People have been harvesting olives and mechanically pressing them to produce oil for longer than recorded history
In this section we provide information about how to understand olive oil written by independent Olive Oil expert, Judy Ridgeway.
“I am often asked how I came to be an expert on olive oil. After all, I am an English woman with no specific connection to any of the growing regions and like so many others in the UK was brought up on butter and vegetable oil.
“It all happened by chance. In the late 1980s I was a food and wine writer with a particular interest in taste and flavour and I was asked to collaborate with an olive oil importer on a book on oils, vinegars and seasonings. I was to write the vinegars and seasoning sections and ghost the oils section for the expert. During this process I made the great discovery that olive oil does not just taste like olive oil – each oil has its own taste and flavour. I also realised that olive oil is not only a good cooking medium but a wonderful flavouring ingredient in its own right.
“Once converted to olive oil I became a fanatic and wanted to learn as much as I could about it. I started to travel the olive growing regions and to taste every oil I discovered. Gradually my work with olive oil took over from more general food subjects. By the mid 1990s I had written a vocabulary of taste and flavour in olive oil for the European Union and been invited to sit on the judging panel for the International Leone d’Oro awards for olive oil.
“Today I am just as interested in olive oil as I ever was and I am fascinated to see the many changes which are taking place in the industry. Olive grove management is becoming much more scientific, mechanical harvesting is taking over from back-breaking hand picking, traditional granite mill stones and hydraulic presses have given way to continuous centrifugal systems and olives are now grown for oil in the southern as well as in the northern hemisphere.
“I am sure that the next fifteen years will be equally interesting in the changes and improvements that they bring to olive oil. Olive oil consumption throughout the world is on the increase, though areas such as the UK and the US have a long way to go before they catch up with the Italians at 16 litres per capita per annum or the Greeks at an even higher 22 litres per capita per annum”.
Judy Ridgway has been living and working in the fascinating world of Olive Oil for the last fifteen years. She is an international judge for Olive Oil and spends much of her time writing or talking about Olive Oil in books, articles, seminars and tastings.
The olive is a Mediterranean tree and over thousands of years its oil has become an essential part of the culinary life of the region. No Italian, Spanish or Greek cook would be without a good supply in the kitchen or on the table. Today many cooks in other regions have also discovered the virtues of Olive Oil and it is appearing as an ingredient in an amazing range of dishes, from couscous to carrot cake.
Olive Oil is quite simply the juice of the olive fruit with the water removed. People have been harvesting olives and mechanically pressing them to produce oil for longer than recorded history. In the early days, Olive Oil was used for lighting and for anointing kings as well as for food. It was also considered to be very healthy and modern research has confirmed this view.
Spain is the largest producer of Olive Oil in the world. Its seemingly endless olive groves account for nearly half the world’s production. Greece and Italy vie with each other for second place. Next come Turkey, Syria and Tunisia, followed by the rest of North Africa, Portugal and France. Olive Oil is now also produced in the southern hemisphere, particularly in Argentina and in Australia.