All About Olive Oil

Home pressed olive oilThis week we’ll be talking about some of our special themed itineraries such as olive harvest week! Our most popular destinations are in the Mediterranean basin, where olive oil reigns supreme. In fact, some scientists actually classify the Mediterranean region according to the preponderance of olive trees! (So where there are no olive trees you are no longer properly in the Mediterranean region).

I don’t know how scientific we want to get, but suffice it to say many of our most popular destinations—Italy, southern France, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and Greece, for example‐are known for their heavy use of olive oil. The top country in terms of per capita consumption? Evidently Greeks really like their olive oil, because it wins out handily over all other nations.

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Reading an Olive Oil Label

Olive oil has been in the news in recent years due to the lack of stringent regulations on how it is labeled both in Europe and elsewhere. In the U.S., for instance, “Imported from Italy” is on most bottles of olive oil, but that does not mean the oil was produced (nor the olives grown) in Italy. The best way to ensure you get a good, high-quality olive oil is to find a small producer and buy direct from them.

Enjoy an olive harvest on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. 

Types of Olive Oil

The best type of olive oil? Each country will claim it makes the best oil, but the important things to remember are to check the classifications.”Virgin” olive oil means simply that the oil was extracted by pressing (not by heat or chemicals) and that the oil is pure. The “extra” is a higher quality virgin olive oil. “Cold pressed” means it was pressed without heating the oil over a certain temperature (it does not mean it has never been heated, as in climes where the olives are harvested late the olives can be slightly warmed to extract the oil but still at temperatures low enough to be considered “cold pressed” – complicated, isn’t it?!). “Cold extracted” usually means extracted using a centrifuge rather than a press.

So what type of oil should you buy? We’d argue that you should buy many different kinds, as it depends on what you are using it for! Olive oil is very delicate, if you are cooking with it at anything more than the lowest temperatures you don’t need to splurge on extra-virgin, first cold pressed, as you’ll be losing the flavor as soon as you heat it. Best to keep on hand a few varieties to adapt to the particular use.

Read about the local olive harvest in Andalusia, Spain.

Olives ready for harvesting What is your favorite type of oil? What do you like to use it for? Have you ever harvested olives before?

If you are interested in participating in an olive harvest, we have a number of itineraries that feature olive harvest weeks, including our Cucina Romana in the Sabine Hills and Roman Countryside Discovery. But we also have many itineraries where we can offer olive harvest activities in season, including in Puglia, Italy, and in Andalusia, Spain.

Want to learn more? Give us a call or send us an email!

By Peg Kern

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