Every time I observe the students of a new course on oil seated in front of me, eager to satisfy their curiosity about olives, I think to myself that they will come out utterly enraptured and transformed. I am not saying this out of haughtiness, but based on my knowledge of the facts. Whoever becomes a part of the world of extra-virgin olive oil of excellence, never turns back. With this column we will delve into the secrets of the finest olive growing and harvesting, learning more about the best areas in Italy and the most exquisite varieties, suited for the culinary recipes of the entire national territory.
Today I would like to test your knowledge about quality extra-virgin oil: are you sure you know how to distinguish good oil from poor oil? Would you be able, as is customary with wines, to tell if a certain oil comes from the North or South of Italy? How many types of oil are there in our homeland? There are dozens of other questions I'd like you to answer, but today I want to call your attention to past cultures and what, if anything, has been remained of them in our modern time, in an attempt to clarify a few aspects.
The first traces of olive stones, the "European Olea Sativa", date as far back as 6,000 years before Christ, found in the enchanted area of the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, modern-day Iraq, the birth place of the vine, cereals and wheat, basic elements of our diet. Thanks to the Phoenicians, it landed on the shores of the Mediterranean in 600 B.C. and the first census of the plants was taken in 200 B.C. Attention to variety was already common at the time of the Romans, who were careful not to pick olives fallen to ground and not to damage the oil, protecting it from heat, sunlight and air.
And how are things nowadays?
Would you say the same care is given to this product?
The consumer has a need for information. Chaos is rampant and it seems unjust to leave those who have a thirst for knowledge in the dark. Too much confusion, alas. Too many decoy labels that confuse the buyer when choosing which oil to purchase, and no longer based on its quality, but merely for its price.
In the journey we will embark henceforth, I will be presenting the locations, the characters and the oils, with ample space for easily realizable thrills.
Perhaps I am guilty of pride, but I can't help quoting the Great Poet in my conclusive admonition: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here". It will indeed be arduous to go back once you have entered this tunnel of the excellent savors of olive varieties scattered throughout the country, combined with the best products of national cuisine.