"If an olive oil producer tells you he runs out of oil, this is not a bad sign. It actually means he does not mix it in order to sell more..." This is one of the countless tips that Nonno Luigi taught me since I was a child. The popular culture in Puglia is full of these useful bits of advice.
I do believe that in these days (more than ever) it is important to have some basic knowledge about olive oil. Not just in order to recognise the quality of a product but mainly to protect ourselves (and our health) from the increasing amount of adulterated (and intoxicated) olive oil we often find in the big distribution.
Olive oil (and when I talk about 'olive oil' I always refer to 'extra virgin') is the basic element of the Mediterranean diet: the first and the last ingredient of a recipe. It can be as healthy and tasty as toxic and disgusting: the point is to be able to recognise a good product from a fraud. How?
1. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CHEAP EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Let’s start with the basics: You need 100 Kg of olives to produce 15 litres of pure extra virgin olive oil. Considering all the work needed to take care of the trees, work the soil and harvest the olives the math is quite easy. Whatever is below 8/9 euro per litre cannot be trusted.
2. CAREFULLY READ THE LABEL
The label must be clear, readable and precise. Avoid labels indicating 'Olives from EU' or 'Made in Italy' without specifying the specific place of production.
3. SLIGHTLY BITTER, PUNGENT AND SPICY
The taste test: Good olive oil is often slightly bitter, pungent and spicy. It’s not always smooth and easy going. The intense flavour actually indicates the presence of high levels of polyphenols, those antioxidant plant compounds which make olive oil so good for you. If the olive oil "burns" a bit in the back of your throat it is actually a good sign.
4. NO COLD PRESSING? NO PARTY
Always choose an olive oil made with "cold pressing" (spremitura a freddo). This means that the olives were pressed without being warmed up. This method indicates that no heat or chemical additives (which can alter and destroy the flavours and aromas of the olive oil) were used to extract the oil from the olives. Without adding heat to the processing, the olive oil also retains its full nutritional value.
5. BUY IT IN DARK GREEN GLASS OR CANS. PLASTIC BOTTLES? NO THANKS
Buy extra virgin olive oil only in dark green glass bottles or in cans. In this way, you will be sure the product preserves its essential nutrients. You can pour the olive oil in any sort of container once you open the original package but it is always advisable to keep it in a cupboard, in the dark. Please avoid plastic containers!!! Plastic is too porous to provide adequate protection from light, heat, or moisture; additionally, small molecules in plastics can leak into the oil further diminishing its quality.
6. 3L OR 5L CANS: LESS MONEY, LESS WASTE, LONGER TASTE
Buy 3l or 5l cans. My grandparents in Puglia have a 30l tank in their garage, and refill it annually. Why? The more olive oil you buy, the cheaper you pay per litre. Sometimes you find in shops 0.25l bottles of olive oil...you basically pay more for the bottle and label than the liquid inside. With a tank, you can save money and you also produce less waste: you can recycle the cans (for example I use them for house gardening). Metal containers are perfect for maintaining the olive oil, so don't worry if you don't use it so often. Good olive oil can be kept for at least 18 months...I'm sure you will use it all.
7. KNOW WHERE THE PRODUCT COMES FROM
I know, nowadays with globalisation and open borders it is impossible to track down the real origin of certain products and sometimes the label does not help. Only buy olive oil from trusted producers/retailers. Avoid brands from the big distribution and give priority to smaller producers. Ask questions, look up information and go for the ones that give you (and why not, shows you) how the product is done. Making pure extra virgin olive oil is not only a business, it is culture.
I hope you find these tips useful in order to find a good (and healthy) olive oil that matches your taste and needs. If you love tasty and pure extra virgin olive oil and you really would like to know exactly where the products come from and how it is made you can adopt your own olive tree on pierluigi.nl. This allows you to help local farmers in Puglia and be informed with constant updates about the full life cycle of your olive oil. A product directly from you tree to your table!