Tuscany in a bottle
In the hills surrounding Florence, olive oil, has been made for centuries during the zodiac sign of Sagittarius. During the late fall the olives reach maturation and are harvested by hand. Four main varieties of olives grown in this area; frantoio, moraiolo, leccino and pendolino.
In November, a perfect mixture of green and ripe olives are stripped away with gloved hands or combs onto nets or parachutes that are spread around the olive trees. The olives are stored in crates until they can be taken (as quickly as possible) to the olive press where the perfect drops of oil, present in healthy olives are separated from the fruit and water. There has been a growing interest in excellent quality oil and hence great advances have been made in extraction methods. We miss the atmosphere of the traditional stone wheel-hydraulic press mills, but the new enclosed continuous feed systems of modern mills have greatly diminished the characteristic oxidization and fermentation and the result is a higher quality oil of intense aroma and a longer shelf life.
The fact that extra virgin olive oil is made from the fruit of the plant (all other oils, except avocado, are made from seeds) explains the complexity and diversity of its organoleptic properties; taste, color and aroma, which vary depending on the specific geographic area and variety of olive. It also accounts for its high nutritional value. Olive oil is primarily composed of monounsaturated fat. It contains no cholesterol and is rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), carotenoids and phenolic compounds. The intensity of flavour and the nutritional value gradually diminish as an oil ages, but the rapidity of this process depends on the quality of the olives, the care with which the oil is made and how it is stored. An excellent quality extra virgin will mellow, but maintain its fruitiness for a year or so. For this reason, it should always have a harvest date on the bottle.
By law, to be labeled “extra virgin olive oil” (EVOO) it must:
- be extracted by a mechanical pressing of olives, without resorting to the high heat and chemical solvents used for most other oils;
- have less than 0.8% acidic level;
- pass an organoleptic (taste-aroma) panel test with a score of 6.5 or more which means that it is devoid of ‘defects’ (ex. rancidity or moldiness). This does not mean that it has the ‘merits’ (ex. freshness and fruitiness), an excellent olive oil must have.
The required expiration date is for 18 months from the time the oil is bottled (not from the harvest date) which is the reason most commercial EVOO are bland or tasteless at best.