Olive oil is an important part of the Italian diet and every Italian kitchen will have a bottle of it. It can be used for cooking, baking, frying and you can even put it in salads. It can also be used to preserve vegetables too.
Olives are harvested between the months of November and March. The colour of the olive changes from green to yellow then to a dark purple and finally black, thus indicating that most of the oil has formed and is ready to be picked. The oil is the result of grinding and pressing fresh olives (for pure olive oil, the olives need to be pressed quickly from when they are picked, as they begin to oxidize the moment they are removed from the tree).
Types of Olive Oil
There are three basic types of olive oil: extra virgin, virgin and pure olive oil.
- The extra virgin olive oil is classed as the highest grade of the olive oils. The oil has less than 1% acidity, meaning that the olives have been picked and pressed the same day. This oil has a strong, green colour and should taste and smell just like the olive from which it came from. It is the sweetest and purest of the oils.
- Virgin olive oil is a grade below ‘extra virgin olive oil’. It has less than 2% acidity and also has a good colour and smell. This may be the result of the olives being pressed the day after they are picked.
- Pure olive oil is the lowest grade. It is much lighter in colour with little or no smell. This is the result of a blend of virgin olive oil and refined oil, which is generally extracted from olive pulp, skin and/or pits.
Buying Olive Oil
When buying olive oil, it is better to buy it in small quantities (unless you know that you will be using it a lot), as olive oil continues to oxidize and does not taste better as time goes by (unlike wine!). You should always look on the bottle for the DOP or DOC label; standard organizations that define the various grades of olive oils. Check the colour to make sure that it is either green or dark green. There is not a ‘best’ of the olive oil, it just comes down to your own personal taste.
Do not store olive oil in plastic bottles because olive oil is reactive and if in contact with plastic, it will take on the properties of the plastic container. Place the bottle/container of olive oil in a shaded area and out of direct sunlight (kitchen cupboard) and where it is slightly cooler than room temperature. Keep the lid of the container/bottle closed tightly when you are not using it. Be sure to check the date on the bottle of oil, don’t buy oil which has been bottled for more than 9 months. Do not refrigerate olive oil, the condensation can mix with the oil and dilute the taste.