Monday, 18 November 2013

For the Love of Olive Oil

There's no denying the weather here in Tuscany has got colder and although we have the odd warm sunny day, it's all looking too much like winter is finally on it's way.

On the bright side this also means that in the countryside the beautiful, grey leaved olive trees are bursting with their little bitter fruit. This has been a reasonably good year and the trees are promising a great harvest which also means that the olive oil which will come from these year's olives will be a good yield. In simpler words, lots and lots of delicious, peppery extra virgin olive oil!

As I have mentioned before on some of our previous posts, my husband's family owns a lovely farm on the tuscan hills and on it grow several hundred olive trees which every year provide enough olive oil for the whole family and loyal clients for the entire year.  In Italy having good quality olive oil is essential as it is the one ingredient which is at the base of just about every recipe and no family would ever want to find themselves short.

The most precious is without doubt, the new, extra virgin, cold pressed oil which guarantees all of the beneficial properties of the olives themselves. New olive oil can only be considered "new" if used within the first year after the day of pressing, every day after that the oil slowly oxidises and begins to lose its wonderful fragrance and spicy, peppery taste as well as its world renowned dietry benefits.

Like the grape harvest, the olive picking is primarily done by family and friends and depending on the size of the farm, helpers are employed to make sure the olives are picked as quickly as possible and brought to press in the shortest time (preferably on the same day!) in order for the olives to preserve all their quality and richness. Considering the importance of having good olive oil at home, most helpers, of course, ask to be paid in oil!

Despite the hard work, it is a really fun time and even the youngest in the family can help "comb" the olives off the trees making it in my opinion a wonderful tradition.  It is a true learning experience as children can then see the fruit of their work when they later drizzle their own oil over their pasta!!

Once the olives are picked, they are brought to one of  the local presses.  The demand for pressing is such that one may well find themselves doing the night turn, which means staying up all night at the press waiting for your very own batch of olives to be squeezed and crushed into the rich, dark, almost luminous green oil.

Watching olives being pressed is amazing, the loud sounds of the machinery and the chatter among the farmers inside the building mixed with the strong, delicious smell of freshly pressed olive oil is something everyone who appreciates this product should experience at least once.  In fact last year my sister Natasha brought her family to see it all for themselves and although my nieces found it a bit too "noisy" they loved dipping their hands in the piles of freshly picked olives and munching on Tuscan bread softened with the brand new olive oil.


Even before the Mediterranean diet became Heritage of UNESCO in 2010, olive oil which is a fundamental part of this diet, has acquired huge popularity and it can be found just about everywhere around the world.  It is important to remember though that the best quality olive oil is usually jealously treasured by the producers themselves and in Italy this is certainly the case. Most oil found on the shelves at your local supermarket will have been filtered before bottling to take away the cloudy residue which settles at the bottom of the bottle (which is part of the goodness!) and is most certainly long past it's optimal "new" stage. In other words, you are not always being sold the same olive oil the Italians are using to dress their yummy pasta! Yep, that's why at home it just doesn't taste the same!

 It is very difficult, therefore to find guaranteed "new" extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil in the foreign market. For those of you who are not sure of the difference between this wonderful olive oil and that which you find in the shops back at home, it's all a case of trying it! As they rightly say, the proof is in the tasting and luckily for you at G&M we are giving you the chance to check it out for yourselves. With our pantry section about to be inaugurated  with some delicious, freshly pressed, extra virgin olive oil as the star product!