Olive Oil – The Essence Of The Italian Diet

Years ago, growing up in England, olive oil was something we used a few times a year when we had guests over to impress. Unless you were prepared to pay a King’s Ransom the olive oil on sale was pretty basic and tasteless.  Fast forward a few years and I treat olive oil the same as wine, with respect and enjoyment. Here in Le Marche, we are blessed to be surrounded by olive groves. The olive tree is a dominant and enduring feature of the Italian landscape, and the months of October and November are spent picking and pressing the olives and trimming the trees.

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The olive tree ranges in size from a small shrub to an immense, gnarled tree, spreading it’s branches far and wide. It yields both fruit for eating, as well as a rich prize of precious olio di oliva, the basis of the so-called Mediterranean diet. Olive oil, and especially olio extra vergine di oliva (extra virgin olive oil) is certainly one of the greatest gifts Italy gives to the world. Olive oil is widely considered a superfood, being both very healthy and utterly delicious. No surprise, then, that it fits in so well with today’s modern lifestyles and diets.

A Few Facts

The traditional production of this trendy modern superfood has changed little since time immemorial and essentially remains a very simple process. The olives are harvested and ideally taken to the frantoio – the olive oil mill – as quickly as possible. The first phase is known as la frangitura whereby the whole olives are ground to a paste. 

In the old style traditional frantoio, this was done utilising slowly revolving granite and stone millstones. Then the ground olive paste was layered into straw or fibre mats placed on top of each other in a press. Extra virgin oil would come from la prima spremitura fredda,  the first cold pressing, whereby under gentle pressure, the liquid was extracted from the olive paste. This liquid consisted of both oil and water contained within the olives. The liquids had to be separated and this was normally achieved either by using a centrifuge or simply by decanting.

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In modern state of the art frantoi, technology is now used to make sure we get the best possible product.  Producers have full control of the whole process, modern machines are used, leaving no room for a second pressing. In modern systems the label “first press” is often more of a marketing tool than a real reflection of the production methods.

In both cases, the old style frantoi and the modern ones, the olive oil produced after these important phases is unfiltered olio extra vergine d’oliva, extremely low in oleic acid (by law less than 1%) and traditionally stored in large earthenware urns known as orci or in modern stainless steel containers. Such oil, when made from carefully harvested olives and straight from the frantoio, is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most special food products on earth.

Top Tips

  1. KEEP AWAY FROM THE LIGHT – Extra virgin olive oil should be stored at cool temperatures, away from light and without exposure to oxygen. The oil is happier stored in dark glass bottles or tin containers and always close the bottle as soon as you finish using it. Keep it in a cupboard and it will prolong the taste.
  2. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL DOES NOT AGE WELL –Check the date on the bottle and make sure you are getting oil produced during the last harvest. Buy only the quantity you might need for the year to make sure you are not stuck with old olive oil when the new oil is out on the shelves.
  3. GREEN COLOUR DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MEAN TOP QUALITY – The most emphasized characteristics of extra virgin olive oil is often the colour.  It should range between green and yellow. However, a deep green colour does not automatically indicate a better quality oil. The professional olive oil tasters use blue or green coloured tasting glasses so not to influence their final judgment. Focus on taste, smell and acidity levels rather than colour when buying extra virgin olive oil.
  4. FIRST PRESS AND COLD PRESS – Remember that quite often the label “first press” is only a marketing tool and does not really mean that there were two different pressing phases. Extra virgin olive oil must be produced entirely without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil (less than 86°F, 30°C). If it was not produced “cold press” it cannot be extra virgin olive oil. 

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10 Reasons To Love ‘Liquid Gold’

  • Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats.
  • Contains large amounts of antioxidants.
  • Strong anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Olive may help to prevent strokes.
  • Protects against heart disease.
  • May reduce the risk Type 2 diabetes.
  • The antioxidants in olive oil have anti-cancer properties.
  • Can help treat rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Has antibacterial properties.
  • May help fight Alzheimer’s disease.

A Little Beauty Hack – Olive Oil Hair Mask

One of my favourites…

  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1 egg yolk

Just mix together all the ingredients to a smooth paste.  Apply to your hair and leave on for twenty minutes. Wash off with warm water and then apply your favourite conditioner, rinse again, dry and admire.

For more information on Le Marche and fractional ownership opportunities  with Appassionata’s Italian lifestyle brand go to www.appassionata.com , or contact Dawn directly dc@appassionata.com.

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