A Quick lesson in olive oil
Olive oil is the only oil that is extracted from a fruit, all others we use come from seeds or nuts which must be extracted using chemicals, solvents or heat. This is one of the reasons extra virgin olive oil is so healthy: it is unadulterated. But there are several different terms around it that are important to understand to know what you are buying and eating.
First things first, extra virgin olive oil from the first cold press is the highest quality olive oil you can get. No exceptions. But what do these terms really mean? Here they are, plus a few more to watch out for.
First cold press
'First cold press' refers to the way the olives are treated at the mill.
Cold pressing is the traditional method of producing olive oil where the oil is extracted without using any heat. In the cold press, they are pressed solely with the mechanical force of the press to extract the oil from the olives, without the aid of heat or chemicals. Using heat or chemicals can extract more oil from the olives, but it degrades so has a much lower quality.
The reason that the 'first' in first cold press is important is that some producers will re-press the olive paste (called pomace which we will explain below) after this first press to make a second or even third press oil which will produce more oil but of a lower grade oil. Nudo never does this, all our oil is from the first cold press.
'Extra Virgin' is when the olives go through this press within 24 hours of being picked which maintains the lowest possible acidity. To be classified as extra virgin olive oil the acidity level must be less than 0.8%. This also means there is the highest proportion of polyphenols which are the anti-oxidants in the oil that are so beneficial to health.
So not only is extra virgin olive oil the highest-grade oil with the best flavour, it is also the healthiest.
extra virgin first cold press olive oil is the freshest, purest, and highest quality oil you can get.
Virgin olive oil
'Virgin' olive oil is the next grade down from extra virgin and refers to oil with an acidity of less than 1.5%. Some of it is ok but you’re on the downhill slope.
'Olive oil' is the lowest of the heap and contain partially refined oil. You’re probably better off using a sunflower oil. While conversationally extra virgin olive oil can be shortened to olive oil, in terms of buying a tin, avoid anything labelled simply 'olive oil'.
If you choose this lower quality oil, sometimes misleadingly called 'Pure olive oil', this is where you need to start being very careful with reading your labels. Not only is this already lower quality - multiple presses or pomace oil - it can often be blended with other oils such a nut or seed oils.
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'Polyphenols' are the main antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil which make it so healthy and a key reason why you should ensure you are using extra virgin and not simply olive oil which doesn't contain the same polyphenols. Polyphenols degrade over time which is why it is crucial that the olives are pressed within 24 hours of picking and why extra virgin olive oil is best fresh. They are the bitter notes and the spicy kick in the back of your throat when you have fresh, real extra virgin olive oil, so always look out for those when you are tasting your EVOO.
'Acidity level' refers to amount of fatty acids the oil contains, in extra virgin olive oil it must be below 0.8%. A lower acidity level means a higher quality oil; the fatty acids are released as the olives damage and age, so a lower acidity level means the olives were high quality fruit that were pressed fresh soon after picking. Acidity level of an oil is not something you can taste test, it must be checked by scientific testing in a lab.
Filtered & unfiltered oil
When extra virgin olive oil is produced the whole olives are crushed in the mill to separate the oil from the fruit's flesh. Unfiltered oil is bottled straight after it is pressed so it is oil in its most fresh and raw state. With olive sediment remaining suspended in the oil from the press process, these tiny flavour packed particles deliver the vibrant and robust flavour character and give it its iconic cloudy green appearance unique to this oil. This is Olio Nuovo, bottled and delivered as immediately after harvest, it is the freshest oil you can get and is a real seasonal treat.
The majority of extra virgin olive oils are filtered before bottling to remove the olive sediment which remains in the oil after this process. Filtering leaves a translucent oil to be bottled which some consumers prefer in look and it also lasts longer as there is less organic material to degrade in it. As filtering takes some time as the first step is to allow the particles to naturally settle to the bottom on the vat, this takes a month or so and it is then filtered through cotton to remove most of the remaining sediment leaving the clear oil which is bottled. This is why the oil From Your Tree is delivered in April, we send it out as soon as possible after it produced and bottled to enjoy its freshest state.
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'DOP' is the other term worth knowing as you have likely seen this on many labels. Though it applies only to European olive oil, it is still a well recognised and important term. DOP stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta and is an accolade given to a quality product made in a specific local area. It is the European Union’s way of trying to protect great traditional products and methods. DOP is also used for cheeses, prosciutto, wines and many other products.
'Pomace' is the pulpy olive flesh creating in the olive press when the olives are crushed to make extra virgin olive oil. The olives are mulched to start to separate the oil from the flesh, then this pomace is pressed to extract the majority of the oil. Remember earlier when we explained the first cold press? Well it is this residue pomace which after this first press can be pressed again in very low quality oil production. Avoid anything called pomace oil, as further to this last extraction as it will be extracted suing chemicals and certainly mixed with other oils.
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