Italy, like most countries in the Mediterranean basin, is renowned for its olive oils. Olive oil came to the Mediterranean through what was known as Asia Minor or the modern day country of Turkey. The three main producers of olive oil are Spain, Italy and Greece. Greece has more varieties than any other country in the world. Italy also has numerous cultivars, the word for different types of olives.
Olive oil has many nutritional benefits including the fact that the mono-saturated fats present in olives/olive oil, when combined with the antioxidant protection offered by vitamin E, lower the risk of damage and inflammation. Olive/olive oil contains active phytonutrient compounds, including polyphenols and flavonoids, which have been found to have significant anti-inflammatory properties. Moreover, the vitamin E present in olives/olive oil has been known to offer cellular protection against free radicals present in the body and prevents the oxidation of cholesterol in the body and thus helps reduce the risk of having heart attack or stroke.
Olive oil has been slowly making its way into the United States market. At any local grocer, you can now find olive oil. Some of these oils are Italian, many are Spanish and many are a mixture. Those in the know can immediately tell the difference. One factor to look for, in addition to taste, is the color of the olive oil. Most good oils are quite green when they are first sold into the market. As they get older they become a bit more yellow.
Each cultivar produces different aromas and flavors when it is made into olive oil. Some oils are spicier than others while some are more delicate. There are also regional traditions in olive oil. For example, in Calabria, most olive oil is made from an indigenous cultivar called Carolea. Carolea can grow in Sicily as well but it is in Calabria that it finds its true home. For more information on olive oil from Calabraia, check out the website of Calabriadorata.
What matters most when choosing an olive oil are the flavors and the stability of the oil. Oils are judged and labelled with their level of acidity as well. In all, the world of olive oil is almost as complex as that of wine, tea or chocolate tastings. In fact, there are many classes and certifications to become an olive oil taster. At the huge Italian wine fair held in April every year, Vinitaly, there is always one entire building for the SOL event which is dedicated to olive oil. Visiting the fairs can be quite overwhelming but is without a doubt, an exquisitely pleasurable experience.