Mother nature’s most coveted treasure: Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
It is one of the most typical Mediterranean condiments, at the core of our culture and rightfully so. Full of nutritional value and wholesome flavor olive oil is as ancient as the civilizations that inhabited the Mediterranean basin. It may even be considered a sin not to use it in our everyday diet!
THE “O” SO POWERFUL OLIVE
Just like the cyclic letter it starts with, these little oval olives are the origin of all things virgin and extra virgin. The purity and history of this ancient fruit is awe-inspiring. For the Greeks oil was a precious gift. Some may even compare it to our associated value to gold– the only difference being that olives provide nutritional value too. Athletes not only received olive oil before fighting body-to-body, but, the winners of the Olympic Games received a crown of olive branches. Phoenicians and Cretans used olives as the primary source of light– it was the Phoenicians that spread the use of oil lamp. Homer, in the Odyssey, narrates the offer that Athena’s goddess made to Ulysses: a vial of olive oil, through which the hero regained vigor and beauty. Pliny the Elder devoted an entire chapter of his “Naturalis” history to the olive tree and its virtuous properties (Chapter XVII).
These tenacious olives have withstood centuries, adapting perfectly to the various climatic conditions spread across several Italian regions, and proving to be the “O” so powerful fruit of mother nature’s womb.
HOW TO MAKE EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (EVOO):
In this post we will walk you through how this ancient fruit is made into our most coveted extra virgin olive oil. From harvesting, washing, milling, kneading, extracting, and of course… yumming up extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy the journey!
WHEN IS AN OLIVE RIPE FOR HARVEST?
The answer isn’t a straightforward one because there are a plethora of olive types. Some will mature at the end of August, others in September, others in October, November and December. Although, there isn’t one specific date olives ripen, the general rule of thumb is that when the outer skin begins to mature, the color will darken slowly. Typically speaking, the best oils are obtained from olives at the beginning of ripening, so as the outer skin just begins to change color. Unfortunately, this is also the time when less oil is obtained. It may take some time/experience to understand at which color phase is the best to pick your olives. There are other variables you will ultimately consider such as how much oil you are looking to produce and how many plants you have access to.
HOW TO HARVEST OLIVES?
There are a few different ways to harvest olives:
- by hand (buckling)
- with mechanical facilitators (a kind of automatic rake)
- agitators (machines shaking the tree by dropping the olives)
Hand picked is undoubtedly the best method. The individual care given to each olive when picked by a human hand takes more time but is a sure way to not damage the olives.
The harvested olives are then taken to the mill, where they are first cleaned from leaves and sprigs, then washed. This is not an easy process to say the least. In fact, it is common that some leaves carry into the next phase of the oil production, contributing to the color and scent of the oil.
However, as with most things, there are the rare “obsessed” producers that come to select virtually every single olive that goes into the crusher to eliminate any residue that could affect the quality of the oil. The cost of doing so is chalked up to the producers passion for good quality oil and will be paid for by anyone who really appreciates good quality oil.
After being washed the olives are ready to be milled, in the words “scattered”.
One might assume this is the time when olive oil is produced, but it’s not. At this stage, the olives are crushed (pulp and kernel) so as to facilitate the extraction of the oil which will occur at later stages.
What remains of the olives after milling is a kind of paste that will have to be “kneaded” to separate the water molecules from oil. The paste must be kept at a fixed temperature, normally around 27 °C. It is from this stage that the term “cold squeezing” has been coined.
When the paste is ready, it is poured into a centrifuge that separates the solid parts (sansa) from the liquid ones (water and oil). The oil obtained at this point is not as clear as we are accustomed to enjoying it. There will be tiny particles of solid material that have not completely dissociated in the previous phases. It can be consumed at this point, but generally speaking, the oil is left for a few days for the particles to settle to the bottom.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST…. YUMMING UP THE EVOO
THE MEDITERRANEAN HEALTHY BLT (hold the mayo, pile on the evoo)
Essential for preparing fryers, seasoning vegetable salads, grilled bread, in the oven or in the toaster, and soups, olive oil is the prince of recipes typical of Mediterranean gastronomic tradition. We suggest a simple, traditional recipe: the so-called “pan bagnà” with olives.
You will need:
- Home-made bread
- Boiled Eggs
- Anchovies (optional)
- and, of course, EVO oil
Slice a loaf of homemade bread, a couple of slices per person or a “ciabatta” each. Within each sliced bread: place slices of tomatoes and cucumbers, then add olives, capers, boiled egg and the anchovy fillets (if you prefer). Season with salt, EVO oil, and ENJOY!
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About the Authors:
Two Moms, One Goal
Barbara + Errica are two moms living in Italy, each with 2 growing and very hungry boys.
We have made it our mission to keep the heart of our family pumping strong, fueling ourselves with wise traditions and healthy natural ingredients.
Cousins Separated by War
We are cousins by discovery. Long story short our families were separated during WWII. Barbara remained in Italy and Errica was raised in America.
It was only after we reconnected that we realized how much was lost in the transition.
We then made a pact to make sure that we would share our ancestors valuable knowledge for generations to come.