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ITALIAN OLIVE OIL FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

  • Some historic and not so historic information

The legend says that it was the Goddess Athena (goddess of wisdom, war, household, arts and crafts, agriculture and fertility) that donated the Olive Tree to humans as a symbol of peace, longevity and wisdom.

In Italy the first olive grove was cultivated in the south around 1000 BC. Shortly after, the Romans began bringing the practice of olive tree cultivation to the rest of Italy giving oil an important commercial value for trading.

In 1500 AD the Tuscan hills became even more covered with Olive groves after the Medici Family (The Granduca Cosimo I) gave land to any family who wanted to grow olive trees.

An olive tree can live for over 200 years and after a tree dies new branches will begin to bud in the same place. So in essence a olive tree can live forever. It is said that one tree called the 'Olive tree of Magliano' in Tuscany is as old as 3500 years!

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  • Harvesting the Olives

Harvesting both the olives and grapes are considered the two big events in the Tuscan countryside. This is the beginning of the process that will bring the finest Olive Oil and Wine to our tables.

Timing is a very important factor when picking olives. An olive's ripeness when picked will determine its quality and taste. Geographic position, climate and harvesting also play an important role. In Tuscany, the majority of the farmers still pick the olives directly from the tree using the old fashioned method called 'Brucatura'. This method is done by hand with a very simple instrument shaped like scissors that has comb like teeth instead of blades. Farmers continue to use this method despite new technologies because it is still considered the best way to harvest the olives without ruining them or their trees. The harvesting period starts the 1st of November which is considered a holiday ('la festa di ognissanti' - 'all saints day') and lasts until the 15th of December. The ideal moment is when the majority of the olives have just become ripe.

Harvesting can be a hard job but often times family and friends join the farmers for a bottle of good wine, tuscan bread, cheese and prosciutto (or other kind of 'affettati') to eat in the Olive grove.

The best Olive Oil is the Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil and if it comes from Tuscany (100% Tuscan olives) then we are really talking about the finest.

  • The Acidity Level of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In order to be considered 'Extra Virgin' the oil must have an 'oleic acid' level (acidity) under 1%. This is an important factor when choosing a high quality oil. The taste and the acidity level are connected with: the variety of trees, the soil where the olive tree is located, the methods for growing and harvesting, the pressing techniques, the conservation of the oil. Every detail is important in order to reach a high quality oil.

  • The Pressing Process

In order to be considered 'Extra Virgin' the oil must be pressed by a mechanical process. 'Villa La Pietraia' olives are first carefully selected and picked by hand and then processed at one of the finest Olive Presses in Tuscany. The oil is extracted from the first cold pressing of the olives and is unfiltered to maintain the rich and unique flavor of this countryside Tuscan product. Pressing techniques are very important to insure a high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

  • How to maintain an Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Keep the bottles out of direct light (especially sunlight). You should avoid storing your oil in direct light in order to preserve its quality. Always close the lid tightly after you have used the bottle.

  • Store your oil at the right temperature

Too much heat can alter the composition of the Olive Oil causing a loss of flavor. Always keep the oil out of light and at temperature no greater than 70 degrees. Extreme cold will not damage your Olive Oil but bring it back to room temperature before opening.

If the Olive Oil is unfiltered Unfiltered means genuine rich taste and unique flavor. Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil will naturally have some settlement at the bottom of the bottle and this is a Guarantee of Outstanding Genuine Quality. Before opening the bottle gently shake it while turned up side down.

This feature was written by Marco Ciappelli, importer of 100% Tuscan extra virgin unfiltered olive oil.

This article was supplied by www.GlobalChefs.com

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