Monday, June 29, 2009

help...i am addicted to extra virgin olive oil!!?? part one

this is not a secret to regular readers...i use excellent quality extra virgin olive oil (e.v.o.o) in almost all of my recipes. i talk about it, blog about it, have dozens of bottles in my pantry...use it on everything...even as a face moisturizer...and try to learn everything i can about this liquid gold. happily, the napa valley is emerging as one of the world's top producers so buying local oil is incredibly easy...you just need to know what to look for.

so it was a highlight of my year when i opened my email a few weeks ago to see i had been invited to attend the artisanal olive oil producer, round pond estate's, "fresh olive oil day". the invitation read as follows:

"Beloved by “Fresh Oil Fanatics”, our fresh oil days offer a complete experience as our knowledgeable guides explain both our sustainable approach to olive cultivation and our time-honored olive oil extraction process. In addition, guests will visit the mill and savor samples of our fresh olive oil before making their personal “by the milliliter” selection."

how cool does that sound? of course, this was an event i could not miss... peter and i...along with our good friend mary...met early saturday morning two weeks ago and drove to rutherford (about 15 minutes from downtown napa) to visit the estate. i blog often about the amazing food and wine produced in the napa valley. last year i shared with you the story of another favorite napa olive oil producer, long meadow ranch, in my story popcorn and olive oil?. today, i thought i would share a little bit about the production of olive oil in addition to telling round pond's story.

i have been crazy about olive oil my entire life but... as a kid..."artisanal extra virgin olive oil" was unheard of here in the united states...we just bought the big tin jugs of "olive oil" at the local italian market. i think it was sometime in the 80's that good e.v.o.o. starting appearing in restaurants...and we learned to dip our bread in the stuff instead of using butter. i was instantly hooked and started learning as much as possible about the production of e.v.o.o...what to look for, how to buy, how to store...and i pretty much eliminated butter in everything but the most delicate of my baked goods. later, i had the good fortune of traveling to europe often for business...and started buying italian, spanish, greek and even french e.v.o.o. from tiny local producers and lugging it back on the plane...(pre-911 i hand carried bottles on the plane and checked my luggage)... my business associate friends were buying cool clothing, shoes and handbags from all over europe...i was stocking up on olive oil...i should have known then that fashion was not the career for me!!)

fast forward to living in san francisco and then napa....suddenly, locally gown olive oil started showing up in restaurants and markets...i started meeting producers at farmer's markets and... slowly but surely...i stopped buying foreign oil (that sounds funny out of context) and developed a passion for e.v.o.o from the napa valley.

i get tons of emails from readers with questions about olive oil. i am so not the expert on the technical side...but i thought i would share a bit about what i have learned in today's post...and then add additional information in future stories...
first of all...the basic question...what is extra virgin olive oil?
there are grades of olive oil...the simplest breakdown is extra virgin, virgin, olive oil and pomace...note, this is not a complete listing of the grades of oil...and i am not getting too technical because...why??
i think the main reason most people ask the question is so they will know what to look for when purchasing... fyi, i use extra virgin...and only extra virgin... in everything. some people use lower quality oil in their cooking...i do not. some people say you can't tell the difference once the oil is heated. i can...but make the decision that is right for you.
the definition of extra virgin olive oil is 100% olive oil that meets the following 4 criteria: a) made from mechanical means, b) the acidity level of the oil (oleic acid) is 0.8 percent or less, c) cold pressed, d) taste must be free of defects....and the label should confirm each of these requirements...

for detailed explanations of each of these terms you can check out the international olive oil council's (IOOC) website http://www.internationaloliveoil.org/ or the website the olive oil source . these sites have been incredibly helpful to me as a self proclaimed olive oil nerd...if you don't need the details...just check the label to ensure your oil meets this standard...

how is olive oil made?
it sounds obvious...but olive oil is made from the oil of olives...it is amazing how often i get asked this question...the easy answer is you smash an olive...remove the solids and the "olive water" and what is left is olive oil....the more complicated answer is the "how" of this process.
for years i have read about olive harvests...and the "press" that leads to olive oil. i had this totally romantic vision of making olive oil the way they do in small towns in italy. it takes a lot of olives to make a small quantity of olive oil...so italians having only a small number of olive trees bring their olives to a community press...old stone presses...and a process is created where the olives are all pressed and then you get to take home the amount of oil your olives have created. neighbors and friends gather around waiting for the olive oil to be finished...and they prepare fabulous meals while they wait...and then finish the dishes with some of the freshly made olive oil...what a party...what an experience.
so it was this image i had in mind the first time i experienced an olive press here in napa. it was a couple of years ago and i was lucky enough to participate in the olive harvest for a local, organic farm. i then went to watch the creation of the oil at a small commercial press...oh man! i needed to lose my romantic imagery really fast....have you ever gone on a winery tour? well, the process is similar...all stainless steel equipment behind loads of glass...sterile and clean...but so not the "historic barn, stone wheels, wooden barrels, fire pit grilling fresh bread to taste the oil" of my dreams.
oh well, the process is still interesting...and attending the round pond event allowed me to ask a ton of questions....and.... while there is a lot of steel...they do use stone wheels...and no glass!

so briefly...the process is as follows...the olives are harvested in late fall...timing depends on the type of oil you want to make...and how quickly the olives ripen in a given year. the earlier you harvest, the more green olives you will have...the greener the olives the "bigger" the oil. most olive oil aficionados covet really big "burn the back of your throat" oils. the later in season you harvest, the more black olives will be in the mix...this produces a much softer oil. green olives yield much less oil...which makes early harvest oils much more expensive...but so worth the price.
remember when i told you that one of the characteristics of extra virgin olive oil is an oil with zero defects? to accomplish this, many artisanal producers, including round pond, handpick their olives...which makes the process incredibly labor intensive....the olives fall to the ground which has been covered with tarps. the olives are hand gathered and placed into bins which are rushed to the press.

i started to write about the steps in making e.v.o.o...but round pond does a really terrific job on their site. it will be more accurate to quote them..so here is their process...

"These olives are pressed by variety in either a stone mill or hammer mill. Utilizing two different pressing methods allows us to extract contrasting characteristics so that we are able to create singular oils with unique charm, depth and complexity. Traditional stone mill pressing provides less stress to the skins and pits, thereby exuding a smoother, less pungent oil; whereas, the hammer mill perforates the skins and pits of the olives to produce sharper, more robust flavors.

Once the olives are pressed and kneaded, the paste undergoes a separation process to eliminate any residual water so that the resulting oil is pure and concentrated. The oil is then funneled into stainless steel tanks, under nitrogen, until it can further settle.


After a patient resting period, the art of the blend begins. Trained by Italian mill masters, our skilled team meticulously tastes each oil varietal, passionately testing dozens of blending combinations to achieve a perfect master blend that embodies an ideal balance of fruit, aromatics and warmth. Because the oil is precious – with each tree producing only one gallon of olive oil – we blend in extremely small lots and bottle on demand to ensure the richest, most vibrant flavors possible. "

did you know there are thousands of olive varietals? i didn't until i started researching olive oil. round pond handcrafts two different blends of e.v.o.o., an italian blend and a spanish blend. the italian blend is made from early harvest frantoio, leccino, pendolino, morina and coratina olives. it is a big, peppery oil...nice when drizzling over grilled bread, fresh vegetables, and meats. the later harvest spanish blend...made from mission, manzanillo and sevillano olives is good for mixing with other ingredients...like in a vinaigrette.

both blends are really good...but, i must confess, i am much more of a single varietal girl...i like tasting each oil...and fresh olive days gives me that opportunity because the individual oils are offered for taste...and purchase. i sampled all and...true to form...fell in love with the big one...the leccino. i tasted from a small cup...coughed when i swallowed...and knew this was the one for me...(the other people standing around me laughed...did not believe me that the coughing was a good thing...it really is...and they purchased sevillano). the reason for the tasting...buy what you like...or... do what i do...buy a bunch of different types and use them in different ways...

o.k. i told you this was part 1 of the story of my addiction to extra virgin olive oil...we have just scratched the surface of growing, harvesting and pressing olives. part 2 will cover tasting oils, discovering what you like, where to buy and how to use...fresh, in cooking and in baking. my site is full of recipes using e.v.o.o. and, although i usually include a couple of recipes in each post...today i am going to encourage you to use e.v.o.o. in its purest, simplest form. buy the best quality you can afford and drizzle over grilled/toasted bread...sprinkle with a bit of sea salt..and you are good to go. or try rubbing freshly grilled bread with a garlic clove before the e.v.o.o./salt finish....or rub the bread with the cut side of a fresh tomato..drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with salt....absolutely delicious....enjoy!
oh...and when we were walking around the round pond estate snapping photos we discovered this old, antique fixture...still not the press of my dreams...but pretty cool nonetheless....


do you love e.v.o.o. too? tell me your favorite way to use it in the comments section of this post...and...until next time....remember our motto...buy the best quality organic or sustainably grown ingredients you can...and don't mess them up with overly complicated techniques...

best,
diane


diane padoven

napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style"™

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6 comments:

Barb said...

Thanks Diane, for telling us about olive oil. I never really knew how it was made. I have visited Napa a couple of times. Next visit, I will add Round Pond to the
tour.

I am looking forward to part 2 of your series. I never know what I am doing when I buy olive oil.

Jenn said...

great post today!

napa farmhouse 1885 said...

thanks barb. glad you enjoyed learning about evoo...my not-so-secret-anymore addiction. part 2 will be up sometime next week...

best,
diane

napa farmhouse 1885 said...

jenn!!

thank you so much for the feedback...really appreciate you taking the time to comment...

pls visit again soon..

diane

Mukesh kumar said...

This costly and powerful essential oil was employed for lots of various purposes, including lifting the mood and treating aches and pains. Cloves themselves had been widely-used in cooking, and to help preserve food.
Thank's
Regard's
Where Can I Buy Clove Oil

Daniel Pitt said...

Destiny Olives takes all necessary measures to supply fresh olive oil to their valuable customers.
Fresh olive oil