Thursday, January 24, 2013

Olive Oil 1

Liquid Gold

for more on olive oil see the 2013 post
from December

How could I forget a post about olive oil? It arrived in late November and early December and here we are in late January.
I don't like to think we're starting to take it for granted, but after five years of living in Chianti we certainly assume it's a natural part of life.

newly-arrived oil at its cloudy best - and full of bite
 When fresh, the oil is cloudy, a most wonderful golden green and with a particular, peppery bite. For oil conoscitori the bite is the thing.

oil today, starting to settle and mellow

The best way to store it is in a dark container or failing that, a dark pantry. The green bottles are best for daily use. The friends we acquire our oil from use either bottles or tins. Note the special spout on the green bottle; it helps regulate the flow and save precious drops.

the proof of the pudding...

 The true colour has not been well-reproduced in this shot: it's much greener in reality. This is 'la morte sua'* as they say here: poured on Tuscan (unsalted) bread and eaten fresh, maybe with a sprinkle of salt. Needless to say we do not use this oil for cooking, just raw.
*'Its proper death.'

Interesting article on the quality of olive oil from the New York Times of April 18th 2013: World's Olive Oils 

Which has prompted some sound advice from a friend who grows her own olives and makes her own oil in the heart of Chianti not far from Panzano:

Olives should be half green, half dark but better to harvest them a little early for flavour and sacrifice a little on percentage yield.  The gist of the NYT article on filtering is largely correct.  Many oils are processed in dirty conditions and stored incorrectly. For the small producer, it's important to eliminate the sludge by transferring the oil to clean containers a few months after pressing. Those not in the know and many large scale producers who sell their oil immediately do not transfer the oil to clean containers and/or filter.  If the oil sits on the shelf for too long or is inappropriately stored (too much heat and dirt, for instance), the quality will deteriorate quickly..  If I were buying oil retail, yes, I would look for the words " filtered" as well as "extra virgin" and where and date bottled. 

The best oil comes from the small producer who cares about the trees, harvests with minimal damage to the olives, presses the olives quickly at a spotless, cold press frantoio, cleans his containers thoroughly, and transfers his oil into newly clean containers after six months. Filtering eliminates dirt and, therefore, helps.  Even some of the vaunted producers that sell oil in the U.S. at DOCG prices cannot even approach the small producers here in quality.  The best oil is local, and it does not leave the area because those who care about it consume it. 

Never buy oil from commercial producers if possible. It's not worth saving the money, and the industry is notoriously corrupt (a friend worked for a commercial producer and has witnessed trucks unload other oleaginous substances and colouring agents for blending at the factory).

Speaking of precious drops
We once visited a museum of peasant culture in Bassa Campania, southern Italy, in a tiny, forgotten hill village called Ortodonico. The enthusiastic museum curator was full of information and stories about the life and work of his ancestors. 

One story he told has since been corroborated by the sons of other peasants, even in our part of the country. Since time immemorial the fattore, or farm manager and the padrone, or owner (usually a noble of some sort) were the only ones to oversee the pressing of the olive oil.

In recent decades, since the tenant farmer system (mezzadria) was abolished and the nobles gradually sold off their estates, it was discovered that underneath the olive press was a tiny channel, carved beneath the stone or brick paving which fed directly into the owner's own supply of oil. In other words the owner was stealing a proportion of the common oil shared 50/50, in theory, with the peasant in payment for his labours.  

Extraordinary but true. If a peasant had been found doing any such thing he would have been banished from the property (cf. Ermanno Olmi's 'Tree of the Wooden Clogs'), if not worse.

Images from the museum of peasant culture in Ortodonico: Ortodonico museum
And for those who can follow the Italian, here is an excerpt on YouTube from a film dealing with this very issue, filmed in the museum itself: Noi Credevamo film clip

1 comment:

  1. Olive oil is good all year but straight after pressing it is superb.


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