Understanding Olive Oil

Olive Oil can be used for just about everything, from deep-frying and bread making, to salad dressings and pasta toppings—or even just to add a touch of flavour to cooked dishes.

As is true with most foods, olive oil is best when fresh. To maintain its freshness and guarantee quality after opening keep it away from heat and light by storing it in a cool, dark place. Olive oil should not be stored in the fridge as it may solidify, this however can be easily remedied by removing the oil from the cold and letting it sit at room temperature until it liquefies.

Which Olive Oil to Use

It is always important however to match the right type of olive oil with each dish. Sweet oils mix better with salads, fish and chicken breasts, while more bold flavoured oils blend better with hearty soups and barbecued meats.

Experienced cooks experiment with different styles and flavours of olive oils to get the best effect. Heat brings out the flavour of olive oil, so it will smell and taste stronger when poured over hot food.

The Major Producing Countries

Most Spanish oil comes from olives grown in the vast groves that spread across the Andalucian countryside. The hot sun beats down on the groves and helps to boost the yields. Typically the oil is sweetly fruity with low levels of bitterness and pepper. Catalonia, Extramadura and La Mancha also produce considerable quantities of delicate oil. The Peleponnese and the island of Crete are the main Greek producing regions. Here well flavoured oils with herbaceous tones are made from Koroneiki olives. The better known Kalamata olives are used for the table. Some oils are labelled “Kalamata” but this refers to the region of the same name.

Olives are grown in every part of Italy with the exception of the far north west. Each region has its own weather, soils and varieties and styles vary from the sweet, lightly almond flavoured oils of Liguria, through the more pungent of oils of Tuscany and Umbria, to the peppery oils of Puglia and the sweetly tomato flavoured oils of Sicily. However, it is Puglia that is the main producer here followed by Sicily. Tuscany only accounts for 4% of Italy’s oil production.

Growing Olives

Most olives are grown by small to medium sized farmers who sell their olives to local co-operatives or to privately owned olive mills. These companies may pack a small amount of their best extra virgin olive oil under their own labels but they sell the bulk of it to large international packers who sell the brands that are on the supermarket shelves.

Some smaller producers processors mill and pack their own oils under the name of their farm or estate and these are sometimes known as “single estate oil”. This phrase only applies to a relatively small number of oils from Tuscany, Umbria and Sicily and a handful from France, Spain and Australia. The oils are usually particularly good because the estates can afford to handpick the olives and use the most up-to-date processing equipment but there are plenty of other extra virgin oils from other producers that are also very good.

Processing Olives

A revolution has been taking place in olive processing.

The days of the donkey mill and screw press are long over and the term “traditional pressing” now refers to granite mill stones used with a hydraulic press. But this method, too, is passing.

Oil like those in the Filippo Berio range are processed in modern centrifugal equipment which separates out the oil, water and pomace or olive residue in one continuous process. Systems vary but the best ones extract oils which taste very good and are nutritionally excellent.

All olive oils are not made the same!

Some may have a sweet and delicate flavour while others may have a touch of bitterness or pepper.

The reason for this is that there are more than 300 different varieties of olive trees in the world- the most popular types however can be found in Italy, Spain and Greece:

CULTIVAR COUNTRY FLAVOUR
Frantoio Italy fruity, green, herbaceus, pungent
Leccino Italy mildly, fruity, spicy and sweet
Coratina Italy fruity, green, bitter, pungent
Koroneiki Greece crude, fruity, bitter, pungent
Arbequina Spain very aromatic, fruity, sweet
Picual Spain bitter and pungent (overripe flavour)

Countries of origins

Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, its seemingly endless olive groves account for nearly half of the world’s production.

Most Spanish oil comes from olives grown in the vast groves that spread across the Andalucian countryside where the hot sun beats down on the groves and boosts the yields. Typically the olive oil is sweet and fruity with low levels of bitterness and pepper. The Catalonia, Extramadura and La Mancha regions also produce considerable quantities of delicate oil.

Most of the olive oils and extra virgin olive oils in the supermarket shelves are blends of oils from different countries.

After Spain, Greece and Italy are tied for second place:

In Greece

The Peleponnese and the island of Crete are the main olive oil producing regions. Here well flavoured oils with herbaceous tones are made from Koroneiki olives. The better known Kalamata olives are used for the table -and while some oils are labeled “Kalamata” this often refers to the region of the same name from which the oil is produced.

In Italy

Olives are grown throughout the country with the exception of the far northwest, yet the main olive oil producing regions are Puglia and Sicily — Tuscany makes up only 4% of production. Each region has its own weather, varieties and styles, therefore olive oil flavours vary greatly from grove to grove…

Toscana: Sweet & fruity with a peppery finish
Liguria: Sweet & light almond flavoured
Puglia: Tangy, aromatic & intense
Sicily: Intense aroma with light tomato flavour

Types of Olive Oil

The very best and purest form of olive oil is extra virgin which is stored or bottled immediately after pressing, just as it is. To obtain this prestigious classification however, the olive oil must undergo a range of stringent tests to ensure that its acidity levels are below 0.8%. All oils above this limit are sent to a refinery and blended with extra virgin olive oils to add flavour, the resulting product is known as standard olive oil.

THE BEST EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OILS ARE OBTAINED
THROUGH A COLD PRESSING OR EXTRACTION PROCESS

EXTRA VIRGIN PRODUCTION METHODS:

First cold Press:

Extra Virgin Olive Oils which have been produced at a temperature below 27°C using a traditional granite millstone and hydraulic press.

Cold Extraction:

Extra virgin olive oils obtained through more modern systems, such as percolation or centrifugation, at a temperature below 27°C.

Some refined olive oils are further blended to obtain a milder flavour, like Filippo Berio’s Mild & Light olive oils, making them ideal for frying and baking with no discernable “olive oil” taste.

Other types of refined olive oils are produced, not from the oil which comes out of the milling process but from the olive paste that remains. This residue, or pomace, contains a small amount of oil which is removed with the use of solvents. The resulting oil is then refined and blended in the same way as ordinary olive oil to make olive pomace oil.