Friday, July 10

Olive Oil 101

Olive Oil 101

by Jason

Olive oil is used in everything in Italy! In the kitchen of course, but also can be used to coat squeaky hinges, fix equipment & cure many ailments. We live in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains so its a bit too cold to grow olives in our area however Cartoceto just a bit closer to the Adriatic Sea is famous for its fantastic olive oil.

I use 3 different types of olive oil in the kitchen

Number one - the every day good olive oil - its extra virgin, cold pressed unfiltered from Umbria. I buy this in 5 litre jugs and it’s excellent. It’s not very acidic or green in flavor, thus not overpowering in taste.

The second I use to finish dishes, this is our local olive oil from Cartoceto. It’s got a bit more bite to it, but not peppery. A beautiful color. This is used to finish a pasta dish or top a crostini - just when you need a drizzle.

The third I use for frying, sautéing & when lots of heat is added to the oil. For this I buy an economical name brand, extra virgin from the grocery store.

We are extremely lucky, we live in Italy, so olive oil, good olive oil, is found cheaper here than anything you can find in the States. For example, my ‘every day oil’ (which is better than anything I used in the States) is 7,50 Euro a liter. A bottle of extra virgin olive oil in the grocery store is 2,99 Euro! I once read that a family of four is expected to go through at least a litre of olive oil a week. It is part of everyday life.

How do I use my olive oils? Liberally.

It goes into almost everything. When I make an antipasta of raw vegetables (for example thinly sliced zucchini with just a drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper) where there are very few ingredients & nothing is being cooked, I’ll use the ‘good stuff.’ If I’m sautéing veggies in a pan, my ‘everyday olive oil’ is perfect. And the fried zucchini blossoms get dunked in a more economical oil. This, I realize is not practical for most people. I would suggest using a normal store bought as your everyday bottle & spending a little money on something nice to finish your dishes. It doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money on oil you are going to cook with. And you really never want to heat good olive oil.

If you are going to go out & spend twenty or thirty dollars on a bottle of oil you should be able to taste the oil first. I prefer bottles that are not very acidic or green tasting. But its really what you prefer. When you have an oil tasting, as with wine you can really taste the differences in all of them, from peppery to almost buttery & smooth. Each oil has it’s own personality & uniqueness. Remember the most expensive bottle is not necessarily the best and the fancy label & packaging doesn’t make it taste any better either.

As far as making dressings with oils, be careful because if you use a strongly flavored oil, it can be bitter in some cases. For me, the best salad dressing ever is a drizzle of olive oil, little vinegar & a crack of salt & pepper.

Olive oil doesn’t really like air or light when stored. Keep it in the cupboard in a bottle with an airtight lid if you are going to go through it slowly.

A good olive oil story…

This past fall we drove into Umbria to Citta di Castello for a Slow Food & White Truffle Festival. We ended up in a sample heaven of fresh pressed extra virgin olive oils! Ashley found it her duty to thoroughly try & retry each oil! It was a great way to taste the differences in over 20 different local oils. As we made our way around the room dunking hunks of bread into saucers filled with pools of the cloudy green life blood of Italy, in a room filled with frescos on the ceiling & admiring Italians arguing over which oil is best, we could taste fall and easily understand how these people are so passionate for the oil of an olive.

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