The oil culture

1) The olive tree
2) The oil production
3) The storing oil
4) Tasting
5) Olive oil and Hralth
6) In the kitchen and on the table

The oil tree

The olive tree belongs to the Oleaceae family and is a plant typical of the Mediterranean area where it is a distinct feature of the countryside landscape. It stands out for its longevity and its ability to produce fruits even in very dry or cold conditions, are precisely what the plant requires to live and flourish the light and wind of the Mediterranean.

The olive is the fruit of the olive tree. It is long and oval in shape and consists of skin, flesh and stone. In the time that passes between its formation and harvest, the fruit ripens from September to November, accumulating oil and increasing in size.

The ripening of olives is affected by many environmental factors such as drought, rain, and exposure to wind and sun. Human action is also important for the life of the plant, through actions such as pruning, irrigation, use of fertilizers and manure. It is important to emphasize the close link between the application of agronomic techniques and oil quality. A good oil is the result of a complex olive forming process in which the environment, agronomic techniques and the olive varieties play a fundamental key role.

In Italy the olive plant predominates on the land and boasts a genetic heritage that brings together varieties with different characteristics.

The oil production

The origins of organoleptic and nutritional qualities of extra virgin olive oil lie in the simultaneous coming together of many different factors, such as the quality of the olives when they are harvested, the extraction technique used, the treatment methods and the preserving and packaging of the oil. Great attention to each phase is, of course, essential for top quality production.

It is very important that the olive is whole when it is harvested and taken to the oil mill. Damage to the flesh predisposes the oil contained in the olive to deterioration (hydrolysis and oxidation) and fermentation due to the bacteria, yeasts and mold naturally present on the surface of the olives. This results in an increase in free acid content and causes very serious organoleptic defects such as rancidity, mold, an oily deposit, vinegary flavors and heating.



The oil is produced naturally by the plant and is progressively stored in the flesh of the olive as it ripens. The variety (cultivar) of olive and, therefore, the characteristics of the fruit (shape, size, flesh-stone ratio) have a significant effect on the organoleptic characteristics and quality of the oil. Different varieties can vary considerably and worldwide the olive growing heritage is extremely rich, boasting hundreds of cultivars. The environment, for its part, plays a decisive role through the temperature, rainfall, altitude, soil type and exposure to sun and wind. The variety of olives and the environment are the two factors which most contribute to defining the characteristics of the product. The incredible differences in these two factors worldwide lead to an enormous diversification in the organoleptic and qualitative characteristics of the oils.



The degree of ripeness of the olive is fundamental. It is this factor that allows different oils, in organoleptic and nutritional terms, to be obtained. The olives of some cultivars ripen earlier than others, meaning that some varieties can be described as ‘early’, while others can be described as ‘late’. In the same way, environmental conditions and agronomic practices can also affect the way the fruit ripens.

Harvest time is determined by olive veraison, the progressive color changing of the olive's epicarp from green to purple to black according to the variety. Veraison is an indication of the progress of the ripening of the fruit which is easily identified as it is linked to a color change in the olive.

This moment is important because the oil gradually builds up in absolute terms within the olive flesh as the fruit ripens and ceases at the time of veraison. After veraison, although oil levels continue to increase, it is a rather ‘fictitious' increase as the greater volume is due to a loss of water. In order to obtain the greatest amount of oil, the olives are, therefore, not harvested until they change color. Furthermore, it is during veraison that there is the greatest accumulation of volatile elements and polyphenols, meaning that this stage is the best time at which to obtain a high quality, fruity oil, rich in polyphenols.

Harvesting too early can cause the maximum yield to not be obtained and give the oil a rather bitter and spicy flavor (due to excessive phenol concentration) that the consumer would find rather unpleasant.


This is one of the most harmful parasites for olives and a critical factor in their quality. It lays its eggs, from which the larva develops, within the flesh of the olive. The tears in the flesh cause it to deteriorate easily while the development of the larva increases acidity levels in the oil along with major organoleptic defects.


This is carried out mainly during the months of October, November and December.

It is important that the harvest takes place directly from the tree by forcibly detaching the olives to guarantee an intact harvest and prevent contamination by the soil or damage when falling.

The best way to harvest is by hand or using tools to facilitate the removal of the fruit, but the shortage of labor, high costs involved and progress made in modern olive growing have led to the mechanization of this stage (shakers, vibrators and nets which surround the foliage without touching the ground). This has generally improved harvest overall making it quicker and more efficient, improving the yield of the operator and lowering harvest costs to guarantee that a good quality oil is produced.


These are the most difficult and indeed delicate stages of the entire production process. For preference, the olives should be washed within 12 – 24 hours of. They should then be transported in ventilated boxes and crates, stored in cool, ventilated rooms that are as sterile and clean as possible in order to avoid contamination, and moved in such a way as to avoid crushing, bruising and damaging the flesh.


The process to obtain oil from olives is comprised of various stages. First the olives are washed to remove dirt and soil and subsequently defoliated to remove leaves and twigs which would give the oil an acrid, bitter and woody flavor, plus an excessively green color. Next comes crushing with traditional granite millstones or the more modern mechanical crushers, during which time the olives and stones are broken up. Thus the “olive paste” or “oil paste” is obtained. This is semi-fluid and made up of one part solids (ground flesh, skin and stone) and one part liquid (oil and vegetable water). To encourage the oil particles to join together and separate from the water, malaxing takes place. This is the technical term used to refer to the slow, thorough mixing of the paste in a steel tank a “malaxing machine”. This stage should really be carried out at an ideal temperature of no more than 27°C so as to retain all the perfumes and aromas of the intense fruitiness.

At this point extraction begins. This consists of separating the oil out from the olive paste or residue (fragments of stone, skin and flesh). There are three basic extraction methods:
1.Pressure or traditional method: this is the classic method. The oil paste is placed onto thin filtering disks or nets which, stacked one on top of the other by the force of hydraulic pressure, let the oil seep out.
2.Centrifuging: the olive paste is centrifuged in a horizontal rotating cone (decanter). Through the centrifugal effect and according to different specific weights, the pomace, the oil and the vegetable water are separated (in two or three stages).
3.Sinolea or percolation: based on a continuous cycle system consisting of a tank containing the oil paste into which the extraction device formed of steel blades is immersed. As these blades are metal and oil has a different surface tension to that of water, the olive oil sticks to the blades while the water does not stick and remains in the olive paste. Afterwards the oil is scraped up and collected.

The storing oil

Extra virgin olive oil is a live product and its qualities vary as time passes. Once bottled, companies usually give a "best before" date between 12 and 15 months, but if it is kept in ideal conditions it can be more stable and retain its chemical and organoleptic characteristics for a longer period of time.

Oil’s main enemies are temperature, light and oxygen; therefore, the 4 golden rules for a perfect oil storage are:

It is important that oil is stored in containers that can protect it from the sun’s rays. While stored by the company there is no issue with light if the product is kept in stainless steel silos.

The problem, therefore, tends to occur at the distribution stage, as it remains on the pallets or shelves. Today the general trend is to use dark glass or tins; some precautions remain valid, however, in order to prevent oil containers staying out under the sun for a long time, especially during transfer from one factory to another or from the shop to home.

Excessively low temperatures must be avoided as oil would freeze, but also excessively high temperatures must be prevented which would cause the oil to heat. It is important to be aware that below 10°C, whitish deposits and suspended particles may form. This phenomenon, which should be taken by the consumer as a warning, is in fact a natural phenomenon of the oil crystallizing due to the low temperature. It first affects the saturated fats and suspended particles and then extends to the whole mass of oil should the temperature drops further. Once the oil is brought back to an ideal temperature (12-18°C) it will become clear once again.

Storage containers must be kept tightly closed to prevent oxygen from being held inside.
Before bottling oil must be stored inside drums and silos, preferably made of stainless steel, which can be easily washed, hermetically sealed and have a device at the bottom to allow for the removal of any deposits. These containers must have devices that allow the insertion of noble or inert gases (gases with little propensity to react with other molecules) which are introduced into the "head space" left free by the oil as the container gradually empties. These inert gases thus occupy that space that would otherwise be occupied by air and oxygen.

In order to do this it is very important to separate the oil from the deposits which negatively interfere with the oil. This can be done naturally by decanting, letting the oil rest with the particles in suspension-dispersion consequently being deposited on the bottom. The oil is then transferred and decanted into new clean containers or the deposit is removed if the container has a system for draining off it.
Another solution is to filter using filter systems that can work on the oil as soon as it is produced or before packaging. Filtration is important to stabilize the chemical composition characteristics, thereby guaranteeing a longer product shelf life while retaining all the nutritional and organoleptic characteristics.

Compliance with these precautions is an essential condition for oil storage. Failure to do so may have the following negative effects: increased acidity, dulling of the fruity qualities or significant faults like rancidity, sludge or fermentation. The main cause of all this deterioration in oil quality is the oxidation of unsaturated fats.

This oil is obtained from the olives, the fruit of the olive tree, using exclusively mechanical and physical processes such as washing, decanting, centrifuging and filtration and in conditions that are such as to ensure that the oil cannot be changed in any way. This excludes oils obtained using solvents or re-esterification processes as well as those mixed with oils from other sources.

Virgin oils can be defined as natural products and must meet specific organoleptic and chemical requirements:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil whose free acidity content, expressed as oleic acid, is no more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams of oil and whose other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category.

Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil whose free acidity content, expressed as oleic acid, is no more than 2 grams per 100 grams of oil and whose other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category.

Lampante Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil whose free acidity content, expressed as oleic acid, is more than 2 grams per 100 grams of oil and whose other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category. Oil not fit for human consumption as is. It can be used in refinement or for technical purposes.

Olive oil obtained by refining virgin olive oil whose free acidity content expressed as oleic acid, is no more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams of oil and whose other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category. This oil is obtained by refining virgin olive oil with a high acidity level or with organoleptic defects which are eliminated during the refining process through chemical and physical procedures.

OLIVE OIL – Composed of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil
Oil obtained from a blend of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils, other than lampante, fit for human consumption whose free acidity content, expressed as oleic acid, is no more than 1 gram per 100 grams of oil and whose other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category.

Pomace is what remains of the olives (flesh, skins and stone) after the oil has been extracted.

Refined Olive Pomace Oil
Oil obtained by refining crude olive pomace oil whose free acidity content, expressed as oleic acid, is no more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams of oil and whose other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category.

Olive Pomace Oil
Oil obtained from a blend of refined olive pomace oil and virgin olive oil, different from the lampante, fit for human consumption whose free acidity content, expressed as oleic acid, is no more than 1 gram per 100 grams of oil and whose other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category.


Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1019/2002 includes the indication of «first cold pressing»as amongst the optional references which may appear on the label. This wording is reserved for virgin or extra virgin olive oils obtained at a below 27°CC mechanical first pressing of the olive paste and a traditional hydraulic presses extraction system.

Fifty years ago olive paste was pressed once to obtain the oil. Once the first oil was separated, hot water was added to the remaining olive paste, then pressed a second time to obtain more oil. The oil obtained in this second phase was, with good reason, considered to be inferior quality because the high temperatures neutralized many of the organoleptic properties of the oil.

Today continuous cycle oil extraction systems are used which allow the olive paste to be processed at room temperature and at below 27°C with high yields. The quantity of oil thus produced may be less but the quality is much higher. This enables fine oils to be obtained that are full of aroma and flavor, to the consumer’s great satisfaction.

The remaining pomace is no longer pressed a second time but rather is used to produce combustible material or sent to refineries to make olive pomace oil.

In the United States or abroad you may come across olive oils displaying the word "light" on the label. There is no regulation regarding such a definition. It usually refers to oils with less flavor or even inferior quality olive oils; it certainly does not refer to the number of calories given since all olive oils have exactly the same calorie content.

Unfiltered olive oil is, as the name suggests, not filtered and is much appreciated for its rich flavor. It has a cloudy appearance and contains particles of olive flesh held in suspension. You should be aware, however, that unfiltered oil must be stored carefully and consumed within 3-6 months of bottling; the particles in suspension can, in fact, leave a sediment and negatively affect the flavor and the product shelf life.

Olives start to ripen in autumn (late September/early October) and begin changing color on the outside, from green to black, first with small spots. When the olive is fully ripe, the whole of its outside turns black.

The oil obtained from olives which have just changed color, and are, therefore, in the early stage of ripening, is particularly fruity and full of polyphenols even if the olives in this stage contain less oil than riper olives.

Oils from olives early harvested are the new generation of extra virgin olive oils. They are much appreciated for their fruitiness and since they are rich in polyphenols and antioxidants, they have a longer shelf life. They tend to be more expensive, partly because they are prized more for their organoleptic characteristics and partly because more olives are needed per bottle of oil.

 The olives are harvested when they are fully ripe and completely black on the surface, therefore containing a great deal of oil. Oils harvested late have a fuller, sweeter flavor and aroma and the fruitiness is significantly reduced.

Gently fruity
Extra virgin olive oil with distinctive subtle and delicate features. It is characterized by its light, harmonious fruity and vegetable aromas, and is less spicy to the palate.

Medium fruity
Extra virgin olive oil with distinctive features, rich, harmonious and well balanced. Features medium intensity and persistent fruity and vegetable aromas, particularly rich and balanced in its spicy tones.

Intensely fruity
Extra virgin olive oil with distinctive complex and decisive features. It display highly intense and persistent fruitiness and vegetable aromas, full of harmonious spiciness.


New harvest olive oil/Novello is bottled immediately after pressing and not filtered. Full of flavor, aromas and nutrients like vitamins and antioxidants, it holds particles of olive flesh in suspension giving it the characteristic cloudy green appearance and the fruity olive flavor.
 Its characteristics – density, deep green color, strong aroma and pungent flavor – will mellow in a short time (3-6 months), resulting in a more harmonious product both in terms of nose and palate. The product is, therefore, best consumed within a few months in order to fully appreciate all its fine qualities and prevent the sediment, which has to settle, from negatively affecting the product flavor and shelf life.

olive oil and health

Doctors and nutritionists agree that a good extra virgin olive oil can be defined as a "panacea", while dieticians have long been recommending the replacement of animal fats with unsaturated vegetable fats.

Olive oil contains monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats whose structure is very different from other saturated fats contained in meat, milk and certain vegetable oils such as coconut or palm oil.

As well as triglycerides and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, extra virgin oil also contains antioxidant substances such as vitamin E, polyphenols, phytosterols and carotenoids, which explains how it protects our body by blocking the activity of free radicals responsible for the ageing of cells and bones.

It has been proven that extra virgin olive oil can lower the level of "bad" LDL cholesterol while keeping the level of "good" HDL cholesterol ("good" because it is essential for health) unchanged. Its antioxidant properties are a perfect support to the body’s natural defences and protect against the risk of cardiovascular illness and arteriosclerosis. Moreover, quality olive oils help the digestive system and prevent the formation of stones.

The fats supply us with the energy we need for physical and intellectual activity. They are also a source of heat and are essential for absorbing some vitamins.
Although olive oil is a very high calorie food (9 Kcal/gram), it has been shown that the people who consume 60 grams daily enjoy a healthy life and that, as part of a balanced diet, the consumption of olive oil as a replacement for other sources of fat does not lead to weight problems.

If we consider this long list of merits and virtues, it should come as no surprise that extra virgin olive oil is considered to be one of the staple foods of Mediterranean cuisine. Its digestibility and its nutritional values make it an essential ingredient of many diets, especially for those needing a low cholesterol content.
And these wise principles are confirmed by modern science, which in addition to praising the delicious flavors and tastes of Mediterranean cuisine thanks to the predominant use of extra virgin olive oil, recognizes that it satisfies the nutritional needs precisely of our times.

In the kitchen and on the table

LExtra virgin olive oil is, of all the vegetable oils, the most easily digested and the most stable when cooking.
There is no lunch or dinner, restaurant table or domestic larder that does not have at least one bottle of oil.

Its characteristics remain unchanged, especially if used uncooked. It can be poured generously over salads, steamed vegetables, soups, pasta, bread and a huge range of other dishes. The latest tendency is to take the bottle straight to the table, with its label clearly visible so that all the information can be read and the best oil chosen to suit what is being eaten. Just as is already the case with wine, different oils may go best with different foods according to flavors. Personal taste, of course, remains a very important factor, but the basic rule is that the oil must not destroy or cover up the flavors but rather should complement and enhance them.

Olive oil is perfect for soffritto. Chopped onion and sweet-smelling herbs, little pieces of lard and bacon, garlic with parsley and carrots are browned in the oil as the base for the preparation of a great many dishes.
It is excellent on roast or grilled meat or fish, perhaps accompanied by vegetables.

The subject of fried food is worthy of more attention. Fried food, which is so tasty and full of flavor if eaten in moderation, and bearing in mind a few simple rules, is actually not bad for our health: •The food must not be put into the oil until it is sufficiently hot (130-150°C for raw food to be cooked through, 150-160°C for precooked food, 160-180°C for finely chopped vegetables which need instant frying). Since a cooking thermometer is not always available, the best way to test the temperature is to put a small piece of the food that needs to be fried into the oil and see if it starts to sizzle and spit. In any case, the temperature should not be above 170-180°C.

•Always fry in plenty of oil ensuring that the food is completely submerged and floats.
•Only use the oil once. Do not re-use.
•Keep the oil clean, removing small pieces of food that break loose and burn, thus spoiling the flavor of any food which is subsequently put in the oil.
•The food which you want to fry must be at room temperature, otherwise, it will take longer to fry and absorb more oil.
•Do not put too many pieces of food in the frying pan at the same time as this will lower the oil temperature, consequently increasing frying time and oil absorption. The various pieces of food may also stick to each other.
•Use kitchen towel to dry the food carefully before putting it in the oil.
•Salt should be added at the end, once the food has been drained.

The reason why olive oil is judged to be particularly suitable for cooking and frying is certainly its high smoke point, namely, the critical temperature reached at which the oil starts to burn, producing smoke and releasing harmful and toxic substances. Extra virgin olive oil boasts excellent resistance to high temperatures since it reaches its smoke point at 210°C. If we, therefore, consider that domestic frying temperature is usually around 160-170°C we can happily state that olive oil is well recommended.

All oils have a smoke point (peanut oil 220°C, sunflower oil 170°C, corn oil 160°C, soya oil 180°C, palm oil 240°C, margarine 150°C, butter 110°C, lard 180°C) but what makes olive oil a particularly recommended ingredient for various types of cooking, as well as the high smoke point, is also the presence of polyphenols and vitamin E, which protect against degradation.