As with most great food, the quality of an olive oil is no accident. It’s the result of a careful process, perfected over hundreds of years by people dedicated to their craft. Through test and trials, good harvests and bad, Italy’s dedicated olive estates have honed their methods to achieve just the right balance of taste and fragrance. And while each estate has its own secrets to nurturing, picking, milling and pressing olives, there are a few traits that the best of the best hold in common.
Always Picked Fresh
The oil-making process is extremely time sensitive. Once an olive is picked from the tree, it begins to ripen quickly. In order to seal in the nutrition and freshness of a ripe olive, it should be pressed within 36 hours of picking.
Most olives used in supermarket oils travel hundreds of miles and spend days in packaging before they are milled and pressed into olive oil. These olives are typically not even ripe leaving the farm, as it’s easier to allow them simply to over-ripen and fall from the tree, rather than pick them individually. The result are olives that are shriveled, tasteless, and devoid of nutritional content.
By contrast, olives used in finishing oils typically are grown on a dedicated olive estate. They are picked at the peak of freshness, as their polyphenol count is at its highest, then milled and pressed on site. The result is an oil that retains the freshness and nutritional value of a fresh olive.
Unfortunately olive trees fall victim to a number of natural predators, such as olive flies, borers, scales and mites. Most large contract farms deal with these pests using harmful chemicals that degrade the flavor and nutrition of the olive and leave unpleasant residue in the oil. The best olive estates use a healthier approach — a homemade mixture of wine, vinegar and honey hung on nearby trees to distract bugs from the olives and trap them.
Big contract farms often rely on industrial fertilizers that diminish the natural qualities of the olive and harm the surrounding environment. Olive estates, on the other hand, employ a traditional, time-tested approach. Once the oil is pressed, leftover pomace is returned to the ground to be used as fertilizer. On the best estates, this is the only fertilizing agent required — pomace is full of carbohydrates, and gives the olive trees all they need to thrive.
Bottled to Order
Finally, the best estates handle their oils with care. They produce their oils in small batches so quality can be tested at every step. And when the olives have been pressed into oil, its stored in purpose-made stainless steel silos, pressurized with nitrogen.
The importance of proper storage is hard to overstate — even the slightest exposure to oxygen, light, or heat can spoil the delicate flavor of olive oil. But even the best storage is no substitute for freshness, which is why estate producers bottle their oils to order. Ensuring the minimum amount of time between press and table will result in an oil that is fragrant, flavorful, and the perfect addition to your next meal.
No Shortcuts to a Great Oil
At the end of the day, Italy’s most successful estates are linked by a common respect for the land and its gifts. The families who live and farm on these estates know their olives well. In many cases, the trees they pick today are the same ones their parents and grandparents picked before them. The result of this dedication is oil you can trust — consistently flavorful from harvest to harvest, made from the same good stuff in each and every bottle. And you can be assure that DITALIA is dedicated to finding and selling extra virgin olive oils made the honest way!