June 20, 2012
Olive oil, what else?
According to medical studies it has multiple health benefits, not the least of which is decreasing the chance of heart disease by lowering “bad” cholesterol. And it's been doing it for as far back as 3000 BC, when olives were grown commercially in Crete.
The problem for olive oil lovers today is how do we know this liquid gold isn't fool's gold?
Think a label reading "extra virgin" is a guarantee of quality? If you proceed to your pantry and remove a bottle, you’ll see that nowhere does it say that extra virgin olive oil must be made 100% from olives. Plus, a major criterion for grading olive oil is its level of acidity, which should be no more than one percent.
So what do you choose? Some experts say to look for extra virgin olive oil that is estate bottled, cold pressed, unfiltered and looks cloudy. (You know, the kind we used to throw away.)
Then there's also this trusting problem. I don’t mean to alarm you but international arrest warrants have been issued in Italy. Evidence seems to indicate the biggest olive oil brands have for years been systematically diluting their extra virgin olive oil with cheap, highly refined hazelnut oil from Turkey.
(I’m sure Armando Manni's magnificent Tuscan oil is unaffected, but it does cost over $500 a liter.)
But then olive oil has always been adulterated.
In the First Century AD, one of the world’s first gourmands, Marcus Gavius Apicius, published a sly formula in “De Re Coquinaria” to convert cheap Spanish oil into the more expensive stuff from Istria.
Richard J. Sullivan, ex-president of the North American Olive Oil Council, said, "When the price of supermarket olive oil is too low, it is a ransom price for seed oil.”
There is no doubt that the IOCC-less U.S. has long been a dumping ground for the world’s worst oil.
Beyond Health Magazine has searched for a high quality, unadulterated oil that meets their standards and selected Bariani, produced by the Bariani family on a small farm in the central valley of California. Whether any Bariani relatives are working for the publication is not known.
I do know I’m not a part owner of Fairway Market in New York City, although I’d like to be. They claim they know more and sell more olive oil than any store in the world. If you don’t believe it, they say so right on the wall.
My Italian friends, who like nothing, agree with the New York Times, that said “Their private extra Virgin oil tasted better than ones selling at four times the price.”
As a general rule, it's always wise to buy from a store with a lot of turnover. Never buy “light” oil. Forget large tins, unless you own a restaurant. And if it doesn’t have a “use by date” let someone else get stuck.
I do hope I’ve helped a little in your quest for the fresh, good stuff. Because it’s clearly (and cloudily) that essential to our lives.
OK, I've divulged some of my sources. And tips.
Terrific recipes? Great brands? Undiscovered gems? Have a brother in law in the business? Don't, well, bottle up your thoughts on the subject.