Monday, December 24, 2007

Myths about saturated fats

"While the findings from these cultures seem to contradict the fact that eating saturated fat leads to heart disease, it may surprise you to know that this "fact" isn't a fact at all. It is, more accurately, a hypothesis from the 1950s that's never been proved.

"We've spent billions of our tax dollars trying to prove the diet-heart hypothesis. Yet study after study has failed to provide definitive evidence that saturated-fat intake leads to heart disease. The most recent example is the Women's Health Initiative, the government's largest and most expensive ($725 million) diet study yet. The results, published last year, show that a diet low in total fat and saturated fat had no impact in reducing heart-disease and stroke rates in some 20,000 women who had adhered to the regimen for an average of 8 years.
But this paper, like many others, plays down its own findings..."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Facebook invades users privacy in unwarranted manner

Matt in New York already knows what his girlfriend got him for Christmas...

Why? Because a new Facebook feature automatically shares books, movies, or gifts you buy online with everyone you know on Facebook. Without your consent, it pops up in your News Feed--a huge invasion of privacy. (See demo below.)


Petition: "Facebook must respect my privacy. They should not tell my friends what I buy on other sites—or let companies use my name to endorse their products—without my explicit permission."

Sign here:

Then, tell your friends about this group. Click here to invite all of your friends:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

That which is distracting me from posting

I'll talk about olive oil again, soon. I'm getting back into the swing of working again after my beautiful daughter was born. Olive oil research will show up again as well.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 12, 2007



Provinces, departements,
Regions, gouvernements,
Obscure by military and diplomatic might
The common thread of butcher's twine holding tight
A cassoulet's land through gastronomic commonalities

From Perigord to Languedoc,
Held together by goose and duck,
Fancied with truffles, foie gras, piment d'espelette,
Preserved and unified by CONFIT, they remain unsplit,
The French Southwest, the sobriquet--Guyenne's and Gascony's


Come join me as I explore that piece of France from which 3/4 or more of Zingerman's French products originate, the Greater French Southwest. We'll speak of Basque, Bearn and Bordelais, of Agenais and Perigord, of Quercy and Limousin, of Auvergne, Rouergue and Languedoc and what ties them together, tasting ingredients as we explore.

We'll taste vinegars, spices, olive and walnut oils, my favorite line of mustards, olives, pates, cassoulet, and more.

Hope to see you there. Tell people about it. Sign up in advance.

Tasting the Ingredients of the French Southwest
Thursday, October 18,
422 Detroit St.
Upstairs, Next Door,
$20 in advance,
$25 at the door,
7-9 PM

Call (734)663-3400 to reserve a spot

Eat fearlessly,

Saturday, September 01, 2007

My first media mention

A litle break from my paternity leave to say Woo hoo! My first mention in a publication not published by Zingerman's. Small mention, but you've got to start somewhere.

Business Week SmallBiz, August/September 2007 -- Mmm…Sour Grapes: "When tasting at home, use a small plastic cup or spoon. DiPalo suggests drinking water and eating a breadstick between spoonfuls. Better, visit a gourmet store that has bottles open for customers to sample. Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Mich., stocks 25 vinegar selections, all available for tasting. Vinegar lovers say part of the fun is discovering a new favorite, such as the Sanchez Romate sherry vinegar preferred by Zingerman's retail sales taster Solomon James, or Minus 8, an ice wine vinegar that Patrick Feury, executive chef at the Berwyn (Pa.) restaurant Nectar, uses in an Asian-inspired tuna dish. Of course, you don't need to be a chef to find your own favorite—just willing to take a new look down the specialty foods aisle."

Monday, August 27, 2007

New daughter - pause in new posts

My new daughter was born a week ago, Delilah Jack James, at 7 pounds, 12.5 ounces, 12 inches long. She's amazing and wonderful and occupying my paternal leave time with pleasure. I'll refocus on this blog in a week or two.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Innovation at Google - must watch

This is a 50 minute presentation with little happening except one guy standing up and talking about how to innovate... and I was enthralled through the entire discussion--watched the whole 50 minutes, might watch it again sometime.

I put this here for two reasons: one, I think the subject is important and well spoken and the more people who actually see this (especially who work with or near me) the better; two, it's a model for how to engage an audience for 50 straight minutes of speaking, which I need to study since keeping a room engaged for 90 minutes is what I do for a living and intend to expand upon doing for a living. My first two takes are that a person speaking passionately about something they are passionate about draws an audience into the presentation and that having something interesting to say always helps. Be alive and have something interesting to say.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Note about shelf life of olive oil in clear glass

I love the University of California at Davis.... If I ever get a graduate degree, I know where I'm most interested in going.

"Oils in clear glass exposed to light at room temperature can go flat in two months and rancid shortly thereafter."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Olive Oil Shop In Saugatuck

While on vacation in Saugatuck, Michigan, I ran across this store which sells olive oil. They present about half a dozen infused oils & half a dozen varietal oils. It's doing all the right things in regard to showing respect for the product. 2 things struck me about it. First, that no bread or other medium was used to taste the oil. Nothing came between me & the oil except a little 1/2 oz. paper cup I could help myself to. Second, they labeled their oils with the variety, the country of origin, the acidity level, and the taste description, nothing else. I hope it works well for them, because it's how olive oil deserves to be presented. I wholeheartedly applaud their efforts.

Oh, and every oil I tasted was high quality--higher quality than a similar style shop opposite Murray's Cheese in NYC.

I wonder how many of these shops are starting to pop up around the country?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The proliferation of olive oil awards

This is a topic that I'll explore as time goes on. The page this links to speaks to a few of the "pay for participation" awards.

Information about proliferation of olive oil awards:
"Olive Oil Producers are eager to win tasting competitions and achieve official certification for their oil. The awards hopefully translate into a medal or seal on the label, recognition for a superior product with a commensurate increase in sales. But there has been a proliferation of medals and seals available and they aren’t all created equally. The ones that industry players covet and respect may not mean much to consumers. Other awards which are promoted with a sophisticated media campaign funded by royalties from agribusiness giants may get more attention. More seals may lead to consumer confusion, disinterest or distrust.

Olive Oil producers in California generally respect the results of the L.A. County Fair judging and the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) seal as legitimate indicators of quality. That can’t be said for the ACI awards described above.

The problem is the awards are founded on a flawed premise. The insinuation is that there is an “institute” of chefs who cheerfully judge products which have not even asked to be judged. In reality the ACI is a business that is in the business of awarding medals and receiving money for it. Their process is designed to maximize royalty income, not choose the best oil. It is not surprising that none of the oils chosen for judging have ever won an award in a more rigorous venue...."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Best olive oil site I've read today

This person has only been writing since January of 2007 on this blog, and has a crazy grammar which I assume comes from a non-native relationship to English (fun to read, though). However warped the man's writing is (and I mean that in a good way), he does know about olive oil, and is on his way to becoming a professional taster certified by the International Olive Oil Council (more properly called the International Olive Council since 2006).

Tea, Olive oil and other great tastes

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Chemistry and fraudulent impurities of honey

An interesting article on the creation of honey, its chemistry, and how to test it for fraudulent impurities. This is a PDF file. The author seems to be a chemist or physicist at Hill Agriculture Research and Extension Centre in Bajaura, India.

Article from Science Tech Entrepreneur April 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gordon Ramsey Scrambled Eggs Breakfast

Eggs are one of the best vehicles to taste olive oils with, and this looks like a great way of preparing eggs. The choice of olive oil drizzled on the bread in this video would completely alter the experience of the final dish (assuming a high-quality oil was used, they would all be good).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Australian Olive and Olive Oil Information

This is a summary of what's available about Australian olive oil from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation of the Australian government. On this same site, for those interested in Wattle seed info, there are many articles on Australian bushfoods and wattle seed.

1.1 New Plant Products Research Reports

Quality Enhancement of Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oils (06/135 UCS-33A)
- Full report (700k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (24k)

The Natural Chemistry of Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (06/132 DAN-239A)
- Full report (1meg) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (8k)

Tasting and Classifying Virgin Olive Oil - An international course for panel supervisors 12 – 16 December 2005 at University of Imperia, Italy (06/070 TA 056-19) - Full report (300k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (8k)

Olive Variety Regional Performance Study (05-160 Appendix to Final Report SAR-47A)
Full report (720k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (36k)

National Olive Variety Assessment – (NOVA) – Stage 2 (05/155 SAR-47A)
Full report (600k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (36k)

From Planting to Harvest — A study of water requirements of olives, from planting to first commercial harvest (05/039 DEB-2A)
Full report (131k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (8 kb)

Sustainable Pest and Disease Management in Australian Olive Production (05/080 UWS-17A)
Full report (360k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (8 kb)

Olive Harvest - Harvest timing for optimal olive oil quality (05/013 RIRDC DAN-197A)
Full report (460k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (8 kb)

The Olive Industry– An environmental management systems framework (04/057 RIRDC NEL-1A)
Full report (295Kb) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (8 kb)

Wild olive selection for quality oil production (04/101 UA-54A)
Full report (1.3megs) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (8 kb)

Olive water use and yield - monitoring the relationship (03/048 UA-47A)
- Full report 427k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (8 kb)

NOVA – the National Olive Variety Assessment Project (03/054 SAR-23A)
- Full report 174k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Executive Summary (8 kb)

Olive Variety Assessment for Subtropical Summer Rainfall Regions (03/021 OAP-1A)
- Full report (260k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Summary Report (8 kb)

Olive Oil Yield, Quality and Cultivar Identification (01/23 UCS-19A)
- Full report (104k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Summary Report (8 kb)

R&D Plan for the Australian Olive Industry 2003-2008 (02/119 AOL-6A)
- Full report (128k) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Summary Report (8 kb)
You can also read this report online (

Regional Australian Olive Oil Processing Plants (GGO 1A 00/187)
- Full report (337 kbs) is a PDF file & needs Acrobat Reader || Summary Report 14 kb)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Olive Oil Forums - Powered by vBulletin

The things I do not yet know about olive oil are unimaginably large. I had no idea this existed. I'm upset that nothing I've ever visited has pushed me toward this before and I had to stumble onto it through a Google search for "by Paul Vossen" ... (sigh)

Olive Oil Forums - Powered by vBulletin

Olive Cultivars - Australia

Olive Cultivars in Australia, with Frantoio as an example of the depth of explanation:

"The following list is by no means a comprehensive guide to all olive cultivars available in Australia. However, it does cover all those cultivars which have been proven in Australian, and in many cases international, trials. Many other cultivars are currently under trial in Australia, however, their commercial viability is not yet known. For information on other available cultivars, please contact Australis Plants.


Other names - (Also grown in Australia under the name Paragon) Frantoiano, Correggiola, Correggiolo, Razzo, Gentile (These five are considered to be of the same 'family' or 'varietal population' as Frantoio due to their extremely similar biological and organoleptic characteristics and their traditional region in central Italy. The Frantoio grown by Olives Australia have been DNA tested and match the Frantoio grown in Tuscany, Italy. Please see Issue 10 of the Australian Olive Grower journal.

General - Fruit is small in size, ripens late in the season, and has a very high oil content. The flesh to pit ratio is average. Frantoio produces regular heavy crops. Although the tree has medium to high vigour, the mature tree is generally low at about 8 metres. Frantoio is said to be the benchmark for olive oil in Italy. The cultivar has an expansive crown and long pendulous fruiting branches. It is generally said to be self fertilising however a number of growers use pollinators.

Climatic Considerations - Presently, Frantoio is grown mainly in the Tuscany region of central Italy. However, it has proven itself to be extremely adaptable to diverse and harsh climatic conditions in other areas while still giving an excellent crop. It is very resistant to extremes in cold. In fact, we saw a number of Frantoio orchards under up to 600mm of snow during December 1995. The snow only remained on the trees for two days which did not damage the actual biological structure of the leaves and bark; however, due to the weight of the snow, a number of primary branches were damaged which will reduce the crop in the following season. It should be noted though, that any fruit which was still left on the trees during these days of snow was damaged by the cold and would produce a poorer quality oil. Many Frantoio were planted in Tuscany in the mid eighties to replace trees which were killed during the 1985 freeze.

Commercial Viability - Gives an excellent quality oil in great quantities. The fresh oil is generally quite strong/bitter and is therefore used widely as a blending oil to increase the flavour of less distinct cultivars. Its excellent balance of acids allows the oil to be kept for up to two years. Frantoio is the most productive cultivar in central Italy. A single Australian test has shown that the acidity of oil taken from Correggiola increases as the season progresses. If further trials show this to be true, it can be easily overcome by picking the fruit during the first two months of the harvesting period rather than later in the season.

Pests and Disease - Sensitive to peacock spot (Cycloconium oleaginum or Spilocaea oleaginea).

Pollinators - A number of Italian growers say that planting an occasional Pendulina cultivar may increase crops by up to 10%. If a grower chooses to plant Pendulina for cross-pollination, 5-10% of the total orchard's trees as Pendulina is sufficient.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Three new commercial olive groves in Britain!

In that part of the world that doesn't deny global warming, for example, Britain:
Faced with rising temperatures, farmers have to plan tree crops that can withstand a hotter climate. Already, the UK growing season has lengthened by about a month since 1900. By mid-century, maximum temperatures in southern counties will break through the 40C (104F) level, and by 2080, the South East could be as hot as Bordeaux is now.
With that change in focus, Britain is thinking about olives.

Britain warms to the taste for home-grown olives-News-Weather-TimesOnline:
The olive trees were imported from Tuscany, where they experience frost and snow in winter and high temperatures in summer. Drainage on the heavy Devon soil had to be improved, because olive trees are used to growing in thin, rocky soils. But with the rapidly warming climate, it is hoped the first commercial British olive crop will be harvested in a few years’ time.

Perhaps even more surprising, two commercial olive groves have been planted much further north, in Wales and Shropshire. Three hundred Italian olive trees were planted at Wroxeter Roman Vineyard, near Shrewsbury, and the first Welsh olive grove was begun in Anglesey.

Hat tip to The Foodie List for pointing me to this

Nearly 30% of entrys in LA Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition not Extra Virgin

The Sacramento Bee

Claims of oil fraud are tough to validate, since there's no industrywide testing program. But impostors show up even in prestigious competitions, said Darrell Corti, who runs Corti Brothers Market in Sacramento and is the chief judge of the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition, the nation's biggest olive oil event.

In this year's contest, held last week, 118 of the 396 entrants didn't meet the extra-virgin grade's basic standards, Corti said.

Claudio Peri calls for higher quality designation than "extra virgin" for olive oil in California

The Sacramento Bee

Will American consumers pay more for olive oil that claims to be even more pristine than extra-virgin? Will they even be able to tell the difference?

With the value of the "extra-virgin" designation diluted by fraud and dozens of new California labels looking for a way to stand out in a tight market, some in the olive-oil business think it's time for a higher standard.

This week, Claudio Peri, a food science professor at the University of Milan and the founder of a movement he calls "Beyond Extra Virgin," is at the University of California, Davis, to sell his idea to California's emerging olive oil industry. A two-day conference wraps up today.

The problem, say Peri and many in the California olive oil industry, is that much -- if not most -- of the extra-virgin oil on the U.S. market doesn't deserve the label. Extra-virgin oil requires a strict harvest and processing regimen that yields certain flavor qualities recognizable to expert tasters. Many of the major label extra-virgin brands don't make the cut, they say.

"The globalization of the olive oil industry is homogenizing the market. It really depletes the average quality," said Peri, 69, in an interview Tuesday.


Extra-virgin or not, olive oil has become a hot item in U.S. supermarkets, with sales volume doubling from 1996 to 2006, to roughly 60 million gallons. The average American consumes just under a quart of olive oil a year; consumption in several Mediterranean countries is more than 12 times greater.


This year, the state's olive oil production is expected to be as much as 700,000 gallons, up nearly threefold since 2001.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Olive Oil Bar

Olive Oil Bar, originally uploaded by hyku.

Interesting setup... I'll have to think about this.

Olive Oil Table Spread - untested

I've never thought of this before, but I want to experiment with it... and I'm willing to ignore the "light-flavored" suggestion because I have access to some damn flavorful butter. Maybe a nice goat butter and a peppery, fruity olive oil.

Olive Oil Table Spread:
"500g (2 cups) of butter
1.5 cups of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (Make sure it is fairly light-flavored oil, otherwise the oil will overwhelm the butter taste)

Beat the butter in a food processor or Mixmaster until softened, then gradually add the olive oil.
When it is all completely blended, it will be quite pourable.

I pour it into individual containers and put lids on, then store them in the fridge.

When cold it is quite hard."

Italo-Californian Olive Oil Confernce Program

My god, I wish I could see this...

Freeborn Hall, UC DAVIS, May 22-23, 2007
May 22, 2007
The Olive Oil Production Chain: Challenges and Innovations
9:00 Opening.
Sharon Shoemaker, Executive Director, California Institute of Food and Agricultural Research
(CIFAR), University of California, Davis (UC Davis)
9:05 Official Welcome.
William Lacy, Vice Provost, University Outreach and International Programs, UC Davis
A.G. Kawamura, Secretary of Agriculture, State of California, Sacramento
Alessandro Terenghi, Chief Executive Officer, Alfa Laval - USA
Claudio Peri, President, Association TREE, Italy
9:40 Plenary: Introduction to Olive Oil Production in the World.
Paul Vossen, UC Extension Specialist, Sonoma and Marin Counties, Santa Rosa, CA
10:40 Break (displays, posters)
Session I: Charles Shoemaker, moderator
11:00 A Vision, a Name and a Strategy for Excellence in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Claudio Peri, President, Association TREE, Italy
11:40 Orchard Practices and Olive Oil Quality.
Paul Vossen, UC Extension Specialist, Sonoma and Marin Counties, Santa Rosa, CA
12:10 Olive Harvesting Mechanization Systems.
Alessandro Leone, Professor, University of Foggia, and Antonia Tamborrino, University of Bari, Italy
12:40 Lunch (displays, posters)
Session II: Dan Flynn, moderator
2:00 Innovation in Olive Oil Extraction Technology and Plants.
Lamberto Baccioni, General Manager, Olive Oil Division, Alfa Laval, Italy, and
Paolo Amirante, Professor, University of Bari, Italy
3:00 The Influence of Processing Operations on Olive Oil Quality: A Critical Review.
Maurizio Servili, Professor, University of Perugia, Italy
3:30 A Report on California Experiments with Different Olive Oil Mills.
Alexandra Devarenne, UC Extension Specialist, Sonoma and Marin Counties, Santa Rosa, CA
4:00 An Overview on Waste Water Treatment and Disposal.
Pasquale Catalano, Professor, University of Molise, Italy
4:30 New Trends in Olive Growing.
Riccardo Gucci, Professor, University of Pisa, Italy
5:00 Reception
May 23, 2007
Sensory & Nutritional Quality, and Preferences & Uses of Olive Oil
9:00 Opening.
Jean-Xavier Guinard, Associate Vice Provost, International Programs and professor, University of
California, Davis
Session III: Paul Vossen, moderator
9:05 The Universe of Olive Oil Quality: A Consumer-oriented Vision of Olive Oil Quality.
Charles Shoemaker, Professor, University of California, Davis and
Claudio Peri, President, Association TREE, Italy
9:40 The American Consumer’s Approach to Olive Oil.
Darrell Corti, Corti Bros., Sacramento, CA
10:10 Marketing California Olive Oil from a Producer’s Perspective.
Alan Greene, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, California Olive Ranch, Oroville, CA and President,
Board of Directors, California Olive Oil Council, Berkeley, CA
10:40 Break (displays, posters)
11:10 Olive Oil on the Table: a Point of View from Gastronomy and Food Service.
Bill Briwa, Chef Instructor, The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, St. Helena, CA
11:40 A Sense of Identity: The Sensory Profiles of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Erminio Monteleone, Professor, University of Florence, Vice President of the Italian Society of
Sensory Science
12:10 Lunch (displays, posters)
Session IV: Darrell Corti, moderator
1:30 Two Tales of Olive Oil: Stories and Tastings from UC Davis and Fresno State.
Dan Flynn, Program Promotion Manager, UC Davis Olive Oil, Building and Grounds Division, and
Gino Favagrossa, Orchard Manager, College of Agriculture, Cal State University, Fresno
2:20 The Nutritional Quality of Olive Oil.
Bruce German, Professor, University of California, Davis
2:50 An up-to-date Report on Antioxidant Properties of Olive Oil.
Francesco Visioli, Professor, University of Milano, Italy
3:10 The Role of Olive Oil Phenols in Human Tumor Cells Proliferation and Differentiation.
Guido Morozzi, Professor, University of Perugia, Italy
3:30 A Guided Tasting Session on Italian and Californian Extra Virgin Olive Oils.
Leaders: Erminio Monteleone and Paul Vossen
4:30 Closing with Announcement of Date and Location for Next Conference.
5:00 Adjourn.
Accademia Dei Georgofili – Florence
Alfa Laval Olive Oil
Association TREE
California Olive Oil Council
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone
Enoteca Italiana di Siena
Fresno State Olive Oil
Province of Siena
University of California, Davis, CIFAR
University of California, Davis, Olive Oil
University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo, Italy
POSTERS as submitted

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Italy's olive oil law change

Excuse the unlinked content, I'm posting from my Treo. But I saw this quote in a news article and had to share it:

"A television investigation by RAI, the state broadcaster, tracked a load of olio di sansa, the oil that is extracted from the pulp after the extra virgin has been pressed, as it passed through Turkey.
When the oil left the Turkish port on its way to Italy, it was certified as extra virgin."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Italian olive oil labeling law to become much more strict

Assuming this new law doesn't break European Union rules, Italian labeling law for olive oil is about to become much more strict.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Collection of all olive oil production videos from Youtube

I started collecting all olive oil videos together, and will keep an eye on new ones from now on.

Advertisement for Olive Harvester machine

This is one of the directions olive oil production is taking. I find it hard to believe the claim of the advertisement that no harm to the fruit occurs.

Australian Olive Association: News

Australian Olive Association: News

History of growing olives in New Zealand

History of growing olives in New Zealand

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Chocolate oligopoly in USA wants to change chocolate's definition to not include cocoa butter

From Oligopolywatch

According to a Bloomberg article ("Hershey Battles Chocolate Connoisseurs Over Selling `Mockolate'". April 24):

The Chocolate Manufacturers Association, whose members include Hershey, Nestle SA and Archer Daniels Midland Co., has a petition before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to redefine what constitutes chocolate. They want to make it without the required ingredients of cocoa butter and cocoa solids, using instead artificial sweeteners, milk substitutes and vegetable fats such as hydrogenated and trans fats.

The reason for the requested change is the great expense of cocoa butter, a required ingredient. Big Candy would like to substitute cheaper stuff, included the dread tarns-fats.
There's been little public reaction to the little-publicized proposal, and that's just fine with the chocolate-makers. They'd like to "help" the overtaxed Food and Drug Administration to draft new rules, especially while there is still time in a big business-loving Bush administration.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Mixed news for sensory panels seeking IOOC accreditation

Every year, the IOOC releases a list of the panels allowed to give sensory evaluation for the council for the next year.

Bad news for California, mixed news for Australia, good news for New Zealand:
The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) has released the list of accredited organoleptic panels qualified to classify olive oil for the year 2006/2007. A notable absence is the Australian Olive Association Panel which has been leading the development of the taste element of Australian olive oils for almost a decade. The panel has had a major impact on the organoleptic development of Australian olive oils through the participation of its members in most of the recognised national olive oil competitions. A new panel, administered by Peter Olsen of the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries in Wagga Wagga, has been added to the list for the first time. In New Zealand the panel supervised by Margaret Edwards for Olives New Zealand has been accredited while the United States will be without a panel for another year, the California Olive Oil Council panel not achieving recognition.

Here's the list of panels from the UN agency, the International Olive Oil Council

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Here's a preview of the next two weeks -- non-mediterranean olive oils

Explore the continent of Australia

Explore the country of New Zealand

Explore South America

Explore North America

Explore South Africa

Explore vinegars of the non-Mediterranean

Facts about olive oil labeling: the truth about extra virgin, best used by, and more

23 of the 24 countries of the world that are the major producers of olive oil belong to a non-governmental regulating body called the International Olive Oil Council. The 24th country has antiquated laws and regulations about olive oil and has not signed on to the Council. In 23 of those countries, an olive oil sold as "Extra Virgin" meets quite a stringent set of rules that dictate what's being sold to you is good, quality olive juice... not the cooking oil that refined olive oil is, barely tasting separate from its crude colleagues, canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil; "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" is more on par with hazelnut oil, pinenut oil, almond oil, but really a league above them as well. Olive Oil has more variations of taste than butter--and butter tastes damn good. The highest quality olive oils have as much variation as the highest quality honeys, or the variations in cheese. They are beautiful expressions of the diversity of the olive and its connection to the land on which it grows.

The 24th country is the United States, which, save for a ribald band of olive oil producers in California that have formed the California Olive Oil Council, has no meaningful regulations on what can be called "Extra Virgin" olive oil. The minimal requirements set by U.S. laws allow the most indistinct, bland, and flavorless oils to still call themselves "Extra Virgin." It's meaning as a label has been severely diminished. So,

FACT #1 - "Extra Virgin" on a label of an olive oil bottle means absolutely nothing in regard to the taste of the oil in that bottle.

Once the physical means of extracting olive juice have been exhausted, the resulting oil is stored in huge stainless steel vats. Many olive oils are labeled "best used by" with a date stamped two years after the bottling date. That's the minimal requirements if an olive oil producer puts a "best used by" on their bottle. But here's the catch for the consumer: olive oil starts degrading the moment it's crushed out of that olive--it no longer has nature to protect it and in about two years, give or take quite a few months, that oil will go rancid. It's degrading while it's in that stainless steel vat. We can slow it down, but not WAY down--not without using chemistry and high temperatures to remove all impurities from the oil. It's that purity that U.S. laws regulate (and don't get me started on the fact that these are self-regulating laws, with no meaningful inspections)--which means that U.S. laws don't help people recognize fresh, tasty olive juice.

FACT #2 - "Best Used By" means absolutely nothing if not accompanied by a "Harvested In" date as well. The average time one has to use a high-quality extra virgin olive oil is about two years, some varieties giving nearly three years or even more, other varieties giving only a year.

FACT #3 - Not all "extra virgin" olive oils are as high quality as others, even when following the rules of the I.O.O.C. Look for the initials A.O.C. or D.O.P. (sometimes D.P.O.) as the easiest sign to see of a high-quality olive oil.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Frying with extra virgin olive oil - smoke point myths

It's a myth that you can't fry with extra virgin olive oil. The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is variable, but rarely falls below 375F for high end, high quality extra virgin olive oil. The smoke point is going to vary because it's effected by the free fatty acid content of the oil. The higher the free fatty acid content, the lower the smoke point. With refined olive oils (which is different than "virgin" vs. "extra virgin"), the fatty acids have been lowered by chemically stripping them out. With really high end olive oils, the fatty acid content is low because the olive was treated really well in its harvest and production.

The best temperature to fry foods (in a deep-fryer even) is 350 to 375 degrees F (several sources say this, including Joy of Cooking), which is below a nice high end olive oil's smoke point.

Free Fatty Acid % - Smoke Point Temp (degrees F)
0.04 - 425
0.06 - 410
0.08 - 400
0.10 - 390
0.20 - 375
0.40 - 350
0.60 - 340
0.80 - 330
1.00 - 320

That's a chart that shows how the smoke point of oil will change as the free fatty acid content changes. Notice that at the minimum acceptable level of free fatty acids in extra virgin olive oil (.8%) the smoke point is 330 degrees F, but much higher at a really high end olive oil's free acid content (Pasolivo's harvest this year is .15% so you could reach 380 degrees F). The California Olive Oil Council (COOC) seal means that the oil has a minimum of .5%, which would be at the lowest 345 degrees, and with a high end COOC oil fine for frying.

If you're using unfiltered or undecanted olive oil, smoke will occur (but the oil isn't smoking) because little olive solids are smoking.

So, my recommendation is to only use a high end extra virgin olive oil that has the free fatty acid content printed on the label below .2% if you're going to fry. And honestly, in this day and age, if an olive oil manufacturer isn't printing the acid content on the bottle, I would wonder why not and insist on tasting the oil before I buy it. Use one that doesn't have a lot of visible solids in it (or let the bottle sit for a day so the solids can settle) since burnt olive solids may have a negative effect on the taste of your food. Or use a refined olive oil. What I wouldn't use is something that calls itself "extra virgin" and sells for less than $30 a liter.

The other myth I want to dispel is that one is wasting their money by putting good olive oil in a skillet, but I'll do that later. You can find out yourself it's a myth by frying an egg in a good Tuscan-style olive oil and frying one in Colavita.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Experts may have found what's bugging the bees - Los Angeles Times

Experts may have found what's bugging the bees - Los Angeles Times

A fungus that caused widespread loss of bee colonies in Europe and Asia may be playing a crucial role in the mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder that is wiping out bees across the United States, UC San Francisco researchers said Wednesday.

Researchers have been struggling for months to explain the disorder, and the new findings provide the first solid evidence pointing to a potential cause.

But the results are "highly preliminary" and are from only a few hives from Le Grand in Merced County, UCSF biochemist Joe DeRisi said. "We don't want to give anybody the impression that this thing has been solved."

Other researchers said Wednesday that they too had found the fungus, a single-celled parasite called Nosema ceranae, in affected hives from around the country — as well as in some hives where bees had survived. Those researchers have also found two other fungi and half a dozen viruses in the dead bees.
Historically, bee losses are not unusual. Weather, pesticide exposures and infestations by pests, such as the Varroa mite, have wiped out significant numbers of colonies in the past, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the current loss appears unprecedented. Beekeepers in 28 states, Canada and Britain have reported large losses. About a quarter of the estimated 2.4 million commercial colonies across the United States have been lost since fall, said Jerry Hayes of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Gainesville.

I won't even get into the proposed theory that cell phones are causing this (as if cell phone networks just came into existence in the last couple of years?)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Crop pollination and honeybees

This article ran a year ago:
Time for a new approach to crop pollination: "The parasitic mite that devastated honey bee colonies across the United States this spring served notice that we are overly reliant upon the honey bee for crop pollination. Beekeepers report the mite infested 40 to 60 percent of managed beehives. Unless we find alternate pollinators to cart around, or another means to pollinate our fields, we risk periodic crop failures due to lack of pollination. And not just of almonds (whose February bloom faced severe honey bee shortages), but of any of the more than 100 insect-pollinated crops grown in the United States as well."
Now, this year a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder is occurring with honeybees.

From 1971 to 2006 approximately half of the U.S. honey bee colonies have vanished, but this decline includes the cumulative losses from all factors such as urbanization, pesticide use, tracheal and Varroa mites and commercial beekeepers retiring and going out of business, and has been fairly gradual. Late in the year 2006 and in early 2007, however, the rate of attrition was alleged to have reached new proportions, and the term "Colony Collapse Disorder" was proposed to describe this sudden rash of disappearances.[1]

This could have a devastating effect on many crops, 1/3 of U.S. crops possibly, but probably not olives since wind is the main pollinator of olive trees.

Thanks to my co-worker, Vanessa, for reminding me about this.

Abandoned olive groves breeding ground for olive fruit fly

Invasive Species Weblog: "The Chico Enterprise Record has an article, written by the Deputy Agricultural Commissioner of Butte County, California, about invasive olive trees - true olives (Olea spp.), not Russian or autumn olives (Elaeagnus spp.). The Deputy Ag Commissioner notes that abandoned olive groves in California have become vectors for crop pests, like the Olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae), and these pests are threatening active olive orchards. The fruits of the abandoned trees are also being dispersed by birds, and some trees have been found in wild areas."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

My next tasting is on April 18 -- The World of Olive Oil

Following is the description of my next tasting from my co-worker, Jess. I'll talk about the tasting myself more later, but the basic theme is old world vs. new world.

World of Olive Oil with Solomon
Wednesday, April 18th, 7:00-9:00pm, $20 per person
Zingerman’s Deli-Next Door
Call 734-663-3400 to reserve your spot(s)

Even though it comes in a sealed bottle, our olive oil is the rawest, least processed food we sell. We've traveled the world to see first hand the production of this green nectar and want to share with you what we found. A famous blind taste test in 1976 resulted in a stunning victory for California wines over their French counterparts. Next on the chopping block might well be olive oil. Join us as we sample New World olive oils from California, Argentina and New Zealand against Old World powerhouses from France, Italy and Spain.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The State of Olive Oil Today

U.S. domestic sales of olive oil have grown by 20% every year for the last five years (168% increase over the last six).

U.S. regulations regarding olive oil were established in 1948 and have not been revised since.

California's olive oil production is predicted to surpass France by 2010, with production doubling in the next five years as newly planted orchards start giving fruit.

In 2004, the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) began petitioning the USDA to establish new trade standards for grades of olive oil, which could be accepted with a friendly administration in power (especially with the Speaker of the House being from California)

"The most important element of the new standards is that it will inform the consumer as to the true quality and character of the olive oil. To qualify as extra virgin, an oil must pass strict chemical analysis, as well as an objective sensory evaluation designed to ferret out defective flavors acquired during harvesting and processing." - COOC

This change will have a dramatic effect on olive oil retailers. No longer will they have most of the olive oils on their shelf displaying the words "Extra Virgin" on their label. No longer will Extra Virgin have the same ease of access for a producer as "natural," "homemade," "tastes great!" No longer will producers in other countries be able to relabel their product for United States sale using language they can't get away with in any other olive oil producing country of the world. These retailers will see the majority of their olive oils, if not all of them, changing their labels to less attractive but more accurate descriptions of the product inside.

Customers of those retailers who are already only buying an oil that says "Extra Virgin" will walk away from retailers who aren't prepared for this change and no longer have $8 extra virgin olive oils on the shelf.

Everything I'm reading about olive oil nowadays says that olive oil is poised in the position that wine was 30 years ago in the United States. Much of that change that happened in the 1970s was because of the focus that the University of California at Davis had on viniculture, reporting on which varieties grew best in which regions of California. The U of C at Davis is doing the same thing, with the same fervent push, regarding olive oil in the last few years--going so far as to bottle their own olive oil from their own trees and sell it to their students.

Retailers who take action now to educate their community about extra virgin olive oil will be able to build a base of customers who trust them and understand the cost of extra virgin olive oil and the differences among them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Monday, March 26, 2007

Physiology and molecular biology of taste and smell

I am now seriously gathering information for my intended new focus on every (EVERY) aspect of olive oil from dirt to mouth to brain. Do I want it to culminate in a book? Sure. Will there be many rewards among the way in the form of tastings, classes, articles, etc. Absolutely.

Three more pieces I need to explore:

The physiology of taste
The physiology of smell
Current theories of taste perception, from physiology into molecular biology

And if I really want to explore something I find I can search through this abstract summary database.

Almost all major taste theories that seem to exist have been laid forth after I graduated from college (1991). If one doesn't keep keeping up with science after leaving school, it's so easy to be left with antiquated beliefs.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Best chemical explanation of olive oil I've seen

Chemical and Nutritional Properties of Olive Oil

The following is merely a soup├žon of what exists on that page:
A Great discussion of olive oil chemistry by Guido Costa in simple terms

Herewith my contribution on FATTY ACIDS AND ACIDITY: Olive oil is composed mainly of triacylglycerols (triglycerides). Chemically speaking, these are molecules derived from the natural esterification of three fatty acid molecules with a glycerol molecule. The glycerol molecule can simplistically be seen as an "E-shaped" molecule, with the fatty acids in turn resembling longish hydrocarbon chains, varying (in the case of olive oil) from about 14 to 24 carbons atoms in length. Thus the triacylglycerols can, for our purpose, be visualized as elongated E-shaped molecules, each with three long extensions, being the three fatty acid chains "attached to each horizontal bar of the E".

Please note that we are dealing here with fatty acids forming part of the triacylglycerols molecule. They are distinct from FREE FATTY ACIDS, which we'll talk about later!

Various fatty acids are found in nature. They differ in length (number of carbon atoms in the chain) as well as in the type of chemical bonds found within the chain. Mostly these carbon-carbon bonds in the chain are "single" bonds, comprising 2 electrons shared between adjacent carbon atoms. However, in certain of the fatty acids, some of the bonds are "double bonds", where 4 electrons are shared between adjacent carbon atoms. The fatty acids that have no double bonds in their chains are called "saturated" fatty acids (all the carbons in their carbon chain are "saturated" by hydrogen atoms). Examples of saturated fatty acids are Palmitic Acid (16 carbons long), Stearic Acid (18 carbons long) and Arachidic Acid (20 carbons long). The fatty acids that have one carbon-carbon double bond somewhere along their length are called monounsaturated fatty acids (one carbon-carbon bond which is not fully saturated with hydrogens), i.e. one of the bonds available at each of 2 adjacent carbons is now used to form a double bond between themselves instead of being used to bond externally to hydrogen atoms. Examples of monounsaturated fatty acids are Palmitoleic Acid (16 carbons long) and our famous Oleic Acid (18 carbons long). Oleic acid is the most abundant fatty acid found in nature. The double bond in Oleic acid occurs in the mid position of the molecule, between carbon 9 and carbon 10.

I don't want to make this sound too complicated, but as soon as one brings a double bond into the picture, one must bear in mind that...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey vs. Michael Pollan

The debate I was anxiously waiting for occurred, and this is from the post on The Ethicurean:

"After much angsting, my epic recap of the event just went up on the UC Berkeley NewsCenter, the highlights of which are after the jump. (The webcast just went up, too.) Sadly, across campus, even UC Berkeley journalism student Carmel Wroth long ago beat me to the punch with a funny-yet-still-informative account of last night, damn him. You can find it over at Sam Fromartz’s blog, Chews Wise.


Elsewhere in the blogosphere: John Birdsall from the East Bay Express posted the most scathing take yet many hours ago, and I just know he’s going to say I drank the Kool-Aid and begged for more. Becks & Posh has a factual bone to pick. Cookiecrumb for once isn’t mad, and offers some succinct takeaway. (Or should it be takeout?) Jen has a very even-handed, fair & balanced report — and links to a lot more accounts. "

Friday, March 16, 2007

Olive Oil Factory

What I find interesting about this, obviously much larger, olive oil production than Pasolivo's is how much faster the circular blades run through the mash--that's got to have an effect on how hot the mash is turning and how much flavor is being expelled from the oil before it even gets to the storage tanks.

It's one of those profit decisions versus taste decisions, I guess. One produces more oil if the machine is run faster.

I'm also fascinated by the burlap bags full of olives--I think if done properly, that could provide a gentler environment from tree to press than the large storage bins Pasolivo uses, especially if they were driven to the press on a shelving unit such that many bags weren't weighing down on each other.... hmmm... random thoughts.

New level of readership

I seem to have stumbled onto a new level of recognition on this food blog. I've been part of the Wikipedia entry on olive oil for a while now, which did give me quite a boost in readership. Recently (like yesterday, I guess) a site called Buzz Feed had an entry on Unfiltered Olive Oil on its front page and listed me as one of the 10 best links about olive oil. Woo hoo! Gave me an exponential leap in readership, I must say.

I'm flattered to say that the description of the link to me was "Everything you could possibly want to know about olive oil."

Over time, hopefully a few more categories of "Everything you could possibly want to know about [BLANK]" will be added, I just need time to research and write (and host tastings)

Thank you BuzzFeed.

Eat Fearlessly,

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Olive Oil 101 coursebook w/o addendums w/o specific examples

Click here to see all posts on this blog about olive oil

I look at the history of olive oil unromantically. So, don’t expect stories of Greek gods and goddesses and contests between Apollo and Athena. I honestly don’t care about that very much and I certainly don’t believe that many people think about that when they eat or use olive oil. I care about the history of olive oil as a way to better use and appreciate it and to add to your experience.

Understanding the path the olive tree has taken from country to country in its history has some relevance to enjoying olive oil. In seeing its path, one can see the type of environment the olive tree and its products flourish in and thus guess what countries might know a thing or two about high quality olive oil and what other countries might be able to produce olive oil. Evidence found by archaeologists and paleobotanists of the olive tree itself appears earliest in Asia Minor; pinpointing exactly where is more an invitation for argument than a rational discussion because this evidence is coming from 6000 B.C.E.

What is easier to track is how the olive tree moved and when it was cultivated on purpose—when we domesticated it and turned it from a wild tree giving fruits into a member of our garden of edible plants. 3rd millennium B.C.E. in Crete shows the first evidence of cultivation of Olea Europea. At first, the olive tree moved as foreign occupation of other peoples and lands occurred around the Mediterranean. For example, the Venetians and the Turks invading Crete took the olive tree with them as did the Romans when they occupied Spain. The Phoenicians, who occupied colonies in present-day Lebanon and Palestine cultivated it throughout the southern Mediterranean, from Tunisia and Libya up through Morocco and Algeria. The Greeks, and eventually the Romans, cultivated it throughout the northern Mediterranean. Greece brought the first olive trees to France as a token of peace to Gaul. Modern day (i.e. last few hundred years) propagation of the tree has coincided with travel by the rich and intellectual, by university students, politicians, writers, missionaries, and business people who had money and reason to travel abroad and began to live in new places for extended periods of their lives, bringing the olive tree and its oil into butter consuming cultures.

We know much of the early history because the importance of olive oil was so great that trees and oil pots needed to be counted, thus they were part of the bureaucratic writings discovered in the Mycenaean Linear B tablets. Aristotle brought cultivation of the olive tree to a science, while Sonon (639-559 B.C.E.) put into place the first laws in regard to olive trees, stating that no more than two olive trees could be felled per year in one’s olive grove and sentencing to death anyone who purposely felled a cultivated olive tree. Olive oil was used for consumption, for trade, for cleanliness, for sports, for perfumes, and for beauty. The importance of it by religions, both pagan and Christian, can not be minimalized, with its use to anoint for many rituals, including burials. Medicinally, sixty uses of it are mentioned in the Hippokratic code, including contraception, gynecology, and dermatology. “many people outside of olive oil growing regions never saw olive oil unless it was bought from the druggist for softening earwax and other medical uses.” (California Olive Oil News)

“The facts about the nutritional properties of olive oil remain undisputed. It has been

scientifically proven that extensive consumption of olive oil reduces incidences of coronary and cardiovascular disease. It is also widely believed that the antioxidant substances such as vitamins E and K and polyphenols found in olive oil provide a defence mechanism that delays ageing and prevents carcinogenesis, atherosclerosis, liver disorders and inflammations and is well tolerated by the stomach, has a beneficial effect on gastritis and ulcers. Used as a te a, the olive leaves have a relaxing effect. As a cholagogue, it activates the secretion of pancreatic hormones and bile much more naturally than prescribed drugs, which lowers the incidence of cholelithiasis. It has a positive effect on constipation, beneficial effect on the brain and nervous system and its easy digestion promotes the overall absorption of nutrients and mineral salts.” (ELEA: Producing and Consuming Olive Oil, UN conference report, 1999)

But the history of the tree itself is perhaps less important to us culinarily then the history of agriculture and irrigation and proper methods of storage. As we began to take control of more of the 16 factors that determine the taste of an oil, we started to produce better olive oil.

Gross Simplification (though true) of How Olive Oil is Made

  1. Plant or find a tree

  2. Let an olive grow

  3. Pick the olive

  4. Remove the oil from the olive

  5. Tweak the oil (blend, filter, decant, flavor, etc.)

  6. Store the oil

If we take a look at how olive oil is made, we can see that as soon as the first olive tree was found, olive oil could be produced. Pluck enough olives, crush them together into a pulp with some rocks, put the pulp in a bowl and wait long enough and voila, oil, water, and solids will separate to a point that the oil can be used. If we wanted to drift to the most traditional olive oil that existed, we probably wouldn’t enjoy it very much with our modern palates. Culinarily, tradition gives way to industrial improvements when those improvements boost flavor.

“The fruit is technically a drupe with three parts; the epidermis (epicarp) which remains green throughout the growth phase then turns purple and brown when ripe, the fleshy part (mesocarp) which contains the oil and the stone or pit (endocarp) which holds the seed.” (COOC)

16 Factors that play a part in the taste of olive oil.

What the land brings to the picture

  1. The Altitude

  2. The Soil

    1. “The amount of water required by a tree is dependent on climate, that is, how hot and dry and windy the growing season days are to cause the plants to transpire and keep themselves from burning up with drought stress. Olives are trees that are quite drought tolerant, in that they will not die if given little water, however if given insufficient water the trees will grow very slowly (taking 30+ years to reach full size instead of 10) and the fruit will be small (only a problem for table fruit). The rooting depth of your soil is the key factor for dry farmed fruit trees. Just because someplace can be dry farmed does not mean that other sites will also work. Success (growth and production of trees) is highly dependent on how much water is stored in the soil. A good rule of thumb is that most loam soils will hold about 2 inches of water per foot of rooting depth. So if you have a hillside location with 2 feet of rooting depth you will have 4 inches of water available for those trees for the whole season. If you have a deep valley soil with 5 + feet of rooting depth you will have 10 + inches of water for the season. If we get 40 inches of rain that means that all the rest ran off. An olive tree in the coastal climate of NE Santa Rosa, will require about 12 to 18 inches of water per season to be as productive as possible, that is growing well and producing large sized table fruit. For oil the trees might get by with only 10 to 16 inches. Little or no supplemental irrigation would be required to get adequate, but not maximum growth and production, if you have a deep soil. In a shallow soil, the trees would just grow very slowly, have severe alternate bearing, the fruit would be small, there might be fruit shrivel, and the fruit if used for oil, could be quite bitter.

      By the way, the amount of water available for the trees is ONLY if you allow no cover crop or weeds to steal the water first. Excellent weed control is extremely important for dry farming any crop. For 4-5 trees put 6 inches wood chips under the trees out to the drip line (or at least a 6 ft. diameter circle) to smother all the weeds and hold as much moisture in as possible”

  3. The Pests

    1. “If you are in an area where there is olive fly, you should pick the olives and destroy them to prevent over-wintering of the fly.”

    2. See note on grubby taste in olives

What the tree brings to the picture

  1. The shape and size of the tree and the amount of trees per acre

    1. “Olive trees are propagated in California several different ways, including budding or grafting onto seedling rootstocks, leafy semi-hardwood stem cuttings, and hardwood cuttings. Less commonly used techniques locally, but somewhat more common world wide include truncheons, removing rooted suckers from the crown of the tree, and ovuli. (much content courtesy Glenn T. McGourty Plant Science Advisor and County Director UCCE Mendocino County)”

    2. “Typically you get more olives as the tree gets older, not bigger olives. Olive size has more to do with crop size, watering, etc. Thinning will get you bigger olives.”

    3. “Growers were also pruning too soon in the life of the tree. Vegetative growth is important early in the life of a tree to give it a good start. Newer recommendations are for no pruning in the first 4 years of the tree's life. Pruning is one of the most costly parts of any fruit tree operation.”

  2. The variety of olive

    1. “Specific types of olives, such as the Tuscan varieties, will have higher polyphenol values. These oils are valuable in that when blended with a low polyphenol oil they will extend the shelf life by preventing rancidity.” (California Olive Oil Council)

    2. “The type of olives used for oil production may contain as much as 20% of their weight in oil. The larger varieties grown for pickling and brining often have as little as 5% oil”

    3. Specifics of this will be discussed when ads and labels are examined

  3. The age of the tree

“Here is a story of reproduction without the birds and the bees. Technically, olive trees are hermaphrodites and bear both perfect flowers (containing both male and female parts) and imperfect flowers ( with only male parts).

“Some olive varieties are capable of self-pollination while others must depend on cross-pollination with different varieties. Farmers will place "pollinator" trees in an orchard to ensure successful pollination and a good crop when the main variety is self-incompatible. Even self-compatible cultivars fruit better with a "foreign" pollinator.

“Like other life which is propagated sexually, an olive tree will have traits common to both the male and female tress which were its progenitors. If it self-pollinates, then the olive seed produced will be similar to the tree it fell off of. Olive pollen can drift in the wind for miles, so if the olive is the result of cross-pollination from a different varietal, the seed will produce a tree with mixed traits. Simply put, the fruit from your seedlings which sprout all over may be different from each other even though they came off the same tree. They should all bear fruit.

“Because of this uncertainty with seedlings, olives are propagated by cloning cuttings from the same tree.”

What the specific year brings

  1. The amount of rainfall

  2. The amount of sunshine

  3. The temperature of the season

  4. The humidity of the season

What the harvester brings

  1. The method of picking

    1. “Olives are picked by hand by rapidly drawing the fingers or a rake along the branches, quickly stripping the fruit off into nets or a bucket or with pneumatic rakes onto nets. The fruit separates where it will. You cannot possibly expect to pick each olive individually to determine where it might separate from the tree.” (COOC)

  2. The time spent off the tree before pressing

  3. The ripeness of the olives

    1. “Most olives picked earlier in the year will have more polyphenols. Olives picked later in the winter have fewer polyphenols and a more mellow taste. Polyphenol concentrations increase with fruit growth until the olives begin to turn purple then begins to decrease. Years ago farmers valued the more mellow taste and tried to wait to pick their olives but risked freezing or loss to the elements. Now the strong earlier harvest taste has become popular.” (COOC)

What the presser brings

  1. The method of removing the oil

    1. “Much is made of how the type of olive oil machinery will affect the flavor of extra virgin oil but in reality if used properly it has only a small influence. Extra virgin olive oil is made the same way with the same machinery in the US as in Italy. Only a tiny percent of the oil sold in the US is made in the US and is mostly artisanal extra virgin oil which is high in phenols.” (COOC)

    2. “Most of the olive oil consumed in the US comes from Spain and Italy, and is usually refined. These mass market oils are generally refined and low in phenols.” (COOC)

    3. “Refining takes olive oil which has already been made but which is old, rancid, was made from diseased olives or has some other sort of defect and makes it palatable. This is done by filtering, charcoal treatment, heating, and chemical treatment to adjust acidity. Refined oils are lower in tyrosol and other phenols. According to Wayne Emmons at Intertech, Extra Virgin Olive oil typically has 50-80 ppm polyphenols while refined oil has only 5 ppm.”

    4. “Polyphenols and other primarily water soluble components make the olive [fruit] bitter. When the oil is separated from the paste, the bitter substances are left behind in the fruit water and pulp.”

    5. There is about 1 tablespoon of olive oil (and about 120 calories) in: 40 small ripe black olives, 20 jumbo ripe black olives, 7 super colossal ripe black olives. 1 liter = 67 tablespoons so 1 liter of olive oil: 2680 small, 1340 jumbo, 469 super colossal. The average tree produces 33 to 44 pounds of olives per year. Olives weigh an average of 3.51 ± 0.49 grams, so an average tree has about 23,880 olives or 8.91 liters for a small bearing tree, 17.82 liters for a jumbo bearing tree, and 50.92 liters for a super colossal bearing tree, with a lot of leeway from tree to tree.

    6. “When oil was primarily produced with hydraulic presses, the pit fragments were important in keeping the olive paste on the mats. Today most large oil producers use centrifugal machinery and the pit provides no particular advantage or disadvantage to the processing.

      There are olive oil companies which pit the olives before extracting the oil. They claim a better tasting oil but in California these oils have not distinguished themselves in blind competitions such as the L.A. county fair.” (COOC)

What the aftermarket brings

  1. The method of storage (before and after bottling)

    1. “As oil sits in storage tanks or the bottle, the polyphenols will slowly be oxidized and used up. If you want an oil with more polyphenols, buy one that displays a date guaranteeing that it is fresh and that has been stored properly.”

    2. “Like most fruit, olives have waxes on their epidermis (epicarp) to protect them from insects, desiccation and the elements. These natural waxes are what allow an apple to be shined. If an oil is sent to a cold climate or will be used in a product like salad dressing where it will be stored in the refrigerator, it is often "winterized". The oil is chilled and filtered to remove the waxes and stearates. A standard test to determine if olive oil has been sufficiently winterized is to put it in an ice water bath (32 degree F) for 5 hours. No clouding or crystals should occur. Oil which has not been winterized will clump and form needle-like crystals at refrigerator temperatures as the longer chain fats and waxes in the oil congeal, but the oil will not usually harden completely unless chilled further. Some olive varieties form waxes which produce long thin crystals, others form waxes which congeal into rosettes, slimy clumps, clouds, a swirl of egg white like material, or white sediment which the consumer may fear represents spoilage. These visual imperfections may form outside the refrigerator during the winter when oil is exposed to cold temperatures during transport. Chilling or freezing olive oil does no harm and the oil will return to its normal consistency when warmed. The ideal temperature to store olive oil to reduce oxidation but to avoid clouding is around 50 degrees F.”

    3. “It is a source of great irritation to the U.S. olive oil industry that our government does not have much at all in the way of labeling laws concerning olive oil. U.S. producers have come up with our own label - The COOC seal; which follows international olive oil council grading guidelines. Producers are encouraged to also date their oil, although few do and there is no standard dating code. Look on the label for a date. Remember that most olives are picked in the late fall or winter and are sold the next year, so 2002 oil will be the freshest available until early 2004 when 2003 oil will come on the market.

      Shelf life is very variable, depending on the olive variety, ripeness when pressed, care in processing, filtering, etc. It also depends on storage after it has left the producer, something they have no control of, so it is hard to "guarantee" a certain lifespan.

      Lifespan can be as little as 3 months for an unfiltered late harvest olive bottled in clear glass and sold off a supermarket shelf above hot deli foods which is then stored by the consumer in bright light on a hot stovetop with the cap unscrewed. It can be as much as 3-4 years for an early harvest, high polyphenol containing olive variety which has been filtered then packaged in a well sealed tin or dark bottle then stored in a cool dark place by the grocer and consumer.” (COOC)

  2. The age of the oil

    1. “A two year old olive oil may taste rancid to some while others don't mind it. Most people would be put off by the taste of any vegetable oil more than 4-5 years old. Rancid oil has fewer antioxidants but is not poisonous. A good percentage of the world's population routinely eat rancid oil because of lack of proper storage conditions and some actually prefer the taste. In historical times olives which had dropped to the ground or which may have spoiled were made into olive oil which was stored in open-mouthed earthenware vats. Practices like these encouraged rancidity. People have come to expect non-rancid oil in the past 50 years because of chemical refining and better production and storage methods.” (COOC)

Let’s talk labels. We’re going to examine 2 ads and 2 labels, identifying the key points and how they relate to the 16 factors. This is where discussion of a few examples of specific varieties will occur, as well as introduction of PDO and PGI designations.


“Oils labeled as "lite" or "light" refer to flavor, not caloric content, as all vegetable oils have the same amount of calories. Theoretically "light" could refer to an excellent extra virgin oil made from olives picked late in the year but usually it signifies a flavorless low quality (refined) oil from Italy or Spain.” (COOC)


If you want an oil high in polyphenols, pick one that is guaranteed to be extra virgin (has the COOC seal if produced in the US), is from the current harvest season and that has been properly stored. Some varieties have high polyphenols; Frantoio, Lucca, etc.

Cooking and Uses


“You could bake with just about any olive oil. Use a mellow oil for a sweeter taste or try a pungent Tuscan style oil for a bread with more of an Italian character.” (COOC)


“Olive oil is a great oil for cooking. Strong flavored olive oils can be used for frying fish or other strong flavored ingredients. A mellow late harvest Mission variety oil could be used in baking a cake. Olive oil has a high smoke point, 410 degrees F, and doesn't degrade as quickly as many other oils do with repeated high heating. Use a variety of healthy vegetable oils when preparing food and incorporate a good extra virgin olive oil when you want its health benefits and wonderful Mediterranean flavor…. Polyphenols are stubborn substances which do not degrade easily with heat. You cannot refine oil by heating on the stove. ” (Charles Quest-Ritson)

“The conventional wisdom is that soft, gentle oils are best light-flavored foods because stronger flavors can overwhelm the taste of the oil so that only its texture remains perceptible.” “ (Charles Quest-Ritson)


The major tastes of olive oil

“The delicate flavor of quality extra virgin olive oil is related to the presence of a large number of chemical compounds. These flavor compounds comprise aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons, aliphatic and triterpenic alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, esters, furan and thiophene derivatives. Over 100 such compounds have been identified which, as a whole, contribute to the distinctive organoleptic characteristics which make extra virgin olive oil so select. These aroma compounds form part of the unsaponifiable fraction, which makes up about 1% of the oil. These tastes and fragrances derive from compounds like hexanal (green, grassy), trans-2-hexenal (green, bitter), 1-hexanol and 3-methylbutan-1-ol, which are the major volatile compounds of olive oil. Many of these flavor compounds decompose if temperatures during milling exceed 30°C. Thus the importance of “cold pressing”. “ (COOC)

“Many studies have been done to try to predict a flavor profile based on an oil's chemistry. In "The Handbook of Olive Oil" by Harwood and Arapicio they cite studies done by the authors which show that aglycons are responsible for the bitter and pungent sensory attribute, as well as tyrosol and possibly alpha-tocopherol. The phenols are related to astringent attributes. It is probably the combination of bitterness and astringency that causes the cough.” (COOC)

The largest determinants of olive oil flavor are variety of olive and time of harvest.

Positive aspects


  1. fresh tasting, like fruits or vegetables. Lively & attractive


  1. Usually felt on the back of the tongue and the throat.

  2. “hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol are some of the many phenol compounds in olive oil that contribute to bitter taste, astringency, and resistance to oxidation.” (COOC)


  1. Hot sensation associated with modern oils pressed from immature olives (may even induce one to cough). Often not sensed immediately, but in the aftertaste of the oil. – “Gary Beauchamp and other chemists published a September 1, 2005 article in Nature which shows that Oleocanthol, the pungent compound in some oils which creates a stinging sensation in the throat, has similar properties to anti-inflammatory compounds such as ibuprofen.” (COOC)

Tactile sensations (e.g. throat-catching, astringent, metallic, peppery)

Simple taste sensations (sweet or bitter (don’t really have salty or sour))

More complex positive tastes (grassy [characteristic of young oils made from semimature olives], artichoke, green apple, green banana, tomato, green tea, beans, avocado, guava, cinnamon, pepper, almond [associated with oils made from fully ripe olives], toasted almond, pine nut [most oils acquire a nutty taste as they age], catty, malt, butter

Direct aroma (floral, perfumed, confectionery)

Negative sensations (rancid [result of oxidation. Put some oil in a glass for a week on a sunny windowsill to recognize this], winey/vinegary [caused by anaerobic fermentation of the olives], musty [caused by bacteria and fungi infecting badly stored olives], muddy [oil will turn putrid when the sediment left in it begins to decay], flat [caused by heating the paste during processing], dirty [oil taken from olives that have fallen to the ground], metallic [from contact with metals], grubby [a dirtiness associated with olives infested with olive-fly larvae, a common failing in badly managed groves]) (from Charles Quest-Ritson)

Exercise for the class: Associate defects in the olive oil to the factors among the 16 that causes them.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Cameras on the food world

The proliferation of webcams has invaded not just bedrooms and living rooms of private individuals, but now is popping up all over the food world. I had posted earlier about a camera trained on a wheel of cheese as it ages. Here's one 24 hour camera trained on a coffee roaster. Why? Who knows. I'm going to try to collect more food webcams.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Olive Oil 101.04 - How to taste

When a customer comes into the store and tries to taste olive oil, it is not my job to tell them how they should eat their food. If they want to gulp down a bite of each oil in rapid succession, soaking just a corner of a larger piece of bread, that is perfectly fine. Zingerman's is there to give them whatever experience they most want--we're the Disneyland of artisanal flavors.

However, if a customer comes to a tasting, they want that experience; they want to learn how to most optimally taste or most optimally use a particular food. So, here's how you most optimally taste olive oil:

1. Pour a little olive oil in a brandy snifter or a really thin shotglass.
2. Hold the glass in your hand so that you can heat the oil with one hand.
3. Cover the mouth of the glass with your other hand (this is to capture all the aromas you can)
4. Start swirling the oil (this helps both to speed up the warming process and to release more aroma)
5. Just enjoy the moment and the anticipation as you take about a minute to warm the oil to the temperature of your body.
6. Bring the glass to your nose and inhale, smelling and noting the smells. Associate them to other foods and smells in your life. Enjoy the smells separately and together.
7. Drink the oil, keeping it in your mouth. Hold the oil in your mouth and experience it. Feel it. Note its mouthfeel, its texture, its tastes.
8. Most of taste is paired with your olfactory nerves, so smile widely; touch the tip of your tongue to the hard palate of your mouth so as to cause the oil to pool on both sides of your tongue; inhale sharply so as to bubble air through the oil pools; and swallow (spit first if you prefer)
9. Exhale through your nose after you swallow, so more olfactory nerves are stimulated.

Note all of the aromas and flavors. Use your own words or try to identify the flavors using a tasting wheel. The one I've linked to was developed by Richard Gawel and is called a Recognoze wheel:

Gawel explains his motivation behind undertaking the project. "Finding the right terms to describe complex foods such as olive oil is a difficult task. Known as the 'tip of the nose' phenomenon, it is very common for someone to recognize an aroma or flavor, although they are unable to find the correct term to describe it. Having access to a structured and comprehensive list of descriptors can greatly assist them in finding the right terms to accurately describe the olive oil" explains Gawel.

The use of the 'wheel' format whereby descriptive terms are listed around its perimeter, with similar aromas and tastes being adjacent to each other, was inspired by the success of the now famous Wine Aroma Wheel developed at the University of California, Davis.

The 72 terms fall into the main olive oil sensory classes of herbaceous, fruity, fragrant, spicy, nutty, dried, defects, tactile and taste. Their selection was based on how frequently experienced olive oil tasters are perceived to use them, as well as their occurrence in the olive oil tasting literature. Gawel explains that "some descriptors such as 'buttery', 'nutty' and 'grassy' are commonly used in that they define specific oil styles. Others are varietal. Examples include the 'perfumed' character of the Tuscan variety Frantoio, and the 'tomato leaf' character found in the Spanish varieties Picual and Nevadillo Blanco. Others would seem rather unusual with the 'malt' like character found in some oils made from the Italian variety, Leccino, and the 'cat wee' and 'crushed ant or formic' character found in some very ripe oils."

Olive Oil 101 page of ads to discuss

Clear, intensely green, this filtered Tuscan has a fruity, well-rounded and spicy taste, reminiscent of fresh olives; aroma has hints of artichoke and pepper. Using Frantoio, Moraiolo, and Leccino olive varieties, the Frescobaldi family has produced olive oils and wines since the Middle Ages, and this oil was awarded Outstanding Olive Oil at the 2001 New York Fancy Food Show, and rated #1 Tuscan oil in 1997 by Wine Spectator.. Estate produced from the hills of Chianti Ruffina

Olive Oil 101.03

It is very simple to think about olive oil. The text of a good course in olive oil could be reduced to a single page, two if you want to provide the historical perspective on olive oil. The bulk that would make up the text of a good Olive Oil 101 book would be the supplying of definitions to many of the terms used within the text. In addition, the supplying of examples would make up a good bulk as well. The basic text, though, would read as follows this paragraph. This website shall be the course syllabus. The class would include interaction with an instructor. The fee will be decided later, but I see this as a viable way to provide a service to people that is worth paying for. The class would be made even more amazing because while you were taking it, you would be eating the foods being talked about as examples. Taste would be a major component of the class.

The simplest way of understanding olive oil is to think of it as grape juice. Really. Olive oil is as close to grape juice as, say cherry juice is to grape juice. A cherry and an olive are the same type of fruit, it's called a drupe.

Wine, as obscure as it actually may be to the general population, is still something that is widely appreciated. The variations that come from different varieties of grape, lend the same characteristic differences to olive oils (whether monocultivar or blended) Blended olive oils are often blended in order to avoid the varied yearly outputs of an olive tree. But because sugar is not present in the juice of an olive, olive juice is not sweet, but savory like a vegetable juice. Thinking of it as a vegetable will help reshape your attitude toward it such that it is much easier to work with in the kitchen. on a culinary level, it should be treated like a food or like a spice or like a little bit of both; rather than a medium in which to cook other food.

All of the fourteen following factors can play a part in the taste of an olive oil:

• Variety of olive (this varies from one geographic region to another. Some varieties are known as super-cultivars and are widely used worldwide.)
• The date of the olive harvest; early when the olive isn't technically ripe or later in the season when it has reached the heights of maturity.
• the soil
• the amount of rain and sunshine the crop received, and when
• the temperature of the season
• the altitude
• the humidity of the season
• the care taken in cultivation (this is vital)
• the use of pesticide and the amount of pests that season
• the density of the trees
• the age of the trees
• the method of storage
• the age of the oil

The main components which differentiate one olive oil from another olive oil are best seen in this ad,

Gourmet Extra Virgin Olive Oil Half Liter Bottle (about 17 oz). Grown, pressed and bottled 100% in Sicily. Hand picked, cold pressed, non-genetically modified. Made from a single olive variety of "Biancolilla" from a single estate.

USE: A milder fruitness makes "Biancolilla" evoo the ideal companion for the most delicate dishes, salads and fish.

Let's separate each separate component out into a table:

Extra Virgin (note that Extra Virgin is one of a slew of other things that determine the flavor characteristics of olive juice, but it is important enough that if an oil isn't extre virgin you just shouldn't buy it. Pure olive oil can be cooked with if you want the same results as canola oil or soybean oil. But it is a cooking oil and that is where it must always be relegated if you are to preserve the vibrant taste of a dish. A heated, highly refined oil with little hint of aroma, color, or solids does not belong among the palette of taste experiences you have available to you in life.

Gourmet (as pompous as that sounds, it serves to separate this extra virgin olive oil from an olive oil that is extra virgin by greater than mechanical means)

Half Liter Bottle (this would be a good time to talk about storage)

Grown, pressed and bottled 100% in Sicily (this is where one geographic region has developed its own tradition and style behind the making of olive oil, it could be said that this is where the style of the artisan shows through)

Hand picked (this is to ensure that bruises and wounds aren't inflicted on the olives, because a damaged olive will rapidly oxidize)

cold pressed (the warmer the olive when pressed, the more oil which can be extracted from it. Yet when the olive is too hot, the cooked oil will lose much of its flavor, thus this is also a minimum requirement of good olive oil)

non-genetically modified (all of the world's oldest crops have fallen prey to our scientific instincts. Whether wheat, soybean, corn, or olive, industry has solved many problems, yet stripped away many tastes and experiences.)

single olive variety (this becomes another art of the presser, akin to the skill of the distiller of a single-malt scotch or the blender of Canadian whiskies._

"Biancolilla" (this would be a good time to taste two monocultivar olive oils from Sicily, one from Nocellara (actually Nocellara des Belize) olives and the other from Biancolilla olives.

from a single estate (which can be even more tightly restricted, specifying a region of an estate)

milder fruitness (this is when tasting the olive oil would really be vital to the experience)

companion for the most delicate dishes, salads and fish (remember olive oil is a savory vegetable, use it that way. In the same way one wouldn't slice up ginger and toss it on top of some delicate cheese that would be lost in ginger's wake, one wouldn't drizzle a robust and peppery oil onto a delicate fish. But as one might grate a bit of ginger onto a spicy, grilled Thai dish, one would drizzle that same oil onto a spicy tomato soup.)