Oily Thoughts

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It has been far too long since I have posted anything.  I am sorry.  My shopping trips take preparation before departing added to the four to six weeks traveling and at least two or three weeks to dispense purchases and unpack.  So a twice a year excursion becomes between two and three months.  The trips seem to get ever closer together.  And each time I am in Italy I seem to learn more, meet more people who help me find new products, and always more information.  It is so amazing to realize how little we know about much of the food we eat.  Even more astonishing is how wrong what we do know can be.  We are often purposely mislead, exaggerated claims made, sometimes flat out lies occur so it is important for all of us to be diligent in considering all information along with our own common sense to decide what we invest in our foods.

With that, I have read and absorbed so much info on olive oil lately it seems unavoidable that I write more on the subject.

Carboncella are the most common variety olive in this area
Carboncella variety are prevalent here

As I have mentioned before, the early harvest October/November olive oil that are harvested and milled when they are green or just beginning to ripen have the highest polyphenol levels.   These not only contribute to taste, but are the most helpful in health benefits.  The green olive’s polyphenols are a measure of the very desirable low oxidation levels that result in olive oils spiciness, fragrance, pepperiness and bitterness.  They are an indication that the oil will not only amplify all the flavors it touches, but keep you healthy longer.

As the olives ripen, the polyphenol levels plunge.   There is just no comparison to that fresh, distinctly peppery slightly bitter flavor that signifies the best olive oil.

Unfortunately, the horror stories of poor labeling, mixed blended oils and addition of oils other than olive, are all true.  Most olive oils in stores and even on the internet have been cooped up in shipping containers, bottles or tins for months and months.  They are mostly stale, lifeless, oxidized and not at all what great olive oil should be.  Few Americans have experienced the living, fragrant and flavorful taste of fresh olive oil.

One help is to look at the designations on the container of oil you purchase here.  If you see DOP, that means Denominazione di Origine Protetta (the protected designation of origin) and IGP,  which means Indicazione Geografica Protetta ( the protected geographical indication).    Both designations are governed by the EU rules designed to guarantee authenticity to protect consumers.

There are very specific rules to achieve these designations, which are certified by an independent body.  With regard to olive oils, there are requirements for the length of time from tree to mill, the levels of acidity and considerably more restrictions.  You can confidently buy any product in the EU with those designations.

If you want to try some of the DOP products here are a few and their locations:

Curious about which foods are certified DOP? Here’s a list of some of our favorites!

Mozzarella di bufala (Campania, Lazio): Considered to be more creamy than mozzarella made from cow’s milk, buffalo mozzarella is a true Italian delicacy. Love this tasty cheese? Find out some surprising facts about it here.

Balsamic vinegar (Emilia Romagna): DOP balsamic vinegar, from Modena and Reggio Emilia, has a thicker consistency and richer taste than most other vinegars on the market—and can be aged for over 12 years. (Here are more fun facts about balsamic vinegar of Modena!).

San Marzano tomatoes (Campania): Long in shape and bittersweet in taste, these tomatoes are harvested by hand. They’re later crushed, canned… and used to make dishes like pizza and pasta taste out of this world!

Olive oil (Abruzzo, Calabria, Campania, Emilia Romagna, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Puglia, Sicily, Tuscany, Veneto): This staple has the largest number of DOP varieties of any Italian food specialty, and it comes from many different Italian regions. Some regions even have multiple DOP oils from different areas!

And of course wines.  The 73 DOCG wines are located in 15 different regions but most of them are concentrated in Piedmont, Lombardia, Veneto and Tuscany. Among these are appellations appreciated and sought after by wine lovers around the world: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino (colloquially known as the “Killer B’s”).

And, don’t get me started on honey which has even more fraud in the claims made by some producers.  Basically we cannot believe anything much being touted as pure, local, made in the USA or anything else.  Food now requires an amazing amount of diligence to know you are getting what you are paying for and expect.  Ask questions, read all labels and educate yourself.  It is the only real protection you have.