Today is the Extra Virgin Olive Oil Day.
In fact, ever since the first American “foodie” President Thomas Jefferson proclaimed, “ . . . the olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven” and deemed olive oil a “necessity of life” (along with wine and books), olive oil was destined to have it’s own National Extra Virgin Olive Oil Day.
When we think of our food memories, one thing always comes up as being a fundamental yet incredibly simple dish: il Pan con l’olio — bread with extra virgin olive oil.
If you’re not Italian, you might wonder what’s the secret recipe of this amazing merenda — a snack that every kid experienced back then — now a very classy way to entertain your guests while they’re about to start dining.
It consists of:
Yes, that simple.
For me, it was my Nonna or my Nonno preparing it, when I was tired of playing with my friends and I needed some more energy to run in the fields.
Back then, the oil belonged to our cultivar, there wasn’t any organic trend and the pan con l’olio just tasted amazing.
Now, we have to recreate the same feeling, something slightly spicy that opens our taste to the softness of white bread and the final, strong kick of salt.
So I’m asking to the Memory Route oil expert, Leda Acquisti, how to choose the right olive oil.
How to choose the right olive oil
Leda: If you have the chance to try the oil, quality is determined by two indicators:
1) Smell indicator. Put the oil in a glass, heat it with your hand and notice if the scent reminds you of nature (artichoke, almond notes, green grass …)
2) Taste indicator. The mouth must note bitter in the mouth and spicy in the throat
Contrary to what you might think, the color varies so much according to the type of olive that the view enters little in play.
But, what if you can’t “try-before-buy” it?
In that case, Leda strongly recommends to read the label.
Some great tips to selecting your olive oil by reading the label (source)
While the International Olive Council (IOC) sets the standards for labeling olive oils as extra virgin, virgin, or ordinary virgin, it should be noted that the US has not adopted these standards. Nonetheless, spending some time reading the labels of your potential purchases will be time well-spent.
- Again, look for a label that indicates the product is extra virgin. This will help ensure that you are not purchasing lower-quality olive oil.
- Look as well for a harvest date on the label. Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age. It is a perishable product (a natural fruit juice), and will deteriorate within a few months of being harvested.  Try to choose products with relatively recent harvest dates.
- If a harvest date is not indicated, then look for a “best-buy” date. Avoid products which are quickly approaching this date.
- Look for an estate name on the label. This is not a guarantee of a quality product, but is typically a good sign that the oil was grown and pressed by a small producer.
- If you don’t see an estate name on the label, look for an olive oil with a PDO or DOP (Protected Designation of Origin). This status is granted by the European Union to designate agricultural products which are produced, processed, and prepared within a geographical area which specializes in that product and which have been handled according to specific industry standards.
- You may also find labels with PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), which is a similar, yet slightly less strict designation.
- You may also consider looking for a certified organic seal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which guarantees that at least 95% of the product is made from olives grown without the use of pesticides or other synthetic fertilizers. Keep in mind, though, that many organically grown products will lack this label, as it is expensive for growers to pay for this certification.
A little bit more about the Bread with Tuscan olive oil experience
What is the secret of the simplest and most significant taste experience in Tuscany, bread with oil?
Organic healthy ingredients at km zero, used with passion and respect for Tuscan tradition. Leda uses flour produced with her grain, and Tuscan extra virgin olive oil from her family mill.
For Memory Route travellers we offer a guided tour of the mill with lessons on how to taste olive oil and a small snack (bread with olive oil, mineral water, wine, salami and cheese).
Also recommended: a cooking class with Leda in which you can learn how to make bread, pizza, cakes and all baked goods from the Tuscan tradition.
In her classes, Leda uses the lievito madre (starter), explaining its nature and use in the kitchen, as well as that of extra virgin olive oil, sharing with our travellers the basis of our culinary culture.
The Bread with Tuscan olive oil experience is part of the Memory Route, where you can experience Tuscany and Italian lifestyle like it used to be.
This work was made possible also thanks to the amazing help in proofreading by Ann Game, Emeritus Professor @ School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales Sydney, Australia.