Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Olive Oil from Tuscany

Olive oil from Tuscany is becoming ever more popular, and maybe you’ll want to try some while touring Italy, but you may be in for a surprise; the real McCoy tastes a lot different to what you may be used to.

The corporate companies that supply supermarkets have little concern for quality, despite what they publicize or write on the bottle. It’s a question of economics. A single tree will yield about six pints of high quality oil, and this is just too little if you need to produce huge quantities at low prices. So they resort to a number of nasty tricks to dilute the oil, or use otherwise unsuitable (rotting or fermenting) olives, then correct the inevitable faults chemically. As most industrial concerns producing cheap olive oil use the same methods, these oils have the same flavor, and maybe it’s the one your used too.  Unfortunately European legislation is just not strict enough, and it’s easy to fraud or even legally produce bad olive oil. I’ll not write a lengthy article on why this is, just take my word for it.

Typical color of newly milled Olive Oil
I’m betting you've never tasted a genuine high quality Olive oil from Tuscany, and when you do it can be quite a surprise. It’s bitter and fruity and doesn't have an exaggerated taste of olives. However if you taste an industrial oil side by side, the difference becomes immediately apparent. You’ll unlikely want the bad stuff again. The word most people use to describe the smell and flavor of industrial oils is, “rancid.”

 Fortunately there are a number of high quality producers in Tuscany, and some also have the DOP or IGP certification. These acronyms define the geographical origins of the oil, but more importantly that the oil has been tasted and analyzed by the authorities, who certify its quality. The oil is submitted for anonymous laboratory analysis, and is also subject to a blind tasting by a panel of experts. Only if it passes both tests is the company allowed to add DOP or IGP. When buying Italian olive oil back home look for the acronyms on the label.

A word on prices. I can’t say that paying a high price tag will guarantee you get quality olive oil, but a low price will definitely guarantee bad oil.

Click here to find out more about my Olive Oil and Wine tour.

Sergio Ceccherini