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The ABC of the high quality extra-virgin Italian olive oil

Olive oil has always been part of our alimentary traditions, but yet it's one of the less known and mostly misused foods. Luckily, it is never too late to learn how to appreciate it: it takes only few rules to get to know it better.


A (albero) the Tree types called Cultivar

There are many varieties of olive trees. At least 700 species are known and most of them live in Italy. Each one has its own peculiar characteristics, such as perfume and taste. This is why it is important to know at least the most important Cultivars, in order to be able to match them correctly with foods, as we do with wines.

B (buono) Good means that it pinches

Some olive oils, the best ones, produce a pinch in the throat usually followed by a bitter taste. This is because they contain polyphenols, the proof of a good olive oil.
Polyphenols are good to our organism because they are powerful antioxidants: they delay the aging of cells and fight inflammations. Only some Cultivars, linked to their particular territory, develop the right polyphenols. In order to get them it is important that the land and the oil mill are conducted in a workmanlike, as it happens with the Coratina Cultivar from Apulia.

C (colore) the Color

Basically it has no real importance: this is why the official oil tasting glasses are blue, so that the judgment is not influenced by the oil's color. No color certifies the quality. Instead, it can be proof of some flaws: if the oil is orange, it means that it is oxidized and hence rancid; if deep green, the oil has been colored with a byproduct of olive pomace, a technique widely used in past times.

D (difetti) Flaws

Usually we can recognize a bad olive oil from its smell: when it stinks, this proves its low quality. If it smells of sludge or mold, or if it is winy, the oil can't be qualified as Extra virgin in any case. Also, when it happens, it is sure that the olives have been mistreated. And the tree too.

E (extravergine) Extra virgin

It is easy to carry the Extra virgin label. It only takes a light perfume and a low threshold of oleic acid. The real problem is to transmit all perfumes and qualities of the original Cultivar to a good Extra virgin olive oil.

F (fruttato) Fruity

It is the term used to describe the oil perfume, and there are two fragrances: Green and Mature. Green recalls the freshly cut grass, while Mature recalls fruits. Each Cultivar has its own Fruttato, but to transmit it to the oil it takes the olives to be collected when they are still green and the baling to be made by the best oil mills. We always have to remind that olive is just like any fruit. It is green when young and black when mature. From green olives we get less oil but much more perfumed; from black olives more oil but much less quality.

G (giusta) the Right storage

Oil hates air and light. This is why bottles should always be dark, little and well shut. Air vanishes perfumes, while light oxidizes the oil and makes it rancid. It is possible to store it at any temperature, although it freezes at 5°C, but it is not such a problem. Just warm it gradually to ambient temperature.

H (pH) Acidity

Acidity in olive oil is not something you can taste (it is not linked to the pinch): only laboratory exams can reveal it. It happens that someone, when tasting a spicy Extra virgin oil, says: "This is not Extra Virgin!". Well, now you can tell him he is not really into olive oils.

I (innovazione) Innovation in cold baling

The old press in the old mill is no more the best way of making the perfect olive oil. To get it, olives have to be crashed and the obtained paste is put in the Gramola (kneading machine) which knead and mingle all the olive elements, causing a natural chemical reaction at a temperature of 25°C and no more. This is when the perfumes and taste are created. Then the paste is placed in the Decanter, which divides the minced pulp and the olive pits from the vegetative water, giving us, finally, the oil. In this case, we are better than our ancestors.

L (leggerezza) the Lightest frying

It is not true that frying is unhealthy. Usually is the way of frying that is wrong. For example, commonly we think that olive oil is not good for frying because too "heavy". Totally wrong! Olive oil is the best for frying because it can be heated up until 200°C before it deteriorates. Heaviness in frying, in fact, is not given by fats: when the oil reaches too high temperatures, its molecular structure crashes and frees toxins. Furthermore, an Extra virgin oil is not compulsory for a good frying, because perfumes go away quickly at high temperature; just use a good olive oil.


Ligurian Taggiasca: the most Delicate.

The St. Colombano's monks brought this little olive to Taggia, in Liguria, centuries ago: the oil we get is delicate, fruity and mature, with fresh almond and lettuce perfume. The Taggiasca lives in little terraced vales, which protect it from northern Italy's low temperatures, and next to the sea, which gives it its breeze. Taggiasca oil is the perfect match with dishes of delicate flavour and perfume, great with any fish, especially if raw, boiled or steamed. It's indicated on salads, raw vegetables or as the base for sauces or dressings in which olive oil's flavor shouldn't be too strong.

Tuscanian Frantoio: the Strongest.

Frantoio is one of the most renowned and appreciated Cultivar in the world. Surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the Tuscanian countryside, these trees thank the nature with an oval fruit colored in dark purple when the time of the harvest arrives. Trained hands get from it a green fruity oil, with grass, thistle and artichoke perfumes, rich in polyphenols and so with a bitter taste. This is what makes it the perfect match for grilled meat: it bonds with the grilled bitter meat bits and the warmth of the grill expands its splendid green perfume. Same thing for the grilled bread, called "fettunta" in the local dialect, but also for spelt and beans soups. It is also great with dishes with no particular flavor, such as rice or steamed potatoes, as it makes them tasty and perfumed.

Apulian Coratina: the most Intense.

Next to the Murgian plateau, in the far south-east of Italy, lives one of the most precious and ancient Cultivar. Olives are gathered at the beginning of their maturation process so they have high aromatics and antioxidant qualities. When raised in its territory, the Coratina oil presents an unparalleled level of polyphenols. It is unreachable. It has an intense perfume of recently cut grass. Strong taste, with spicy and bitter notes in its flavor, is the healthiest oil in the world. Chicory, arugula, kale and bitter vegetables generally speaking, are the best match with this oil, but it is also great with soups and grilled meat and fish. It is the best mate of warm lentils or chickpeas soup or favas and chicory puree and of any kind of cheese - especially if Apulian.

Sicilian Tonda Iblea: the most Perfumed.

Generous and tasty as its land, it gives back the love of the farmers with a round big beautiful fruit. Harvested when it is still green, this Cultivar makes particularly perfumed and aromatic oil, with notes of tomato leaves, basil and celery. Characterized by a spicy and harmonic taste, it is always sweet. A true drop of sun. We make little oil from it, but a very perfumed one. Splendid on salads, with tuna, meat or capers added. It gives taste and flavor also to pasta, risotto, as well as to cooked or fried vegetables; great on fish and crustaceans. It is very difficult to find a dish where it doesn't fit!