** NEW: Italian Olive Oil 101 (Free Italy Travel Advice)**

|image1|In a yearly ritual that dates back thousands of years, Italian olive
producers have either begun harvesting their fruits or are preparing to
do so in the next month or so. Much of their bounty will be turned into
olive oil. Homer called olive oil, “liquid gold”
and the oil produced from the area that is now Italy has had a stellar
reputation throughout history. Pliny the Elder, an author and military
commander in the Early Roman Empire, called it “the best in
the Mediterranean” and “excellent olive oil at
reasonable prices.”

Italy ranks second in the world for olive oil production (behind Spain)
and number one in consumption. This is no surprise to those
who’ve visited Italy and know what a staple olio is in the
Italian diet; hardly any lunch or dinner can be complete without olive
oil as an ingredient in or dressing for one of the dishes. While Tuscan
olive oil may be the most celebrated around the world, most olive oil
production actually takes place in southern Italy, particularly in the
region of href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/department64.cfm”>Puglia,
which has the largest production of any region.  Other areas
with large and/or notable olive productions include href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/department68.cfm”>Calabria,
href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/department73.cfm”>Lazio,
href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/department61.cfm”>Sicily,  href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/department55.cfm”>Tuscany
and href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/department63.cfm”>Umbria.
The regions of href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/department66.cfm”>Piedmont
and the href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/department71.cfm”>Valle
d’Aosta are the only
ones that don’t produce olive oil in any significant
quantities.

Italian olive oil has skyrocketed in popularity throughout the world in
recent years and number one country for its export is the United
States. Yet, popularity has also given rise to poor imitations. Most
consumers are unaware that huge quantities of olive oil from other
countries are shipped into Italy for bottling so that it can be labeled
as Italian olive oil.

Those who produce authentic, organic Italian olive oil are fiercely
trying to protect their product and their craft. Franco Lombardi, who
has an orchard of 4,000 olive trees, at his farm, href=”http://www.oliveoil.chiantionline.com” target=”_blank”> style=”font-style: italic;”>Il Pornanino,
in href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/225.cfm”> style=”font-style: italic;”>Radda in Chianti,
href=”http://www.dreamofitaly.com/members/department55.cfm”>Tuscany,
believes the best defense is to educate consumers. He runs olive oil
tastings every Tuesday at his farm and travels to the U.S. several
times a year to instruct Americans on the fine points of olive oil. As
he gathered his family and friends to work on this year’s harvest, he
shared some important things we should all know about Italian olive
oil:

A
natural harvest:
We don’t use
tractors to harvest the olives because we might break some of the
branches. Then we would have to seal the ends, and that would mean
introducing chemicals to the tree. We do not use fertilizers or
insecticides as some farmers do, to weaken the stems and make them
wither, so that the olives drop off. We gather our olives by hand. Our
oil has to be totally pure, as nature intends it to be, and we
introduce nothing to change that.

Making
the oil:
The age-old stone
press is a wonderful yet simple machine, which is still in use wherever
oil is made the traditional way. Olives are gently and slowly mashed by
a stone wheel into a thick paste, which is spread on mats called
ifiscoli that are stacked in piles. The stacks are then pressed for
about 45 minutes. The liquid created, called must, contains water and
bits of flesh and skins that will be eliminated in a process similar to
decanting. New oil is characteristically soft and pungent, but its
strong and distinctive aroma will mellow in time.

Reading
the label:
The best olive
oil is derived from first cold pressing (neither heat nor chemicals are
used in the process). It will be labeled and marketed as
“extra virgin olive oil” if the acidity does not
exceed 1%, and “virgin olive oil” if acidity is
between 1% and 2%. Acidity level is the only qualification to be met by
law by extra virgin olive oils, since flavor and aroma cannot be
measured. The only guarantee of quality is to buy from reputable
producers.

Storage:
Olive oil has three enemies — light, heat and smells. It is best
stored in the dark, since light accelerates oxidation, which day after
day imperceptibly alters flavor. This is why we use dark bottles. Heat
dulls the flavors and aromas as well.

For
good health:
A mother’s milk
is perfectly balanced in its fat content. Extra virgin olive oil is the
closest in composition and can be an alternative during weaning. Bones,
muscles and particularly the heart need the A, D and E vitamins
contained in olive oil. It helps protect the elderly against the risk
of cholesterol and osteoporosis since it slows the demineralization of
bones and enhances calcium absorption.

Photo
credit: href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/comunicati/3919571253/”>communicati,
flickr.com