Olive Oil, a Key to Italian Culture
Italy is strongly associated with olive oil, and for good reason. Last year, Italians consumed 557,000 tons of the stuff! To put things in perspective, in the United States, where the population is many times greater than Italy’s, olive oil consumption for the same year stood at 315,000 tons. It has been a staple of the region for thousands of years, and it’s safe to say that Italians don’t mess around when it comes to olive oil. Making it is a fairly simple and somewhat delicate process. To briefly explain to the process, first, once the olives have been harvested (which typically occurs in autumn), they are ground into a very fine paste. This paste is then spun at high speeds in order to separate the oil from the solids, and there you have it!
Olive oil, like many other foods, is graded on its quality. You’ve probably heard the term “extra virgin olive oil” before, but have you ever given any thought as to what it means? As it turns out, extra virgin is the purest form of olive oil available. According to the International Olive Oil Council, in order to qualify as extra virgin, the olive oil cannot have any additives. In addition, it cannot have acidity higher than .8 percent. This sounds strict, but it’s worth it. The purity of extra virgin olive oil is such that the nuances of different oils shine through, so the oil’s taste is affected by things like the variety of olives used and the location where they were grown!
Italians have many different uses for their olive oil, and they keep several types on hand at all times. You could possibly assume that Italians would prefer to cook with their highest quality oils, but this is incorrect! Instead, they’ll usually cook with a less flavorful form of extra virgin olive oil, then save the best stuff for drizzling over pastas, breads, and vegetables. This makes a lot of sense, as the best oils will add delightful layers of flavor to any dish! In addition to tasting fantastic, the health benefits of olive oil cannot be overstated. Rich in antioxidants and healthy monounsaturated fats, olive oil has been proven to protect against heart disease, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, prevent strokes, and keep hair and skin looking nice and healthy. Not only that, but it doesn’t cause weight gain, either!
So, if you’ve just been reminded of how incredible olive oil truly is, you’ll be happy to know that if you choose to embark on our Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun experience, there will be plenty of Italian olive oil for you to cook with and enjoy. And even if cooking doesn’t align with your interests, the Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience will give you lots of chances to try Italian olive oil as well—after all, it is a staple! An Italian vacation should encompass every important aspect of the country, and based upon those consumption stats we saw earlier, olive oil is another pillar in what makes Italy so special.