Sunday, March 04, 2007

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.)