***French Month at Ottimo***

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What is it all about?

A staple of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years, olive oil is thought by many to be the reason people in the region have astonishing low rates of heart disease, arthritis, and a higher life expectancy than the rest of Europe.

The high levels of polyphenolic compounds give the oil its excellent health attributes.

The International Olive Council has set definitions for the various grades of olive oil.
Virgin olive oils are the oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea L. ) solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO or EVO) comes from virgin oil production only (only pressed once and no solvents added), contains no more that 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have superior taste.

In order for olive oils to be classified as extra-virgin, they need to be free of defects. Of the various things that could go wrong with olive oil when the olives are harvested from the trees, transported to the mills, and undergo pressing and processing, rancidity is most likely the defect that more consumers are familiar with, having had experience with rancid nuts and other instances of rancidity with oils and oils in food.

However, assuming the olive oil is shipped defect-free, how it is handled by wholesalers, retailers, restaurants and home cooks is still important. Remember that the great enemies of olive oil quality are heat (other than for final cooking), light, and oxygen. Hence the message to all of us: store and handle olive oil properly. Extra-virgin olive oils, if properly stored and handled, should retain their quality attributes—including their distinctive taste and flavor profiles—for up to two years. But even after two years, the basic health-promoting chemical structure of the oils can remain for some additional time—again, if properly stored—even if the aromatics have diminished. 

There is a lifetime of culinary pleasure and experimentation to be experienced with olive oil if one never actually heated the oil, but rather simply used it in raw or cold preparations and as a finishing condiment. However, applying heat to olive oil—and cooking with it—adds other layers of culinary possibility.

In general, when using the best, most aromatic extra virgin olive oils—such as those with intense green fruitiness or medium green fruitiness—it is best to cook at lower temperatures to preserve the aromatics. This is not, however, a matter of safety or smoke point, but simply flavor preservation (and the preservation of antioxidants and other healthful, bioactive compounds).
Try cooking a soft scramble of eggs with an aromatic olive oil on low to medium low heat and you’ll never think of eggs the same way again. Similarly, very simple pasta dishes—such as a spaghetti with only Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, some fresh cracked pepper, perhaps some fresh herbs, and a copious amounts of an excellent olive oil—benefit from adding most of the oil at room temperature or with minimal heating.

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