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The pressing of olives to make olive oil dates back to about 3000 B.C.. Historians generally believe that the olive tree originated in Ancient Greece and spread throughout the Mediterranean region as the Greeks and Phoenicians explored the territory. Cato, a Roman author, described the agricultural techniques for growing olives in his writings about the second century B.C.
The olive tree is a unique type of evergreen that grows in subtropical climates in both the northern and southern hemispheres. It grows between 10 and 40 feet tall and produces small clusters of white flowers in late spring which eventually grow into olives. Similar to grape vines, olive trees do not start producing olives until the age of eight; however, even then these olives cannot be used. The olive tree must mature until the age of at least fifteen for it to produce a worthwhile crop, but once this stage is hit, the olive tree will produce olives for the next 65 years and continue to live for long after that, even for several hundred years. There are hundreds of varieties of olive trees, each excelling in the production of different products. Italy is the second leading producer of olives following Spain.A Man Harvesting an Olive Tree

Olive harvesting takes place at different times depending on the area. In most of the Mediterranean olive harvesting occurs in the months of November, December, and January; however, in the more Northern areas such as Tuscany, olive harvesting must be carried out earlier due to early frosts.  The different times in which olives are harvested results in the different tastes of each region’s olive oil. The younger olives of Tuscany result in a peppery taste. Similarly their young age produces less oil making their olive oil a premium commodity. Since each olive contains about 20 percent oil it takes an average of around 200 olives to produce one liter of olive oil.


Unlike most products these days, olives are one of the few industries in which mechanization is not usually present. This is due to the fact that olives are easily damaged resulting in a lower quality of oil. It is believed that the quality of oil decreases with the increase of mechanization. Since olives must be treated gently, better olive oils are more expensive because they must be hand picked. There are two different ways to hand pick olives. The first way is considered to be the best method because it will result in the less damage to the olives which will produce the best quality of olive oil; however this also means that it is the most expensive. This method involves hand picking the olives and placing them directly into a basket. The second method involves handing picking the olives but letting them drop to the ground onto a net.Farm worker with fresh olives

Immediately after the harvesting is completed the olives are taken to a frantoio, which is a communal mill. Since the frantoio is  communal, each farmer must make an appointment for his pressing. It is important that the olives do not stay in the baskets for too long, since the risk of spoiling is very high.  Olives are usually stored in their baskets, for no longer, than a day. Each farmer has great pride for his olives and his olive oil, therefore, it is very common for the farmer to accompany his own olives throughout the production process to ensure that only his olives go into his pressing.  A farmer’s main concern when going to the frantoio is the yield of oil obtained per olive and the percent of acidity.

Before any processing can occur, the olives must first be washed to remove extra leaves and stems. The next step is the grinding of the olives. This grinding process involves the crushing of the entire olive including the skin and the pit by a large granite wheel. This process results in a sort of olive paste which is then put through the mixing stage. This stage is most important, since it has the most effect on the outcome of the olive oil. This process is done very slowly to ensure the consistency of the oil. Next the liquid must be extracted from the remaining paste through the process of pressing. Pressing results in a liquid that must be separated into water and oil. Once this process is completed, the olive oil will be stored in steel tanks and stored in a cool place before bottling.

Olive oil is graded according to factors in the pressing process and the quality of the oil. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the finest grade, and this grade is given to oil that comes from the first pressing. In Italy, the method used, is cold pressing (in which no heat is used above about 60 degrees Fahrenheit). Heat destroys antioxidants, so cold pressed oils are the healthiest.

Today, olive oil has gained importance for the health benefits it provides, but to the people of the Mediterranean, olive oil has always played a leading role in their diet and way of life. The Mediterranean Diet is based on the use of olive oil, which is believed to be the reason for their lower rate of heart disease. It is considered a healthy oil because it is a mono-unsaturated fat with high amounts of antioxidants and low amounts of cholesterol.  However, this is not the reason that olive oil plays such a large role in the Mediterranean regions.  Olive oil is what gives such a distinct taste to the Italian cuisine. While the recent popularity of olive oil is based on the newly discovered health benefits, olive oil is valued in Italy for its taste above everything else. The Italian diet is heavily based on the use of olive oil and would not be the same without it.Milling_Yield

Olive oil lasts about 18-24 months. If stored in a sunny spot, expect less than 12 months. If stored in a dark spot and cooler than room temperature, the oil will last a long time. For best every day storage, find a spot in your kitchen close at hand, but away from heat and light. For longer storage, refrigeration is best.  Exposure to light and heat can turn olive oil rancid. This destroys the healthy, antioxidant properties of the oil. Most oils are sold in darkly tinted bottles.

‘Olive Oil History’ The Global Gourmet ®. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.    

How to Use Olive Oil in Your Cooking

When you are using less fat in your cooking, you want the fat, you do use to be flavorful and add taste to your food. This can be accomplished with a fruity, extra-virgin olive oil, especially if the oil will be used in salad dressings or drizzled on a dish just before serving or on grilled bread for bruschetta.  When using olive oil for sauteing ingredients as the foundation of a dish, I generally use a lighter, less expensive oil.

Flavored  and infused oil can be expensive but they have great flavor.  You can make such specialty flavored oils at home and save money. Homemade infused oils will not keep as long as processed ones. Use your herb-infused olive oil within two months.

To begin, you need to first determine what type of mixtures you would like. Try to think of what herbs usually work well together.  A blend of savory herbs such as thyme and rosemary can also benefit from some peppercorns and a bay leaf or two, resulting in a savory blend for roasting meats. You will also need to determine whether you will be using fresh herbs or dry herbs. You’ll receive a better flavor from fresh herbs, but the potential for spoilage is greater after a few months time; while oils mixed with dry herbs can last far longer, but the flavor will not be as strong.  For storage, you will want to find jars that can be sealed completely. I have found that jars with rubber stoppers are better than metal lids and stoppers, as the metal can corrode over time or affect the taste of the oil.

Herb-infused Olive Oil

  • Choose your herbs and spices.  Some suggestions for herbs and spices are rosemary, garlic, basil, bay, chives, dill, mint, marjoram, tarragon and thyme.  Try a few different combinations and make a few different bottles. Gather together the herbs you will be using. You should have enough to fill 1/4 of the jar or bottle.
  • Wash and dry your herbs. After washing, leave your herbs out to dry. Pat; soaking up as much moisture as you can. Leave the herbs to continue to dry in the sun or overnigh on your counter, if you can. Bacteria cannot grow in the olive oil, but it can grow on any water left on the herbs over time, therefore, the problem of spoilage and foodborne illnesses when using fresh herbs, can develop. As long as you allow time for your herbs to have completely dried, your mixture will be fine.
  • Slightly tear or chop the herbs so that they begin to release their aroma and flavors.
  • Heat the extra-virgin olive oil over a low flame until it is warm. Not hot, simply warm. This can best be done in a small stock pot or saucepan.
  • Stuff the herbs into a sterilized bottle or bottles. A little goes a very long way, so there’s no need to overly stuff each bottle.
  • Pour the warm oil into the bottles over the herbs and spices. Let the bottles sit for a while until cool. If you use garlic, be sure to refrigerate the oil, rather than store it in a cool dark place, to avoid botulism.
  • Place a cork or rubber stopper into the bottle. Then set the bottle in a cool dark place for about a week.
  • After a week, strain out the herbs and spices.  Pour through a fine wire-mesh strainer, discarding solids. This oil should continue to be stored out of direct sunlight and in a cool dark place.
  • Don’t use infused oils for frying. If heated, the flavor compounds can break down and become bitter. Instead, add them at the end of cooking or to cold dishes.
How to use infused oils
  • As a dip for bread.
  • Drizzle over tomatoes.
  • Toss cooked pasta or rice.
  • Brush fish or chicken with infused oil before grilling.
  • Drizzle over popcorn for snack

Italian Herb Flavored Oil      

2 cups extra virgin olive oil, warmed on the stove
4 sprigs fresh oregano
4 sprigs fresh basil
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons crushed dried red pepper
Follow directions above.


Some sample recipes for infusing oil:

Basil Oil: Use 1 cup chopped fresh basil.
Mint Oil: Use 1 cup chopped fresh mint
Dill Oil: Use 1 cup chopped fresh dill.
Oregano Oil: Use 1 cup chopped fresh oregano.
Thyme Oil: Use 1 cup chopped fresh thyme leaves.
Chive Oil: Use 1 cup chopped fresh chives; reduce oil to 3/4 cup
Sage Oil: Use 1/2 cup chopped fresh sage.
Rosemary Oil: Use 1/2 cup chopped fresh rosemary.
Black Pepper Oil: Use 1/2 cup coarsely ground black pepper.
Ginger Oil: Place 1/3 cup chopped fresh ginger in a heatproof container. Heat oil, and
pour over ginger.
Chile Pepper Oil: Crumble 2 dried red chile peppers, and place in a heatproof container.
Heat oil, and pour over chiles.

Lemon Infused Olive Oil

This is excellent drizzled over cooked vegetables

  • 1 large lemon
  • 1 cup olive oil

Preparation:

  1. Scrub lemon clean and dry thoroughly. Use a very sharp paring knife or peeler to remove the zest – just the bright yellow part of the peel, avoiding the bitter white pith immediately below – from the lemon.
  2. Put lemon zest and olive oil in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat. Do not allow oil to simmer. Keep the oil just below a simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove oil from heat and let cool.
  3. Strain lemon zest out of the oil and put the now lemon-infused oil in a clean jar. Store in a cool, dark place.

Roasted Carrots with Lemon Infused Olive Oil

Yield: 2

1 bunch fresh whole carrots
1 tablespoon Lemon Infused Olive Oil
Couple pinches of Kosher salt
Couple turns of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim and scrub the carrots with a vegetable brush. Dry them and them place on a baking sheet.
Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and black pepper. Toss with your hands to coat the carrots with the oil.
Roast at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. you will want to check the carrots after 10 minutes and turn them over to ensure that they brown evenly. Remove when they are nicely caramelized.

Lemon Olive Oil Cake                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

2 small lemons
1 cup sugar
Scant 1/2 cup plain lowfat yogurt
3 large eggs
2/3 cup Lemon Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with olive oil cooking spray.. Grate zest from 2 lemons and place in a bowl with sugar. Using your fingers, rub ingredients together until lemon zest is evenly distributed in sugar.

Cut lemons in half and squeeze juice into a measuring cup; you will need 1/4 cup. Add yogurt to juice until you have 2/3 cup liquid altogether. Pour mixture into bowl with sugar and whisk well. Whisk in eggs and olive oil.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently stir dry ingredients into wet ones. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake cake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until it is golden and a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up.
Good with sliced strawberries.

Quinoa, Corn, and Tomato Salad with Chive-Infused Oil

Flavored oil coats the quinoa grains and lends the salad a fresh chive flavor. Refrigerate leftover oil to use as a dressing or to drizzle over grilled fish or summer vegetables. Garnish with whole fresh chives, if desired.
6 servings (serving size: 2/3 cup)

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa ( or any grain of your choice)
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons Chive-Infused Oil, see below
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced


Combine 1 1/2 cups water and quinoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Combine quinoa, corn, tomatoes, and parsley in a medium bowl. Combine Chive-Infused Oil and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over salad; toss well to coat. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Chive-infused Oil

or you can use the chive infused oil made according to the directions above

3/4 cup (serving size: 1 1/2 teaspoons)

  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (1-inch) slices fresh chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Place all ingredients in a blender; pulse 6 times or until chives are very finely minced. Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl and discard solids. Store in refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.


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