Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Greek olive grove & branches courtesy of Minerva Foods, bottle shots by the producers

Greek Ancient Olive Trees-1

Extra Virgin Olive Oil II

Some of the best vintners in the world, especially winemakers of Tuscany and some top winemakers of Spain, are now starting to market extra virgin olive oil produced in their estates. I’ve had in the past exceptional olive oils from Ornellaia and Col d’ Orcia, both producers of top Tuscan wines and, even though these were very expensive bottles where olive oil is concerned, they were worth every cent spent, especially for use on grilled fish, salads and as finishing oils.

In a previous article, I spoke about Eastern Mediterranean olive oils and classic olive-oil-poached vegetable recipes from the region.

In this article, I would like to offer my experience with Western Mediterranean olive oils, including oils from Spain and Western Italy, especially, Tuscany.

Again, olive oil has been produced in the Mediterranean basin since time immemorial.

In Italy, the locals consider as better oils, monovarietals from groves of Itrana, Frantoio, Casaliva, Leccino, Moraiolo, Coratina and a few other varieties in Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria and Nocellara Etnea or Nocellara del Belice olives of Sicily.

In Spain, Arbequina, Hojiblanca and Picual are the most common monovarietal olive oils, though Cornicabra, Changlot Real, Manzanilla and Picuda are other varieties grown in a number of different regions. Manzanilla is mostly used for pickled table olives and as a blending agent to soften some Picual-based oils. Andalusia produces around 60% of Spain's total monovarietal product. But to my taste, blends of Arbequina and Hojiblanca with a touch of Picual are some of the best oils they produce.

Picual, is by far the dominant olive oil varietal in Spain; it produces a robust fruity oil with strong notes of green grass and herbs. It is ideal for enriching the flavors of soups, salads and grilled meats when used as a finishing oil.

The second most widely-produced varietal in Spain is Hojiblanca. A large olive suitable for making table olives as well as oil, it produces a fragrant oil with a slight sweetness and a slightly bitter-almond finish. It is great for making sauces.

Another Spanish olive dominating the olive oil scene is the sweeter Arbequina. Originally from Catalonia, it yields a delicate and fruity oil with flavors of green apple, tropical fruit (soursop) and sweet almond. This oil is considered too delicate for frying so it is used mainly on grilled salt-water fatty fish, salads, roasted vegetables, rice dishes and mayonnaise.

Arbequina Branch with Olives

In both Italy and the Iberian Peninsula, many of the better producers now bottle blends that I like more than the monovarietals, because blends can minimize some of the undesirable nuances present in monovarietals. Blends accentuate the best tastes of fresh olive oil while lightly masking some of the least desirable notes.

I recently received extra virgin olive oil samples from Italy and Spain that are blends and exceptionally tasty.

Frescobaldi_laudemio_olive_oil

The Laudemio Frescobaldi, is a blend of three Italian olive varietals: Frantoio, Moraiolo, and Leccino that are hand harvested. The Marchesi de Frescobaldi family is one of the best and major Tuscan wine producers, with vineyards and wine making facilities in Tuscany (Castello di Nipozzano, Castello di Pomino, Tenuta di Castelgiocondo, Tenuta di Castiglioni and Tenuta dell' Ammiraglia).

The striking green color of the oil brings to mind the days of my youth, when I would go with my mother to the local grocery store carrying two clean, empty bottles and the grocer would go to barrels in the back of the store that had retsina wine and fresh olive oil and would fill my bottles, one with olive oil to drizzle over a “village” salad i.e. vine ripened tomato slices, cucumber, thinly sliced sweet onion and a creamy feta cheese on top, all sprinkled with oregano and a good amount of the fresh olive oil; the other bottle would be filled with retsina to drink with dinner that evening.

For a classic Tuscan appetizer using extra virgin olive oil, Fettunta would be my choice.

Fettunta is a traditional appetizer. In the local dialect, the name of the dish is a compound of fetta, meaning slice, and unta, meaning oily, that is fettunta an oily slice, or to be more accurate, an oily slice of charcoal-grilled local saltless bread with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. People like to rub a garlic clove and add a pinch of salt over the bread before the olive oil is drizzled on top. But to call this subtle appetizer garlic bread would be an insult to the Tuscans – after all, fettunta is thought to be the predecessor of the famous bruschetta and can be traced back to the ancient Etruscans.

casas-de-hualdo-reserva-de-familia--extra-virgin-olive-oil

Casas de Hualdo Reserva de Familia is a blend of four different Spanish olive varieties, Arbequina, Picual, Cornicabra and Manzanilla. Reserva de Familia is made by milling small batches of almost-ripe olive fruit from the best plots on the Hualdo estate. Each variety is harvested on a different day and all of them are tasted by the firm’s master blender until the best of each variety is determined and cold-extracted to achieve an extraordinary structure and aromatic persistence.

Catalonia Pan-con-Tomato

Also a classic Catalan appetizer, pan-con-tomato is a very simple recipe (charcoal-grilled village bread with fresh tomato-meat rubbed on top, drizzled with fresh extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper); it is just another excellent use of fresh oil.

 

 

 

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