This month, Claudio digs deep into the real world of food and wine, exploring and sometimes exposing the food we eat and the wine we drink in his four On Legitimate Food & Wine blogs. Check out part 2, coming on Monday.
I’ve been reading a pretty good book called “Extra Virginity, the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil”, by Tom Muller. The gist of the book is that most olive oil out there is NOT extra virgin, and in many cases it’s not even made from olives!
Harvesting olives for oil
Turns out that a lot of what passes for olive oil is really walnut or soybean oil with added industrial chlorophyl for coloring and beta-carotene for flavor. Put it in a bottle with an Italian flag and the name of an imaginary producer and there you have it: Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Right!
Real EVO tastes very different than the cheap stuff we buy at the supermarket, and it is very expensive to make and preserve. Our general ignorance on what the real thing tastes like and the big profit potential to sell fake oil make us the perfect marks for this fraud.
I also found an interesting article called “Olive Oil’s Dark Side” in the February 2012 issue of New Yorker magazine covering this fraud. In it the author (interviewing Tom Muller) points out that the olive oil business is moving in two competing directions at once: there is huge pressure to make cheap oils for mass consumption while small quality producers in Italy (and California) are improving theirs. Problem is honest producers will be put out of business if we all keep buying these sub-par oils, not to mention the fact that they are bad for you. Some of these cheap oils are classified in Italy as lampante, meaning they are only suitable for…burning in lamps.
So let’s get informed. Tom Muller has a website called www.truthinoliveoil.com with a buyer’s guide and a list of legitimate California producers, as well as other supermarket brands that can be trusted. Surprisingly Costco’s Kirkland Toscano is included. (Not the Kirkland Organic EVO, which I’ve tried and found disgusting). Lastly, don’t forget that freshness is important. After 18 months EVO’s benefits and most of the taste is gone.
This year we’ll plant a few acres of Arbequina olives and we hope to join the quality EVO movement. Needless to say, until then we will only serve the real stuff at our restaurants.
In the next blogs we’ll look at fraud in wine and other products.
Hint: Ask yourself: Do I know where my favorite wine is made?
See you soon at the winery!