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Not All Olive Oil Is Created Equal

Olive oil is often associated with idyllic sunny places, the Mediterranean basin and those long summer nights spent eating on a sun-kissed terrace overlooking a breathtaking little fishing harbour. That is all true and a little bit pretentious but the truth is that olive oil has underpinned the Mediterranean lifestyle for centuries and it is found in just about every household of Southern Europe.

The origins of the olive tree are often disputed. Some say the first signs of these enchanting trees date back to 8000 BC in Greece, whereas others think the first real traces of the olive tree are rooted in Italy in 1200 BC. We may never find out the truth about the origins of this genuinely versatile tree, however, it is well known that olive oil has been embedded in the Mediterranean diet for millennia.

Olive oil is said to contribute to a healthier lifestyle and in association with a balanced diet, it appears to have multiple beneficial health effects that help manage cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and ageing. This is mainly due to its antioxidant properties that help eliminate free radicals in the human body. In fact, olive oil has been used as a medical remedy since Egyptian times and beyond. We do not have to look too far back in time though - in Britain, the only place where olive oil was widely available just a few decades ago was at the Chemists!

All we know today is that olive oil is one those good fats and it tastes incredibly good. There are many varieties available on the market with the king of all olive oils being the extra virgin. A good extra virgin olive oil must contain the lowest percentage of oleic acids possible and in any event no more than 0.8g per 100g. Oleic acids are naturally occurring elements in olive oil and if present in high levels could confer an unpleasant taste to the oil. Very strict rules govern these oils:

  • The oil must come from the fruit of the olive tree.
  • The extraction of extra virgin olive oils must only happen through mechanical or other physical means that will not alter the product in any way.
  • The olives must not be treated with any foreign agents other than washing in water, decanting and filtering.

There are hundreds of varieties of olives around the world. Some are just for eating, some are just for oil and others are suitable for both. Similarly to any other fruit, different varieties of olives are better suited to a specific area and, therefore, each country around the globe has its indigenous varieties that will inevitably vary from region to region and from microclimate to microclimate. Extra virgin olive oils can easily be compared to wines. Good vintages usually come from a high-quality harvest that benefitted from perfect weather conditions and great care from the farmer. So don’t be put off by higher price tags!

Spain is the biggest producer of extra virgin olive oil in the world followed by Italy and Greece. In recent years the Italian and Spanish extra virgin olive oils have been under the spotlight for very un-noble reasons. It was discovered that criminal gangs in association with larger manufacturers had been ‘cutting’ extra virgin olive oils with lower quality vegetable oils in order to benefit the full profits generated by a supposedly premium product, which in reality was anything but. This, of course, generated a climate of mistrust towards extra virgin olive oils and lead to a crash in prices, which left those small, honest and hard-working producers in a very unstable and uncertain position. Some unfortunate producers paid the ultimate price and closed their doors for good. The survivors, who had to endure very tough times, were rewarded by their perseverance and were allowed to redeem the good name of the extra virgin olive oil as well as bringing justice to all those that have tirelessly tried to keep alive such a fine, ancient and traditional product.

Looking to stock up your cupboard with some Italian extra virgin olive oil? Poggioriotto is a small farm of just 860 olive trees in Cunettone di Salò on the hills of Parco dell'Alto Garda Bresciano, a conservation area on the northern shores of Garda Lake. Their oil is made from olives harvested by hand in the first half of November and it has an almost sweet taste with a perfect balance between spicy and hot and goes well with fresh cheese, green salads, fish, as a dip for bread and just about any other food that deserves to have its flavour enhanced by this artisan, small batch organic extra virgin olive oil. Poggioriotto's organic extra virgin olive oil is available to buy on our website.

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