Olive Oil & Vinegar
Olive oil is a “fruit juice” produced by the pressing of the olive fruit. It is naturally high in beneficial Monosaturated fats and low in dreadful Saturated Fat.
Grades of Olive Oil
According to the international olive oil council, olive oils are graded on 3 things by a panel of skilled grading experts including: the amount of free acidity, their smell (aroma), and their taste qualities.
Virgin Olive Oil
This is merely a technical term of any olive oil that is produced purely from mechanical or other physical methods, under thermal conditions that do not cause any alteration of the oil. There are different grades of “virgin” olive oil that are further explained.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil is virgin olive oil of perfect aroma and flavor with a free acidity below 8%. Note: many of these oils are “commercial” extra virgin olive oils, blended to a standard maintained year to year, and to a price. They may come from different regions and countries. Other “single-estate” oils are often un-blended, more expensive, and very pronounced in flavor. Just like grapes from wine making, the flavor of these olives can change from year to year and field to field depending on soil, humidity, moisture, and other natural factors.
- Virgin Olive Oil/ Ordinary Olive Oil is virgin olive oil with a lighter flavor and a free acidity of levels up to 3.3%.
- Lampante Virgin Olive Oil (lamp oil) is poor tasting and poor smelling virgin olive oil with a free acidity above 3.3%. This oil is unfit for human consumption in its original state and needs to be refined to make it suitable as foodsafe. Generally suitable for “technical purposes” only, for example, textile or cosmetic industries.
Three further grades, lower than virgin, make up 90% of the world olive oil production:
- Refined Olive Oil from virgin oils, usually lampante oil, and produced using heat and chemicals. Minimal flavor and health qualities still exist.
- Pure Olive Oil and Light Olive Oil is a specific foodservice term meaning “oil fit for human consumption that is made purely of olive oil.” Minimal flavor and health qualities exist. Generally you will see Pure Light Oil on the grocery store shelf. The term “light” is strictly attributed to color and flavor has no attribute to health.
- Pomace Oil is made from debris left over after extraction of virgin oils. It is treated with solvents such as hexane, carbon sulphide, or trichlorethylene. Most discerning cooks a void this category completely.
Common Olive Oil Terms of Quality
The following terms are those of high quality oils that are often sought after by the discerning palette.
- First–Cold Pressed is exactly what it says: the very first pressing, with little or no heat applied. As a general rule, almost every extra virgin olive oil is first-cold pressed.
- Single-Estate Oils are top quality, premium-price oils generally produced from hand-picked olives and cold pressed within hours of picking, generally from a single family estate or farm.
- Unfiltered means one less process: it implies excellent olive oil and careful handling and is often murky but delicious, bold, and full in flavor.
Olive Oil Uses
Olive oil, in general, is a healthy, flavorful replacement for any other type of oil or butter when cooking. If you want to create a great tasting finished product, you have to start with quality ingredients! A few common and delicious uses are noted below:
- Combine with vinegar for making salad dressings and marinades.
- Add to your sauté pan when cooking vegetables, meats, eggs, and potatoes.
- Use in baking when recipes call for vegetable oil.
- Mix with herbs, vinegar, or both for a tasty dipper with a crusty Italian baguette.
- Drizzle over meats and vegetables before grilling.
Olive Oil Health Benefits
Olive oil is not just delicious; studies have also shown it to be healthy. Olive Oil is high in monounsaturated fats while low in saturated fats. Research suggests that olive oil can reduce the chance of heart disease, increase the level of good cholesterol (HDL), lower the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), and contribute to lowering blood pressure. It also contains high levels of vitamins A,D, and E.
Nut & Seed Oils
Nut and seed oils each have similar benefits as olive oil while adding delicious flavors to salads, sauces, and other culinary adventures. Each nut and seed oil has its own flavor and use profiles that can be referenced in the chart following this section.
How Should Olive Oil be Stored?
Air, heat, light, and age will cause olive oil to turn rancid (rancid is the flavor which is imparted in an oil after it has undergone the process of oxidation. Since prolonged contact with oxygen is the root cause of oxidation, rancidity is a common defect, so it should be stored in a cool, dark place in an airtight container). If your oil has an oily taste, then it is probably rancid.
The ideal temperature for storing olive oil is 57°F, although a normal room temperature of 70ºF works very well if the olive oil is stored in a dark area where the temperature remains fairly constant. A kitchen cabinet located away from the stove and away from direct sunlight will work quite well. Do not put olive oil in a container without a tight cap.
Refrigeration is not recommended for high quality extra virgin olive oil because condensation may develop in the bottle, affecting the flavor. When chilled, or in cold weather, the oil may turn cloudy and even solidify. Such oil will clear again as it warms, so cloudiness should not be taken as an indication that the oil is past its prime.
Cooking With Olive Oil
Cooking with olive oil is like cooking with wine. Never use a wine or olive oil that does not taste good to you. An inferior one will leave an aftertaste. If you do a taste test and compare the “pure” to the “extra-virgin” then you’ll understand the difference.
Marcella Hazan who wrote the cookbook called Marcella Cucina, wrote the following:
“The taste of a dish for which you need olive oil will be as good or as ordinary as the oil you use. A sublime one can lift even modest ingredients to eminent heights of flavor; a dreary oil will pull the best ingredients down to its own level. Partial clues to the quality of the olive oil you are buying are supplied by the label and the price, but ultimately, the only way to determine which one, among those available is right for you, is to taste and compare.”
Downtown Olive’s Oils
Downtown Olive uses extra virgin olive oils that are first-cold pressed from single-estate farms. All our olive oils are imported from Italy, unless otherwise noted in the name of the oil such as Lesvos Greek.
Many olive oil stores tout the importance of the harvest date – for good reason. The shelf life of olive oil exposed to air is usually twelve months, and typical bulk storage containers, called fusti, allow air in as the oil is dispensed. That means the spoilage clock starts ticking the moment the fusti are filled. From then on, it’s a race to sell that oil in hopes it is consumed before becoming rancid. The only way the shelf life of olive oil stored in a fusti can be lengthened is to pour another type of oil on top – typically Argan – in hopes it will protect the olive oil underneath.
In contrast, Downtown Olive’s oils are shipped to us direct from our producer in vacuum-sealed bags. These containers have air-tight dispensers built right in that we use to dispense oil to your bottle. That means the first time our oils are exposed to air is the day you purchase it, and you have a full twelve months of the freshest, most flavorful olive oils available. And you never have to wonder if your bottle has some other type of oil mixed in.
The dictionary defines vinegar as “sour wine” or “a sour liquid obtained by acetic fermentation of diluted alcoholic liquids and used as a condiment or preservative.” It can be made from any fruit or material containing sugar.
How is Vinegar Made?
Vinegar is made by two distinct biological processes, both the result of the action of harmless microorganisms (yeast and “Acetobacter”) that turn sugars (carbohydrates) into acetic acid.
- The first process is called alcoholic fermentation and occurs when yeasts change natural sugars to alcohol under controlled conditions.
- In the second process, a group of bacteria called “Acetobacter” converts the alcohol portion to acid. This is the acetic, or acid fermentation, that forms vinegar. Proper bacteria cultures are important; timing is important; and fermentation should be carefully controlled.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Italy is made from white, sugary Trebbiano grapes grown on the hills around Modena in the region of Reggio Emilia. These grapes are cooked down to create grape “must” creating a naturally higher sugar content and resulting in a sweet and tart, well balanced vinegar. The “must” is then matured by a long and slow vinegarization process through natural fermentation. Balsamic vinegar is placed in wooden casks to begin the aging process in which it evaporates by about 10% each year, creating a thicker, sweeter substance as the years pass.
Wine Vinegar is obtained through the acetous fermentation of a selected blend of wines. The taste is distinctly acidic, and the aroma reminiscent of the wine from which it comes.
What is “Mother?”
“Mother” is a naturally occurring cellulose (a natural carbohydrate which is the fiber in foods like celery and lettuce) produced by the harmless vinegar bacteria. Today, most manufacturers pasteurize their product before bottling to prevent these bacteria from forming “mother” while sitting on the retail shelf. Because Downtown Olive’s vinegars are all natural they will, over time, form mother, considered a sign of quality by many.
Mother of vinegar can appear in different forms including: slimy, gummy, jelly-like substance; a thin or layering film that can form on the top of the vinegar; an overall cloudiness; or a wispy, spider like web throughout the bottle. Vinegar containing “mother” is not harmful or spoiled. The mother can either be left alone, continuing to use as normal, or simply removed by straining or filtering.