Because Italy is more than a geographic expression..

Alessi S.P.A. US

Monday, October 26, 2009

Liquid Gold: Olive Oil

AAED003320Olive oil, the heartbeat of Mediterranean cooking, remains somewhat of an obscurity to the North American palate - though less so in Quebec. Hopefully, this will change soon enough.

While many countries make fine olive oil, Italy is still considered the world's principal producer of quality olive oil. Olive oil production in Italy stretches back to the Roman Empire in the 1st century A.D. The Romans, who were introduced to it by the Ancient Greeks, in turn exported it to Spain and North Africa.

The Italians were soon responsible to introducing and popularizing olive oil around Europe and the world.

By far, the largest producers and consumers of olive oil are Italy, Spain and Greece. Spain presently leads all nations in total production.

In recent years, the Italian olive oil community has been hit with bad PR. It seems there's not enough olive oil to support consumption and demand. And large companies have reacted by filling their bottles with olive oils from Turkey, Spain, and Greece and subsequently passing them as "Italian."

While this has hurt Italy's reputation, they're far from being alone. Here in Canada, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, cheap impersonators have included Greek producers and several non-Italian distributors. If the French can overcome the scandal that hit their wine industry, there's no reason why the Italians won't get their act together to stamp out such sinful behavior.

Does this spell the end for Italian olive oil dominance? Not if the small producers have anything to say about it. Italy's well-earned reputation as makers of some of the best olive oil in the world remains in tact.

Now of course, how to distinguish who makes the "best" olive oil? At the end of the day, like wine, it all becomes a matter of personal choice. Each olive oil has its own distinctive aromas, taste, color and texture. Essentially olive oil characteristics are divided into mild, fruity and strong (usually comes with a peppery taste.) Extra-virgin olive oils are rated to be the highest quality. Some are better suited for cooking and others for straight consumption.

ilmolinettoItaly remains an overwhelmingly diverse olive oil country. If you're not satisfied with big producers, my advice is to seek out one of the smaller olive oil artisan. It will cost you more but well worth it.

Though the actual process of producing olive oil hasn't changed all the much over the centuries, with Italy maintaining a rustic approach of picking olives by hand in some instances, it doesn't mean there haven't been any technological advancements. And on this front,along with research, the Italians lead all its sister nations.

For more information about olive oil producers click on the "diverse" hyper-link above.


  1. Italy must fight for that liquid Gold, and let other know about it! Good info!!

  2. Hi Chuck! As long as they don’t compromise quality. That’s the best way to ensure the protection of their olive oil industry. Despite the indiscretions of the big players, it’s clear (from what I’ve read and my own experiences) Italian olive oil producers still take their craft seriously and continue to make world class oil.

  3. I love the extra virgin olive oil..first pressing :)