But what’s wrong with supermarket oil?
Well, nothing if you like bland oil but compare the taste of artisan olive oil and you’ll never want to buy the cheap stuff again.
So what’s the difference?
All the mills buy olives which they press into oil to sell to big producers. This will be a mix of olives; some will be industrially picked – a tractor with a collar that fits around the trunk vibrates the tree to shake the olives off. It’s quite violent and can damage the tree, so that the bark has to literally be glued back together. Some will be olives that have dropped naturally into nets that are left draped under trees and could have lain there for days before being collected. And some will have been swept up from the ground.
The pulp is often repressed several times and, depending on the acidity level, will be graded into extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil, or just plain olive oil. The big producers will then label it as their own brand oil or a supermarket own brand depending on who they’re selling to.
What does organic actually mean?
It’s usual to see circles of earth around olive trees, the result of being sprayed with nasty chemicals to stop anything growing underneath. This makes it easier to sweep the olives up from the ground as they’re not getting caught up in grass. Some people use pesticides on their trees too, spraying huge gusts of chemicals over them to prevent olive fly.
Then organic’s better, right?
It’s better for you and for the environment because the olives are grown without chemicals. But it doesn’t mean the oil is any less industrially produced.
Ultimately though, it’s all in the taste
Here they use terms like ‘piccante’ – spicy, ‘dolce’ – mild, and ‘amaro’ – bitter, to describe the oil. Flavour experts will get even more descriptive about the taste, giving wine critics a run for their money in their colourful reviews of different oils.
Our oil generally comes out as piccante or amaro, and the colour – oh my goodness, the colour! Just pressed oil comes out a dark, luminous, opaque green. You dip your finger in and at first nothing, and then bang! It hits the back of your throat and you can’t believe those little olives can produce something so incredible.