, others are made with olives coming from the European Union, or sometimes from Non-European Union (Turkey perhaps).
The labels can also read “first cold pressing“, or “cold extracted“: the first concerns extra virgin olive oils obtained at less than 27 ° C with mechanical pressing of olives by means of hydraulic presses, while the second refers to extra virgin olive oil, always obtained at less than 27 °, but by centrifuging the olive paste. Optional information may include those relating to the acidity of the oil (which can not exceed 0.8%), the characteristics of taste and relating to the harvesting campaign.
How to Care for the EVO
EVO should be kept in dark containers and never exposed to sunlight and high temperatures. Otherwise its precious qualities, including antioxidants, will deteriorate
The Oil & Balsamic sets are pretty and characteristic, but the oils on the tables of restaurants, perhaps under the light of the midday sun, are likely to damage the extra virgin olive oil they contain. Also, oil is volatile, the bottle should be closed after each use.
The Bad Ones
- Olio De Cecco classico extravergine d’oliva
- Olio Carapelli extravergine d’oliva
- Olio Bertolli extravergine d’oliva originale, and
- The less known Filippo Berio, and two oils not for the italian market, Olivana and M-Budget.
The Good Ones (but pricey)
Extra virgin olive oils that are … EVO.
The winners for really extra virgin olive oil as indicated on the label is the 100% Italian Sabo, bottled by a company from Ticino (Switzerland), and produced with raw material from the Apulian Olearia Clemente.
Runner-up is the Gran Delizia Igp Toscano and the Monini. Excellent results also for the PrimaDonna sold by Lidl, the Bio Natur Plus (100% DOP Umbria) and the Qualité & Prix from Coop.
The Prize-Winners by Regions
These are (a selection) of the award-winners 100% Italian EVO. Look carefully at the price tag!
Persiani – From Teramano, in Abruzzo Region, between the Adriatic Sea and the Gran Sasso. Price: about 30 euros the 500ml bottle
Pietro Coricelli La Riserva del Presidente – It comes from Umbria, enclosed in an elegant design bottle, and is obtained by squeezing the olives carefully harvested in the Oliveto del Barbarossa, the farm of the Coricelli family. Price: € 12.90 for the 500ml
Frantoio Muraglia – Entirely “made in Puglia”, from the cultivation to bottling, it is obtained from the best selection of the precious varieties of Coratina and Peranzana olives, selected and processed according to the classic method of cold pressing. Price: 29 euros the jar of 500 ml
Diadema – Grown in the Fattoria Villa l’Olmo, in the heart of Tuscany. Refined bottle, embellished with hand-applied Swarovski crystals. Prezzo: 45 euro la bottiglia da 500 ml (like a bottle of the best Barolo! … well it does last longer though 🙂 )
Frantoio Batta – From Umbria. Price: 9 euros the 500ml
Villa Montepaldi – As part of the Chianti Classico PDO, this oil comes from the Frantoio, Moraiolo, Pendolino and Leccino varieties, in Tuscany. Price: 9 euros the 500ml
Uliva Frantoio di Riva – From the Garda Lake, in Trentino PDO.
Fertuna Toscano – From the Maremma hills, Tuscany. Price: € 13.40 the 500ml bottle
Nuovo Oleificio Sandro Chisu – Sardinia
Oliove – A Sicilian oil with olive from a blend of Nocellara del Belice, Cerasuola and Biancolilla, coming from the territories of Menfi and Sciacca. Price: € 19.90 500 ml can
Frantoio Sant’Agata di Oneglia – Extra-virgin Ligurian Riviera dei Fiori DOP can be recognized by its yellow color. Price: 15 euros the 500ml bottle
Incuso Il Mozzafiato (The breathtaking Incuso) – From the Valle del Belice, in Sicily, from the fruits selected by the particle exposed to the most favorable weather conditions during the year: these are ground at the end of September, about two months before the traditional milling season. Price: 10.50 the bottle of 250 ml