I was made to solemnly swear off PAM.

It’s embarrassing that the President of an Extra Virgin Olive Oil Association in Tuscany even knows that I use PAM, but I’m a changed woman now. I’ve gained my Virginity. I now know, without a doubt, that fresh pressed, balanced Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the key to brilliant Italian food.

Beauty buffs, as you may know, besides being the healthiest oil to consume, it’s also in many beauty products and spa remedies; Antico Casale di Scansano uses a handful of EVOO-based products at their spa. Marta Pellegrini the owner knows an old legendary woman in Scansano who has put EVOO on her face every day of her life, and now she has no wrinkles.

Olives aren’t just part of the culture in the Maremma of Tuscany. They ARE the culture—that and the Grape. Marta took me to visit the frantoio in Scansano, an olive press shared by the best and biggest olive farmers in town. If you want to make it as an olive farmer in Tuscany, you have to be up picking by 6am, and in the frantoio to press by 6pm. If you don’t press immediately, it’s too late.

Olive farmers are everywhere in the region, and it looks something like this on the side of the road:

To be granted the supreme title of “Extra Virgin,” oil needs to pass a strict acidity test with an Extra Virgin Olive Oil Association. The acidity level must be 0-80 or lower, and the lower the better—in Tuscany they’re around 0-20. It could take weeks to get results back, and something as small as a fly could ruin an entire batch. Look for this Tuscany sticker if you want to get an Olive Oil that passed the test in Tuscany. And beware of imported oils; acidity will change over time if it’s not stored properly, and your oil might not be Extra Virgin by the time it gets to you.

But after acidity, there’s a much more complex way to judge Olive Oil that you can even do yourself with a little practice. The attributes depend upon a lot of factors: ripeness at time of harvest, condition of soil, climate, care, location, etc. I visited the Scansano home of Georgio, president of an EVOO Association, who taught me everything I know about olive oil and schooled my taste buds in discerning light from strong, good from bad.

PREPARE:

To taste Olive Oil properly, you must warm it up to about 68 deg Farenheit, the temperature at which the flavors are at optimal potency. This can be achieved simply by covering your sample and rubbing the cup with your hands for about a minute.

TASTE:

Then, you take a sip of the oil onto your tongue and spread it throughout your mouth, making a backwards “S” sound with your entire mouth to pull it back, then either swallow or spit it out.

JUDGE, 0n a scale of 1-10:

Negative Attributes

Riscaldo – Sourness
Muffa – Mold
Avvinato-inacetito-acido-agro – Feeling like Vinegar
Morchia – Solid at the bottom
Metallico – Metallic
Rnacido – Greasy
Altri – Other

Positive Attributes

Fruttato – Fruity
Amaro – Bitter
Piccante – Chile

With 7 negative categories and only 3 positive ones, it’s basically setting your your olive oil up for failure. A good Extra Virgin Olive Oil will have NONE of the negative attributes, and the 3 positive attributes should line up around the same level on the 1-10 scale.

There are three general strengths of good Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
Light (around 1-3): Good on salads
Medium (around 4-6): Good on fish
Strong (around 7-10): Good on steak
For bread, you’ll want something between medium and strong.

So, an ideal medium olive oil will be about a 5 on fruitiness, a 5 on bitterness, and a 5 on chile-ness.

Catching on?

You might need some practice, but it’s a very fascinating world. If it’s something you’re interested in, try these resources. Extra Virgin Olive Oil could make a great gift for the holidays.

An Extra Virgin Olive Oil tasting kit – “Take an olive oil tour of Italy at home” – www.olioeolivestore.com
The Olive Oil Times – www.oliveoiltimes.com

Also, check your local supermarket to see if they offer any olive oil tastings

You, too, will swear to never use Bertolli or PAM again.

Here I am with Marta, about to fully enjoy a slice of bread with real, fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a sprinkle of salt, along with a glass of red wine. Italian doesn’t get simpler than that.

Today’s WIN ITALIA Question:

To win luggage packed with authentic Italian souvenirs – including Extra Virgin Olive Oil!

What do you use most in your kitchen… Extra Virgin Olive Oil? Bertoli? PAM? Butter? I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter?

Spa-rrividerci!

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