Homer once called it liquid gold. The Greek used to rub it on their body for good luck. The tree is a symbol of a peace offering. This history of olives and olive oils is long and diverse. In Tuscany it?s a staple agricultural product and an integral part of Tuscan cooking.
A healthy alternative
The benefits of olive oil are traveling the globe – it has quickly been taking the place of butter in many American households. As we learn more about the product, the more we love it.
First, it?s the healthy fat – it is a mono-unsaturated fat, the kind of fat that more doctors are encouraging Americans to digest. Secondly, olive oil is ideal in cooking, as it does not burn when heated. It is able to sear in flavors of the food, as well as contribute its own. Perfect in salad dressings, it adds flavor to your vinaigrette. The Tuscans usually have it drizzled over everything – pastas, bread, meats and vegetables. It?s healthy and delicious.
Not all olive oils are the same
One may think all olive oils are similar, but there are many factors that make olive oils unique. First, the type of tree. Olive oils are made from a variety of different olive trees, the most common in Tuscany being frantoio, leccino and moraiolo. The tree can determine the color and flavor characteristics of the oil. Second, the terroir. Similar to vines, olives produce distinctive flavors that reflect the terroir of where the olive tree is grown. Like wine, olive oil is resultant of its climate, soil and surroundings.
Tuscan olive oil is typically a rich green color and in general, can be divided into two categories ? sweet (dolce) and spicy (piccanti). The highest quality olive oil is extra virgin. To be called virgin, olive oil must be cold pressed, so the olive is pressed in tact, pit and skins together, with no chemical process involved. The ?virginity? of the oil is then determined by the acid level ? extra virgin olive oil must have under 0.10% acidity naturally.
Olives are harvested ? hand picked – in November & December, and bottled shortly after. While olive oil seems to be a non-perishable item, it can in fact go very bad. The best time to use olive oil is within the first year of bottling, two years maximum. Unfortunately, the US does not have laws requiring bottling dates on olive oil bottles, although many from Italy will voluntarily print the expiration date on the label. Once opened, a bottle of olive oil should be used within 8 ? 10 weeks. Because of this, sometimes it?s best to buy small bottles of olive oil if you do not use it too often.