academia barilla  December 2006

Extra-Virgin Olive Oils: top of the crop!

Olive oil has a longstanding history with the Italian people, as [...]

Olives and olive oils from Italy Olive oil has a longstanding history with the Italian people, as it is the preferred fat that we’ve cooked with for well over 2,000 years. We’re lucky too – the Mediterranean climate allows for us to grow olives in all 20 regions of Italy, including the northernmost alpine region Valle d’Aosta.In total, Italy produces nearly 20% of the world’s olive oil, including some of the more famous gourmet products that Academia Barilla has to offer.

The highest grade of Olive Oil is the Extra-Virgin.

In order to understand how important Extra-Virgin is, and how tasty it can be, one must first understand the traditional process of making olive oil, including the olive oil growing, harvesting, pressing, filtering, bottling and, of course, tasting.

Let’s examine.

Olives are generally harvested en masse when the conditions are perfect: the fruit is mature, and the chemical composition of the olive itself is just right. In wine terms, you can consider this the perfect “brix” for harvesting olives.

Once picked, the fruit is not allowed to fall to or even touch the ground – the fruit must be handled carefully so as to not let it bruise, otherwise, it could begin a fermentation process that can ruin the olive and its eventual oil.

Once harvested, the olives are washed and then placed onto a sort of circular screen that will be layered with other screens and placed onto the frantoio – the olive press. Traditionally, the frantoio was a series of granite stone wheels that would crush the olives with great force, ensuring they spew out only the finest juices and allowing the screen to catch the skins and pits.

Today, many smaller olive oil producers still use their traditional frantoio presses, while some larger production facilities have resorted to centrifuge methods of extracting their olive oil.

The first press
of these olives is by far the best. It produces olio extravergine di oliva, the highest grade Italian olive oil.
The acid content of this first press ensures an oil that is no more than 0.8% in acid.

The presses do continue, however, and the seeds, skins and remaining pulp gets mashed together even further, under more pressure and sometimes even under a bit of heat, to ensure that every last drop of oil is extracted. These next presses are not able to be considered extra-virgin; their acid levels are too high, and the viscous content of their oil is not as pure and sometimes lacks strong flavor.

Extra-virgin olive oils DOP from Academia BarillaAcademia Barilla prides itself on bringing some of the best Extra-Virgin Olive Oils to the market, including DOP Extra-Virgin Olive Oils from Liguria, Tuscany and Sicily.

These oils are perfect for dipping, dressing salads or adding at the last minute to a tasty pasta sauce.

For more cooking suggestions, see our fellow Academia Barilla Chef!

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