TRADITION, HEALTH, TASTE: IT'S ITALIAN
Italy is considered the world leader in quality of extra-virgin olive oil and is also number one in the product’s consumption. Much of Italian cuisine is based on tradition, and this is particularly the case with extra virgin olive oil production. Versatile in kitchen and highly digestible, extra-virgin olive oil it’s a base condiment of Mediterranean diet and also one of the most precious.
Medical studies have contributed to extra virgin olive oil’s already huge popularity also outside Italy. The oil has been at the heart of the Mediterranean diet for a long time, and this is believed to be the reason for the lack of certain health problems among people who follow this diet.
Indeed, olive is considered one of the few truly healthy oils: it is a mono-unsaturated fat that contains anti-oxidants, and is low in cholesterol. Olive oil consumption is believed to reduce the risk of heart disease, as is shown by the lower incidences of heart disease in the areas where the Mediterranean diet is followed.
The history of olive oil dates back to 5000 B.C. Olive trees were introduced in Italy, specifically Sicily, through the movements and expansion of the Greek diaspora around 800 B.C. Once Greek dominance dwindled, and the Mediterranean came under control of the Roman Empire, olive oil production took hold in Italy. By the first century B.C., Italian olive oil was a better in quality and taste than the oil produced in Greece. The olive tree and the oil it produces was of great importance within the Catholic Church. In fact, religious communities in Italy were key to helping olive oil retain its status, and they encouraged the continued cultivation of olives in the country.
Harvesting takes place at different times, depending on the area. In the more Northern areas, such as Tuscany, olive harvesting must be carried out earlier, due to the frosts. Indeed, in this region, olive harvesting begins as early as September. The different taste of each region’s olive oil is the result of the different times at which olives are harvested. To this day, mechanization is not usually present in the early stages of olive oil production. This is because olives are easily damaged, and damage would result in a lower quality of oil. The delicacy of olives impacts the harvesting process, as olives are generally handpicked. After the harvest, olives are taken to the frantoio, the mill. The frantoio is a very important part of the production process of Italian olive oil, and the methods used there sustain the traditional roots of olive oil production. A main concern during the production process is the yield of oil obtained from each olive, but equally important is the level of acidity. To be considered extra virgin olive oil, the acidity level must be lower than 8% and the oil must be obtained from the first pressing of the olives. Unlike the harvesting process, the milling stage is mechanical. Olives are first washed to remove undesired leaves and stems. Then the olives go into grinding. The entire olive is crushed, including the skin and the pit, with a big wheel made of granite. The grinding process creates a sort of paste, to prepare the olives for the mixing stage, which is considered the most important stage, since it determines the end result. Because of its importance, the mixing process is carried out very slowly, in order ensure the correct consistency. The next phase is the pressing phase, which liquefies the paste. The liquid is separated with a centrifuge that removes the water from the oil, and this is how we get unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil. The unfiltered oil is stored in cool steel tanks prior to bottling.
Olive Oil is a natural-functional-food: thanks to its properties, it naturally offers a lot of benefits to our health, thus representing an essential resource for an equilibrate diet.
For example, olive oil is rich in polyphenol , that in addition to be reliable indicators of quality and health of products, play an antioxidant function on our organism, helping a prevention of cardiovascular diseases related for examples to diabetes and obesity. Recent studies show a positive action of polyphenol in the reduction of the receptor responsible of the growth of breast cancer. Also vitamins E, existing in olive oil, is one of the most famous natural antioxidants, with a special ability to fight free radical. Thanks to the action of oleic acid, a monounsaturated acid fat, olive oil reduces the level of cholesterol, facilitates the digestion process and regulates the intestine. So it’s particularly suited also for babies and children that take advantage of oleic acid to strengthen cell membranes, especially the nervous one, stimulating the muscular and intellective growth. The role of squalene is also very important, it plays an emollient and nutrient role for the skin and it has the ability to absorb the harmful solar radiation. But pay attention to the label: each product must have all the information that certificates the characteristics and the respect of production technics.
Discover more: www.solooliveitaliane.it/en
Source: UNAPROL – Consorzio Olivicolo Italiano, FEDER.D.O.P. OLIO – Federazione Nazionale dei Consorzi volontari per la tutela delle denominazioni di origine protetta degli oli extra vergine di oliva.
- The olive tree is a unique type of evergreen. It grows in subtropical climates all over the world, reaching anywhere between 10 to 40 feet in height. With olive tree cultivation, patience is key. The trees must mature for at least 15 years to produce a worthwhile crop, but past this stage they can produce quality olives for the next 65 years or so.
- Olive oil typically comes in a dark green bottles. This is not just a stylistic choice but rather an essential part of olive oil preservation. Light can destroy olive oil through oxidation, a process that changes the beneficial chemical compounds and alters the antioxidants. It is therefore important to store olive oil in its dark container, and to keep it out of the refrigerator, as condensation will dilute the oil, causing it to spoil. A room-temperature cabinet is fine.