Italian Olive Oil ~ Olive Oil ~ Extra Virgin Italian Olive Oil ~ Bottled Italian Olive Oil ~ Oil ~ Olive ~ Olive Oils ~ Organic Olive Oil ~ Flavoured Olive Oil
Italian Olive Oil ~ Olive Oil ~ Extra Virgin Italian Olive Oil ~ Bottled Italian Olive Oil ~ Oil ~ Olive ~ Olive Oils ~ Organic Olive Oil ~ Flavoured Olive Oil
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Popeyes Page

Written by Richard Davies, who founded the business at the turn of the century and is its ex-managing director. He lives in Italy and is an internationally respected Yacht Surveyor.

It’s a corny name for a page but he loved Olive Oyle and during my time as a professional yachtsman sailing in the Mediterranean I got to know quite a bit about the Mediterranean way of life and the fine local Olive oils. Back in Britain I have found this is one of the things I just cannot find, yes there’s plenty of olive oil but almost nothing like the local oils you find all over the Mediterranean.

I have sailed past Islands in Greece, Croatia, Turkey and just about everywhere in the Mediterranean where the hills sparkle with the distinctive silver and green leaves of the olive trees glittering in the sun drenched breeze.

When I was living near Lucca I would watch the hills change colour in the late autumn as the fine nets used for collecting the ripe olives were spread beneath the trees, turning some of the hillsides orange.

Olives grow in Mediterranean climates all over the world, just as vines do and the quality of the oil varies just as much as the quality of the grape vines. Try a bottle of Croatian white wine or a Tunisian red and compare this to the best wines of Europe, you’ll soon see what I mean and its just the same with Olive oil. Though there are many fine wine-producing areas that also make good olive oils, they do not always coincide.

I have seen the olive oil tanker ships ploughing their way from North Africa to Italy and watched them unload in little ports to the shore based oil factories.

I have been past oil factories on shore in Italy which look like small chemical plants. Some with tall rust and oil stained metal tanks reaching skywards and others of modern industrial architecture, their glittering glass and bright colours spreading over acres of land on city outskirts, all with their towers of heating and treatment plants and huge storage tanks. Most of them look like some kind of oil refinery and that is exactly what most of them are. You’d expect to see an Texaco or Shell tanker truck pull out of the gates instead of a Greek registered olive oil carrier pulling in.

If you look carefully on the labels of the bottles of oil on your supermarket shelves they say (bless the EEC) if an oil is from Italian grown olives or just Italian bottled. If it’s the latter it may be any kind of olive oil, mixed and blended to give the taste they want.

Olive oil is big business. The international rules are managed by the International Olive Oil Council in Spain. The rules are pretty much in favour of the big manufacturers, for example the labelling extra virgin olive oil really assures nothing except low acidity. Once upon a time this might have been fine but today this acidity can easily be manipulated during blending.

Real single estate Italian olive oil is grown in olive groves all over the country. It was once considered such a precious fluid that each area had its own supply and if an area produced a particularly good oil it was considered one of the riches of the region. Many of the trees are hundreds, even thousands, of years old and have been looked after through time so they still produce fine olives each year. This doesn’t mean they have the best exposure or have been cultivated in the best way to make the best oil.

There are lots of little groves that turn out very mediocre oils, but when a grove sits on a hill with the right exposure and is cultivated well for sufficient years it can produce an oil that has flavours and aromas of a distinction and elegance that makes the others, let alone factory produced oils, seem good only for heating your house, lighting your lamps or running the tractor. Again its just like wine.

Tasting olive oil is not easy. The oil straight from the bottle has complex flavours, many of which only come to the fore when joined with foods. In fact oil is a food flavour enhancer, nobody ever meant it to be swigged down straight. One evening, tasting oils in England at my brother’s house, we let my little nephew James try a taste. Bravely he took a mighty gulp from one of the tiny tasting glasses we use and before any of us could issue a warning he swallowed it down. His face was soon the colour of a ripe green olive and he felt quite sickly for a few minutes.

In Tuscany I was taught by peasants to pour a little oil onto a piece of soft fresh bread and taste the oil like this. Down in the South they taught me to lightly toast the bread first. In the North there are always some biscuits or grissini to take with it. Of course the best way to taste an oil is to use as its meant to be with a wonderful dish of Italian food.

Every area of oil production has its own characteristics, generally the Italians consider the three classic ones as Liguria (in the North between Genoa and France), central Tuscany, and Puglia in the Southeast. There are indeed estates in other areas of the country that produce some very individual oils and I hope you have the opportunity to try some of them.

 

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