Extra virgin olive oil: the best in Italy

It is the liquid gold of tables, one of the most loved Italian products in the world and a true elixir of life. It is he, theextra virgin olive oil. How many Italian varieties of extra virgin olive oil are there? Countless, it depends on cultivardal territorydal climate and by other parameters all dictated by mother nature and by a minimum human intervention which concerns only the processing. Extra virgin olive oil is good for youbut you have to choose quality and to do this you need to know it and why not, even try it to understand aromas and flavours so you always use it correctly. In this small but punctual guide, we will discover together which are the best varieties of Italy of extra virgin olive oil, but not only. We will go on a sensory journey through one of the most important ingredients of our gastronomic culture.

What is extra virgin olive oil

It is a completely vegetable fat which is obtained from the pressing of the olive (the fruit of the olive tree) which is obtained from mechanical processes in established and controlled thermal conditions. Extra virgin olive oil is a high quality food which leads numerous health benefits of the human organism. Born as seasoningthe EVO oil (so called in abbreviated way) has become above all in haute cuisine a real ingredient that can often be considered as the protagonist of a dish. This is a symbol of the area and of the agro-food product Mediterranean diet. One of the main characteristics of extra virgin olive oil is theacidity which is measured in oleic acid. To be defined as extra virgin olive oil, an oil must have a maximum measurable acidity of 0.8 g per 100 g of product. With acidity we mean precisely the concentration of free fatty acids.

Classification of olive oil

In order to classify the oil and determine which can be defined as extra virgin olive oil, there are regulations of the European Community which comply with very strict protocols resulting from very strict parameters:

  • free aciditywhich represents the percentage of oleic acid;
  • number of peroxidesi.e. the amount of oxygen per kg of oil;
  • organoleptic evaluation which is carried out by means of panel tests and which considers colour, aroma, texture and, of course, taste.

Only oils that pass these tests can be called extra virgin olive oil and therefore represent excellence. And all the others? Here she is oil classification:

  • Extra virgin olive oil: maximum acidity 0.8 g extraction with mechanical methods;
  • Virgin olive oil: acidity between 0.8 and 2 g, extraction with mechanical methods;
  • Lampante olive oil: acidity greater than 2 g, extraction with mechanical methods, not suitable for food consumption;
  • Refined olive oil: acidity less than or equal to 0.3 g, obtained by rectifying lampante oils with chemical and physical methods plus a refining phase;
  • pomace oil: made with squeezing residues extracted using chemical solvents, not suitable for food consumption.

The 7 phases of extra virgin olive oil production

It is not enough to squeeze the olives to obtain oil, in fact they exist 7 stagesalso part of strict protocols, which will bring this extraordinary product to our tables.

  1. Collection: in Italian olive groves it occurs between mid-October and the end of December. The olive harvest can be done manually or mechanically but the principle is the same. The nets are placed on the ground and the branches are shaken to make the olives fall. In some productions the spontaneous fall of the olives is expected.
  2. Preliminary stages: elimination of all those parts that cannot re-enter the oil.
  3. Extraction: which can be by pressure or by centrifuge in the most modern cases, includes part of the subsequent phases.
  4. Milling: it is the mechanical process by which the olives are compressed for the extraction of the crude oil.
  5. Extraction of the oil must: it is the phase of separation between the liquid part (water-oil emulsion) and the solid part (pomace, which includes residues of peels, seeds and stones).
  6. Separation of oil from water.
  7. Storage, clarification and bottling.

Then there is also the filtration stage which is not done by all manufacturers. Unfiltered oil has more intense flavors and aromas but tends to create deposits and faster oxidation. The filtered oil is certainly more gentle from an aromatic and gustatory point of view but it keeps longer keeping its organoleptic properties intact.

How to recognize a good Evo Oil: the organoleptic analysis

To understand if what you have in front of you is a quality extra virgin olive oilit is possible to engage inorganoleptic analysis thus learning to taste the oil and to identify the quality one.

To evaluate an extra virgin olive oil, 3 tests must be performed:

  • visual test: in which color and body (texture) are evaluated;
  • smell test: in which aroma and bouquet are evaluated;
  • taste test: in which we focus on taste and aftertaste.

The visual proof of color can only be trusted in case of absence of alterations. In fact, many producers intensify or lighten the color of the oil with the addition of natural elements such as chlorophyll or food colourings. However, if you analyze a product without additives, the color will be more green when the olives used are not very ripe, while it will be tending to gold if the ripening of the fruit is the correct one. A very clear oil denotes poor quality or the use of overripe olives. We must also take into account the fact that the darkest and most intensely colored oil is a young oil, while the clearest and most limpid one is an older oil.

The bodywhich can be translated as density, will have to be balanced. It should therefore not be too high and nor should it have a too liquid consistency as happens with oxidized or too old oils.

L’olfactory examination it is very important to understand if you are dealing with a quality oil. The absence of odor is the worst observation that can be obtained from examining an extra virgin olive oil. You will have to find an intense and fresh aroma, the ideal would be to put it in a small glass and hold it in your hand for a few minutes in order to bring its temperature between 27 and 28 °C. At that point the good oil should release all its aroma.

Al gusto the oil must have a spicy scent and a fruity perception which then turns into more or less sweet tastes depending on the place of origin. The aftertaste must contain slightly bitter notes.

The flavors of extra virgin olive oil

The flavor of the oil varies, as we have said, according to the cultivar, the territory, the climate and its processing. These parameters will allow you to distinguish herbaceous flavors of almond, artichoke, apple, tomato and Mediterranean herbs. But when it comes to the taste of extra virgin olive oil, the classification can be summarized in 6 broad categories:

  • amaro: more or less intense given by just ripe olives, in this case it is always associated with a spicy aftertaste;
  • fruity: remember the olive just picked;
  • dolce: extremely balanced, it has no particular bitter or spicy notes;
  • spicy: these are pungent scents typical of the warmer areas. It denotes a high presence of antioxidants and these are often oils stored in the correct way;
  • harmonic: delicate taste;
  • round: enveloping and balanced without bitter or spicy hints.

The cultivars of the best oils in Italy

When it comes to cultivar means the variety of olive used for the production of extra virgin olive oil. There are oils monocultivartherefore obtained from a single variety, or blend which are obtained by mixing several varieties. In terms of quality, there is no difference between these two creations, they simply vary in taste and aroma. The main cultivars of Italy are:

  • White: Friuli, intense fruity taste.
  • Casaliva: Lake Garda, delicate and fruity taste.
  • Cortina: Puglia (Bari and Foggia), fruity, persistent oil, bitter and slightly spicy notes.
  • Right: Abruzzo (Pescara), balanced.
  • Crusher: Tuscany (Lucca, Pisa, Pustoia), fruity taste.
  • Taggiasca: Liguria, Riviera di Ponente. Rich and fruity flavour.
  • Leccino: Tuscany, but also present in Umbria, Abruzzo, Molise, Marche and Lazio. Fruity oil, bitter notes and very slight spiciness.
  • moraiola: Tuscany and Umbria. Fruity and persistent taste, clear bitter and spicy notes.
  • Nocellara del Belice: Sicily, fruity, spicy and bitter aroma with notes of thistle and artichoke.
  • Ogliarola: Puglia (Bari and Foggia hinterland), medium fruity oil and pleasant bittering notes.
  • Peranzana: Puglia, low yield. Balanced flavour, bitter and spicy notes, hints of herbs and fruits such as almonds and tomatoes.

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