For centuries, the culture of olive oil consumption in the Mediterranean agricultural civilization was extremely high. However, for all that, it would be wrong to assume that this trend has remained unchanged throughout its gastronomic history. This can be clearly seen in the example of Italy.
According to the cookbooks of the 14th century, the alternation of olive oil and lard was quite typical for most of the Italic territories. For a long time, olive oil was always available only for the nobility. This circumstance was primarily due to the fact that it was sold abroad and was then much more expensive than grain. Two centuries later, the court kitchen again, to the detriment of olive oil, was carried away by butter. True, this applies to a lesser extent to the Tuscan region, in which the olive ole has traditionally remained a specialty. The reason for this was in no small measure the fashion of the time. At that time, everything that oozed with fat was considered tasty, and everything that had fullness was the standard of perfection. On the contrary, thinness was the lot of the rabble.
Some changes took place in the 16th century, when the production and consumption of olive oil in the Mediterranean increased significantly due to its use for domestic needs: lamps, lamps, in the manufacture of soap and woolen fabrics.
But even at the end of the 19th century, olive oil was still being replaced by butter, which caused a lot of annoyance among olive growers. The situation changed dramatically only in the second half of the 20th century, when, thanks to the Mediterranean diet invented by American doctors and advertised by journalists, the popularity of olive oil increased unheard of.
Today, the countries producing high-quality olive oil are, first of all, Italy, Spain, Greece and France (Provence and the southern part of the Rhone), which also retained its centuries-old traditions in the production of olive oil, even though it is much inferior to its neighbors in volumes products. This is followed by Israel, Turkey, Cyprus and a number of countries of the American continent.
Made in Italy
It is believed that “the olei unites this country like a banner.” Therefore, the criteria for the quality of olive oil are particularly high. The best and most aromatic is freshly made, unfiltered, young, obtained from a mixture of ripe olives and a small proportion of green olives. In the best farms for the production of the best cold-pressed olive oil – spremuta a freddo – only an hour elapses between the time of harvest and the pressing of the olives. For this, the olives are harvested exclusively by hand from the trees. The fruits that have fallen to the ground are no longer used for oil production.
Extra virgin oil – olio extra vergine di oliva is also considered worthy. It is made from selected olives and contains less than 1% oleic acid (ideally 0.2–04%, this determines the taste and aroma of the product). Tuscany and Umbria are famous for this oil, where, in the old fashioned way, its squeezing sometimes takes place in traditional stone presses.
For the best olive oils in Italy, two categories have been specially introduced to guarantee their place of origin: IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) and DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta). The first provides that some of the operations can be performed outside the designated geographic area. The second is that all operations for the production of the product, from growing olives to filling into packaging containers, are carried out in one region, observing local traditions. Another label – BIO – means that this olive oil is environmentally friendly. For its production, olives were used, grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, collected by hand. The packaging of the product must also be environmentally friendly.
In this area of Italy, an olive trees can be found everywhere. More than 80 species of this noble plant are cultivated here, but the most common are, without a doubt, just a few of them: Frantoio, Leccino, Moraiolo, Maurino, Leccio del Corno, Pendolino and Correggiolo. Freshly produced extra virgin olive oil has an intense green color that tends to turn yellowish over time while maintaining light green tones. Its aroma contains fresh and vegetable tones and a spicy, bitter finish in the aftertaste. The organoleptic parameters of the Tuscan olive oil are usually excellently balanced. This feature, which brought him worldwide fame, gave the oil the status of universal, which gets along well with many dishes: from classic vegetable soups and meats to raw vegetables and cheese.
As good as it gets!
One of the leading Tuscan olive oil producers, Giuseppe Grappolini, claims that this amazing product must be approached as responsibly as the choice of wine: “There is no just oil, just as there is no just wine. Both that, and another bear the seal of masters, estates, is inseparable from the regions that gave life to the fruits. ” No wonder the freshly squeezed oil reminds connoisseurs of Beaujolais Nouveau wines, and the picual olives grown (specifically in the mountainous, not flat) regions of Spain taste similar to the Sauvignon Blanc grape.
The history of the most prestigious Italian oil from Tuscany – hot, herbal and heavy – is as long and prestigious as the history of Chianti. It is no coincidence that outstanding producers of collection wines in this area make no less outstanding olive oil. This is why the olei produced by the renowned wineries Badia Cоltibuono, Frescobaldi, San Felice and Castello Banfi are as eagerly hunted by collectors as they are for their great wines.
Is it any wonder that at one of the annual blind tastings of olive oils from around the world, held in Bordeaux, at the Château Brenair, 100 bottles of the best olive ole Villa Marga Gran Cru from Tuscan producers Frantoio Franci were replaced by 100 bottles of the great Château Latour, Château Lafite , Cheval Blanc and Pétrus.
Spain, which produces the largest amount of olive oil in the world, also has the right to lay claim to gourmet interest. Recently, their attention has been focused on the latest peep of gastromod – an assemblage olive oil, created on the basis of the “Cornicabra” cultivated in Castile, which is inherent in the taste of tropical fruits and freshly cut grass, as well as a rather rare but extremely rich in taste “arbequina” 100% of the perfectly balanced La Boella Premium, which, according to experts, is distinguished by the fruity aromas of ripe olives, apples and bananas, as well as a sweet and slightly tart almond flavor. The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture has repeatedly recognized La Boella as the country’s first olive oil, and the German magazine Der Feinschmecker included it among the best in the world. No less excellent is the olei produced by the famous Spanish wine house Torres.
Connoisseurs of Greek olive oil state unequivocally that “they will never exchange it for anything else.” The centuries-old olive groves in Greece are a special pride for many families. They are inherited as real heirlooms.
Of course, here too, each olive oil has its own table of ranks. Extra virgin oil in Greek is called “exeretico partheno eleolado”. The best is the Agureleo olive oil, squeezed from green, unripe olives. It is distinguished by its grassy green color and an incomparable fresh olive aroma. The most famous producers of Greek olive oil are three regions: the Peloponnese, Crete and Lesvos.
Greece also produces one of the most expensive olive oils in the world – the Lambda brand. 500 ml of this product costs 54 dollars, but this is not the limit. It is worth paying attention to the extra virgin olei produced on the island of Crete since 1632 by the monks at the Agia Triada monastery. Olives are harvested in the olive groves of this monastery from olive trees that are more than 500 years old. Be that as it may, but true connoisseurs of olive oil are unanimous that bad Greek olive oil simply does not exist! One of the reasons for this statement is that Greek oil, in comparison with the same Spanish, does not contain bitter shades and even when fried shows a richer and more harmonious taste.
The olive oil produced in Tunisia is worth mentioning not only because it is considered one of the best in the world and more than half of it comes from the highest grades, but also because of its rarity. This African country has 190 million olive trees of nearly 100 varieties! One of the distinctive features of Tunisian oil is its low acidity, which is “formed” by the unique soil and climatic conditions. By the way, the terroir for olive trees is just as essential as for the vine.