For most people, Italian food also figures when they picture Italy in their mind. The reason Italian food is so memorable is because of the fantastic home-grown, natural ingredients. Principal amongst these is Italian olive oil. At Avventure Bellissime – the Italian tours and Italian holidays expert – we regularly visit olive groves with our guests. So we asked our compatriot olive growers for their best facts about Italian olive oil.
1. The Olea Europaea, or the Olive Tree came to Italy around 1,000 years ago.
The Olea Europaea is the tree or shrub that produces olives used in olive oil. It is native to the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa although hasn’t always been prevalent in Italy. We think the Greeks brought the tree to Italy around 1,000 BC and from there it flourished.
2. The Olive tree can live for up to 2,000 years.
One of the most fascinating olive oil facts was that the tree could live for 2,000 years. It’s a very resilient tree that withstands difficult climates, particularly warm ones, very well.
3. There are different grades of olive oil.
Firstly there’s extra virgin olive oil which is the most pure and of the best quality. Then there’s virgin olive oil that is made using riper olives than extra virgin olive oil, but is created using a similar process. Then there’s pure olive oil and this is a blend of refined and virgin olive oil. It is lower in quality and doesn’t have anywhere near the same amount of anti-oxidants.
4. There’s a special process that differentiates extra virgin olive oil from other varieties of olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is the ‘highest’ quality olive oil that you can buy.
There are restrictive requirements that surround the production of extra virgin olive oil that differentiate it from regular olive oil. The oil is extracted within 24 hours of the olive being picked and at a lower temperature (27 degrees Celsius). The oil is then extracted by mechanical cold pressing alone and bottled immediately. This is because any oil produced after the first mechanical pressing loses quality, has less vitamin E and antioxidants and more acidity.
5. Olive oil is sensitive to light.
Light can have a detrimental effect on olive oil. That’s why it is stored in dark green or brown bottles. If olive oil is exposed to light, the anti-oxidants are destroyed. It needs to be stored in a dark cabinet at room temperature.