This last summer we were lucky to travel to beautiful Florence, Tuscany, Italy. There we have had the opportunity to taste a good selection of about 20 different olive oils that we have bought in different gourmet shops and supermarkets. In this article we want to share with you our experience and other useful information.
Good Tuscan olive oils are absolutely delicious! They generally show fresh and intense aromas of freshly cut grass, with almond, fennel and tomato plant hints. They are fragrant, persistent soft and delicate, and leave a clean and fresh after-taste in the mouth. They show very little bitterness and a spicy final that proves their freshness. The best oils we tasted have a “Denominazione d’origine protetta”, (protected designation of origin) from Tuscany. It is a sign that has proven to be reliable. Many of them are organic. In Tuscany, there are around 70 different varieties of olive trees (it is the biggest diversity in a determined area), of which 10 are most common. Most of the oils that we have tasted were elaborated with the following varieties: frantoio, lecchino, moraiolo and pendolino.
Travelling through the Tuscan hills, between villages, we noticed that the olive trees are small and young. Terrible frosts in 1985 in this region killed most of the ancient olive trees. This is why the production yields are very low: about 2 kg EVOO per tree. In other parts of Italy, mainly in Puglia region centenary olive trees can be found. Probably because of this, EVOO prices were much more expensive than Spain’s. There are other reasons that can explain it. Most harvest methods are still very artisanal due to a hilly geography restraining the use of machines. Another important factor is the olive fly. In many organic productions, this year they have lost 40% of their production because of this insect attack.
In Florence we met Serena, inheritor of Santa Téa, olive oil producers since 1585. She’s the owner of Olivia restaurant where they bet for 100% maximum quality EVOO. We have shared with her a pleasant chatting time and a delicious tasting of 3 of her best olive oils, and a Laudemio, a very limited production of only 2000 bottles each year.
Laudemio is the supreme quality control organism for extra virgin olive oil in Tuscany. Only a few producers can manage to reach this top quality. Limited bottles and the strictest controls assure excellency as well as adequate price. It was founded before the protected designation of origin appellations. It concerns a group of about 20 producers, only in Tuscany. It applies many restrictions to ensure the best EVOO. For example, they have to harvest in the 2nd half of November, and process the olives in less than 14 hours. Then, a very strict panel of professional tasters analyses the oil. Meanwhile the oil container is sealed so nobody can touch it. If the olive oil passes the selection, they send to the producer the exact amount of bottles corresponding to the container. They also carry on another quality control in June to make sure that the oil is preserved in the best conditions.
Now let’s talk about the other side of the experience also common in many other regions worldwide.
It is not always the most expensive bottle that assures the best olive oil quality, even if it comes from a specialized store. Unfortunately misleading marketing is used commonly. Here are some details to be aware of.
– “Ottenuto a freddo”, “cold press” or “cold extraction” is not a guarantee of quality. It is used on many bottles as a marketing technique but unfortunately it does not reflect the truth. Some famous brands use it, as well as more marketing signs like: “quality award: premiato dal consumatori” (consumers’ best choice). Those oils, sold as extra virgin olive oils, at tasting them, result to be barely virgin quality: an olive oil that has some defects.
Good extra virgin olive oil is always obtained from a cold extraction. It is one of the most important requirements to assure the oil quality. So, even if the label does not mention it, as long as it says extra virgin olive oil, it means it is a cold extraction.
– “Obtained from European Union olive oils”. For most consumers it sounds nice because they think that the controls are stricter in the EU compared with other countries. But what it really means is that, most of the oil in the bottle is cheap bulk oil sent from Spain, Greece and Portugal and bottled in Italy with a nice Italian label. They are obviously not the best quality.
Some very famous brands sell a selection of 3 extra virgin olive oils, as “gentile”, “fragante” and “robusto”. It makes us think that they present different flavors and intensity; maybe that they are made with different varieties of olives, or harvested at different times… and that they could combine better with different dishes or personal tastes. But the label does not add any of these important data like the olive variety or the harvest time. The tasting is absolutely disappointing: there is almost no difference in the 3 of them. They reveal a poor sugary aroma and a cooked olive oil flavor.
So remember these are some tips to select a good olive oil (before tasting):
– The origin. The label should mention where the oil is from exactly by showing the name of the producer, the village, the address. Some oils have a protected designation of origin symbol, which assures more quality controls.
– Olive variety. A good olive oil mentions the olive variety, single or blend, that is used to make it. The most famous varieties in Tuscany are frantoio, moraiolo, lecchino.
– Best by date and harvest date. By law, the extra virgin olive oils have to indicate a “best by date” which counts 2 years from the production moment. Good oils usually mention the harvest date, which is more accurate and reliable. Some oils also indicate early harvest or late harvest, which can be an indicator of the flavor. The riper the olives, the sweeter and fruitier the oil.
Purchasing a good EVOO can be challenging! We hope that these few tips will help you to enjoy the best olive oils. Be aware of the marketing and trust your senses at the moment of tasting: it should feel good, fresh and clean! Cheers! All the best!