Olive Oil & The Mediterranean Lifestyle
Simply put, olive oil is the foundation for the foods of a Mediterranean lifestyle, and it is the cornerstone to the “Age Old” lifestyle of Secolari. Throughout the ages, olive oil has played an integral part in Mediterranean history. As “liquid gold,” it was not uncommon to find olive oil traded as currency, and its role in religious ceremony is legendary. The economies of ancient empires rose and fell on the olive trade. It lit the torches of exploit and the lamps of romance. It was used as a medical elixir and was the answer to most medical ailments. Most of all, it was used, like today, in every aspect of Mediterranean cooking. There is perhaps no other substance or ingredient that can add such complexity and character to a particular dish, and at the same time, help improve one’s health.
Like wine, the quality and taste of any olive oil is influenced by a number of factors. No two oils will taste the same. Soil content, weather, climate, times of harvest, and pressing all contribute to an oil’s unique character. Highly prized oils are typically pressed early in the season. For the Northern hemisphere, that usually means late October or early November. These highly prized oils tend to be fruitier, more robust, and more peppery in taste. In contrast, olives harvested in December and January are more ripe, and will be characterized by a more mild and softer flavor — often described by some as “buttery.”
From the moment an olive is picked, it begins to deteriorate in terms of flavor, complexity and character. At this point, it becomes absolutely critical to press the olives into oil within 48 hours. Premium or “Extra Virgin” oils are the product of the first actual “cold pressing”of the olive. In other words, the initial secretion of the olive oil when it is first pressed. While few olive mills today turn the olive stone by donkey, it is not uncommon to find many mills using granite stones or other mechanical means in the pressing of olives. Within the trade, “cold pressing” has come to mean oil extraction by mechanical means in contrast to extraction principally by heat or chemicals.
Only oils derived from the initial pressing by mechanical means may qualify for certification as Extra Virgin. Yet even that may not be enough. Depending on the relevant jurisdiction, oils from the first cold pressing must still meet certain objective acidity levels and phenol content, as well as a subjective taste test by a panel of olive oil experts.
Falling below the “Extra Virgin” ranking, are other grades of oil giving credence to the caveat, “buyer beware.” These oils are significantly less flavorful and have higher levels of free acidity. They are commonly denoted as Virgin or “pure” olive oil, and represent the lowest edible grade of oil available. “Pomace” oil, non-edible, is typically used for soap making and in oil lamps. Unfortunately, through modern technology, it doesn’t take much to take low-grade oil, essentially flavorless, and treat it with chemicals to reduce the acidity level to make it technically qualify as “Extra Virgin” and label it as such. A recent study by the University of California at Berkley reported, for example, that over 69% of the commercially available imported “Extra Virgin” oils tested actually failed to meet the standards for Extra Virgin as established by the California Olive Oil Council, a non-profit certifying organization. Few people realize there is no federal governmental body within the United States that has the authority to regulate and prevent such practices. Such oils are mass produced and are offered to the perhaps unwitting public. Just read the back label of many mass produced and imported products to find the addition of “canola oil,” “coconut oil,” or “vegetable oil” or a cheap price to alert you of these potentially altered or lesser grade products.
At Secolari, we provide only the freshest olive oils available produced by artisans, and only after we have personally visited the olive grove, met with the owner and sampled their product. Only after it meets our personal guidelines, will we then offer it, to you, our customer. Only through this process, can we assure you of the highest quality Extra Virgin oils. Indeed, at present, we are offering only olive oils sourced from estate producers located within select regions of California — oil from producers that Mary and I have personally visited. We have no doubt that once tasted, there will be no going back to your local grocery store. No longer will you view olive oil as a mere commodity; rather, you will view it as the natural gift for which it was intended. You will be hooked on embellishing your meals quickly with the single varietals, blends, and flavored oils we have to offer.
Do yourself a favor, and dare to live the “Age Old” Mediterranean lifestyle of Secolari. Come visit us, and experience through an educated tasting, the exquisite difference of our hand-selected olive oils, vinegars, and balsamic.