Olive Oil

 
Watch how high quality olive oil is made

 
OLEA EUROPAEA

 
Olea Europaea is the only one in the Olive family of trees that is cultivated by its fruit. It's dificult to know exactly how and when this process began, but it's usually accepted that the first signs of its cultivation and consumption were in Greece and Siria, simultaniously, about 3.500 years ago. And it's derived from the wild species Olea Chrysophyla.
 
From Siria, the olive spred mainly through the North of Africa, where the fruit was then baptized with the mitic name ZAIT. And From Greece, to the North and East through the South of Europe. The greek word for olive, ELAIWA, was transformed into elia, maslina, olajbogyo, until finally: OLIVE.

 
There is evidence of the existence of olives in Greece since 2.500 B.C. The Greeks created the olive and its oil as an important part of their culture, irreplaceable by any other type of substance, plant or food. Greek mythology describes the competition conducted by Zeus, which would give as prize the power over Attica - the historical Greek region containing Atenas. The challenge was which god would be able to produce the most useful present. Poseidon offered the horse: powerful, fast and beautiful. Athena produced the Olive tree: giver of delicious and comforting oil, valuable timber, and shadow. Athena won the challenge, and her prize was put on top of the Acropolis. During the Persian invasion it was almost destroyed by torches. The amazing power to regenerate, kept the olive tree still alive even though burnt, and it flourished again years after. Branches and saplings of these original olive trees were planted around Greece. Hurting olive trees became a capital sin, once its branches and oil became the symbol of humanity's most noble traces, and of permanence and perseverance.
 
The olive oil was included in daily activities, ceremonies, celebrations and religious rituals. Before long journeys, travelers would apply olive oil on their feet. People would pay to be covered in olive oil, which was a sign of respect. Guests at banquets would were a small olive tree branch on their heads, as a part of their outfit, and they were also covered in olive oil mixed with aromatic spices. The birth of a male son was announced with an olive tree branch hanging on the house door. Olive tree branches also were the symbol of supplicants and messengers, which brought the strength of it as a both nonviolence and good omen symbol.
 
Athletes would cover themselves in olive oil before competitions. And the best performances were believed to give the oil magic powers. So the olive oil was to be taken out of their skins after the competitions, and sold for high prices.
 
When the olive oil spread itself around Europe, some of these rituals were given new interpretations. Monarchs would cover themselves in olive oil before their crowning ceremony. It is also present in Christianity and Judaism; both religions use it in certain ceremonies. And finally, we have the Romans saying: "Wine within and oil without", an old saying that meant to justify the meaning of a good life.
 
The bible contains 140 references to the olive oil. It's a symbol of longevity, fertility, maturity and peace in different cultures. Olive oil has also been associated with great wealth, a symbol of prosperity and the blood that gave life to empires. It was used as lamps fuel, it has been used for its medicinal properties, as a tonic for hair and skin, and even as a weapon (when heated to be thrown over invaders, from the top of castles walls).
 
OLIVE OIL PRODUCERS
 
Italy is the main exporter of olive oil in the European community, but Spain is the largest producer, responsible for 45% of the world production; Italy, almost 25%, and Greece, 20%. Most of the olive oil from the United States comes from California, and the State is responsible for only 0.5% of the world production. Every year, 10 million metric tons of olives are harvested around the world from about 800 million olive trees, nine million of which are used to be pressed and produce olive oil. The rest of them are prepared to be sold as olives. Bartolini's olive oil is produced through cold press, a tradition of excellence in Italy since 1850.
 
 
 
HARVESTE AND RESISTANCE
 
Olive trees can resist to extreme conditions: long and lasting hot summers, and some level of harsh winter with little water supply. These fabulous plants adjust their growth to the humidity conditions in the environment. Poor soils can promote high quality olive trees, but you could also say the same about rich soils. Olive trees require low maintenance, and low irrigation or fertilization, as well as little pruning.
 
The wind however can be a curse. Olive trees exhibit their first white flowers - which become their fruits, the olives - always in the spring. Harsh winds can make cut loose such flowers, reducing the harvesting considerably.
 
The resistance to the cold is a characteristic of certain olive trees, they may resist to very harsh winters, as long as the next to freezing conditions doesn't last longer than a couple of days. This condition sets the olive tree in a hibernating state, like a bear. But temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius can make it impossible for them to survive. It happened in Provence, the French olive oil capital. Their farms are still recovering from the frosts occurred between 1956 and 1985. There are several ex-olive farms, who found it more profitable to trade around 1/3 of their affected olive trees for wine - much more profitable in the short run. Because the amazing power to regenerate that granted olive trees so many myths and symbology takes its time. And such time may be a price too high for a farmer to pay, since he depends on the cyclic renovations of his profits. Even though they are no longer experiencing the frost, they may take a lot of time to produce enough fruits again, to make such farming worth. That's why we don't find so many French olive oil in the world markets nowadays, most of the oil they produce is marketed in France and consumed quite fast. Unpredictable, besides resistant, olive trees suffered with the same frost phenomenon in Tuscany, during 1985, but they've had a much faster recovery. And today Tuscany’s production is considered one of the finest in the world.
 
The exact method to harvest the olives is one of the many factors that influence the olive oil quality. Olives are harvested in varied moments, seeking specific results and climatic considerations of each region. In Chianti, most of the olives are harvested by hand when still green, they almost don't ripe, because the frost to come can kill the entire harvest. Tuscany olives are constantly set as a parameter of quality: a mix of ripe olives (red black tone) and green olives. The result causes a sensation typical of pepper at the end of the throat. The Ligurians harvest their olives when they are already falling from the trees, so ripe and sweet, like their olive oil.
 
Olive trees grow slowly, and take 5 to 7 years to offer enough fruits for a viable harvesting. And even then, each tree produces 3 to 4 quarters of oil. Olives tend to hurt when they fall into the soil, and these bruises can cause oxidation and the fruit fermentation, resulting in a much too acid oil. The hand harvesting is the most valuable method, but today the most used one is trusting machines to do the hard work (with mechanical claws and tractors). Their main function is to prevent bruises.
 
TASTING RULES
International Olive Oil Council
 
Put a little bit of oil inside a wine glass, use your hands to warm the glass as if it was brandy, cover the top of the glass with your other hand. Spin it a few times. Remove your hand and smell the aroma. Take a sup. Consider its viscosity, how it feels on top of your mouth. Inspire through your teeth, so that the taste is distributed around our mouth. Do you like the taste? The feeling? Which flavors are being valued? Are there whispers of almonds, cucumbers, freshly cut grass, red pepper or artichoke? Try to describe the flavors and aromas, and decide if you like them. Before proceeding to the next olive oil, clean your taste with an apple piece. Bread is not appropriate, because it changes a little bit the true taste of olive oil, and the bread's texture can diminish the oil's viscosity in your mouth.

 


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