Michael North's "best selection" EVOO's - Olive Oil, taste, enjoy or reject, no compromise!

Olive trees were cultivated in the Mediterranean way before 3000 BC. The people of the Mediterranean have long valued the olive, firstly as an important survival product. It was used as a lighting and body warming fuel. It is only in recent times that it has become recognised as a nutritious and healthy product. In Britain, it is now a regular store cupboard item. Read on to discover more about how olive oil is made and what varieties are available, and to learn how they can add flavour and character to your cooking. Olive oil is the unadulterated juice of crushed olives and contains no additives or preservatives. It is an oil high in monounsaturated, which means it may help to control cholesterol levels as part of a healthy balanced diet. Over 32 countries now produce olive oil, the Mediterranean must look out as many will soon catch up. Spain, Italy, and then Greece are the largest producers. Oils from each of these countries have their own individual characteristics and within each country there is huge diversity of regional flavour and styles, and more than 80 varieties of olives are used in the production of olive oil. Unfortunately most of the oil is exported to Italy for subsequent re-export to Seasonal Fresh Olive Oil demanding large commercial enterprises.

Growing and harvesting: Olive flowers appear on the tree around May and will indicate the crop size to come - notwithstanding Mother Natures intervention! The fruit forms and gradually ripens from pastel green to dark green, and some varieties go through to violet, and finally to black. The timing of the harvest, as well as the climate and soil of the area, will affect the flavour and colour of the oil. This timing is a closely guarded secret of each individual grower, indeed for example a good restaurateur in Greece is known for his quality of oil, of course he has his own grove and picks the olives himself! Once picked, olives should be handled carefully to minimise damage and must be pressed almost immediately, since the fruit begins to ferment, causing acidity levels to rise, a common problem in Middle Eastern countries but the people seem to prefer higher "pepper" levels from there. There are religious reasons too - the olive should drop from the tree and not be touched by hands of non-virgins - for lots more information you will have to join our club or at least attend one of the "The Olive Oil Man" talks! | Have a look at olive oils by country.

Understanding labeling and first pressing: The best olive oil is produced the first time an olive is pressed, the 'first pressing'. The remaining mulch, or pomace, was often pressed and second or third time, and the oil used for cooking. It is called just olive oil, lite olive oil and other such names. The very last remnants are non edible and used for lighting, "lampante" or lamp oil.

Cold-pressed: The term 'cold-pressing' refers to the temperature at which the olives are pressed – below 25°C – and indicates that the oil has been produced in optimum conditions and is likely to have a superior flavour. Be aware that this terminology means that water is not added at above this temperature. We believe any water added during processing is not really necessary, excepting of course that the grower wants a higher yield!!

Filtered or non-filtered: Traditionally, even the best olive oil was often cloudy, with bits of olive leaves and fruit remaining in the oil. Improved filtering techniques have created a clearer oil, which is now accepted as normal. Unfiltered oil has a slightly more robust, less refined or rustic flavour than filtered, and is often preferred on the Continent.

PDO and PGI: These two symbols stand for Protected Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication. Here are European Union regulations that guarantee that the extra virgin olive oil comes from the country or region described on the label.

Acidity: The acidity in olive oil helps to determine the quality of the oil and in general the lower the acidity the better the oil. The acidity levels of the extra virgin olive oils are determined by each season's harvest.Today's techniques are more efficient and most olive oil is not first pressed. WARNING DO NOT BUY THIS TYPE OF OIL

A question of taste:
Experts judge olive oil rather like wine – by colour, bouquet and taste. All three qualities depend on the ripeness of the olives when they are harvested, how they are kept and how the oil is extracted. Unlike wine, olive oil is always better in the year of its production, and the colour – ranging from pale golden yellow to deep green – generally has no bearing on its taste.The flavour of an olive oil can range from peppery to bland, and is usually described as mild (delicate, light and almost buttery), semi-fruity (fairly assertive with more olive taste), fruity (with a strong olive flavour), pizzico (with a peppery accent), rustic (hearty oil) and sweet. Oils with the aroma of a freshly-mown lawn and a green, springtime flavour are described as grassy. Those with a slightly dryer, more herbal aroma are described as having a summery sunshine flavour like hay. How to choose the right oil
Our easy guide will help you understand the differences between the varieties of olive oil available.

Extra virgin: Extra virgin is the oil extracted from the first press, technically with an acidity level of less than one per cent and no discernible defects in taste, colour or smell. It is usually regarded as the best olive oil, but will have a distinctive flavour and may be too overpowering for some dishes. High temperatures will also distort its natural flavour, so extra virgin olive oil should be kept for dressing cooked food, pouring into soups or for drizzling onto salad leaves or cooked at lower temperatures. This is the only "real olive oil"

Pure olive oil: Sometimes labeled simply as 'olive oil', this oil is created through careful blending. Technically, it is oil with an acidity level of less than 1.5 per cent, and with a less-pronounced flavour. It is refined using a completely natural process which removes the impurities and creates a colourless, neutral-tasting liquid with all the nutritional values and properties of extra virgin olive oil, bit none of the taste or smell. The oil is the carefully blended with virgin oil to create a product that is idea for use in salad dressings, marinades and mayonnaise. Blended oils also have the advantage that they are produced to a 'house style', so the flavour remains consistent year on year.

Light or mild olive oil: Bottles labeled light or mild are simply olive oils that have been specially refined to have a milder flavour and a lighter texture. They retain all the health benefits of unrefined oils, but have been developed to allow the flavours of other foods to come through. These are suitable for deep or shallow frying, stir-frying and baking. They are also ideal for dressings if you enjoy that much milder flavour.

Storage: Olive oil does not improve with age and is best used before the sell-by date. It should be Fresh Olive Oilstored in a cool, dark place, but not the fridge as it may solidify.Italian olive oil – summer hay and pepper. Italy boasts more regional varieties than ay other single nation producing olive oil. Every region of Italy produces olive oil, but perhaps the most famous is Tuscany and, more specifically, the area around the town of Lucca. Several of the well known brands, including Filippo Berio, come from this region. In general, Italian olive oil is fairly assertive, with an aroma and flavour of summer meadows.You can use Italian olive oil as an everyday oil, but it is a must for use in authentic Italian foods such as bruschetta and risotto, for tossing with cooked pasta, or for making and drizzling over focaccia.

Spanish olive oil – golden, smooth and fruity
Spain produces more than 60 per cent of the world's olive oil during a good harvest. The majority of its crop is obtained from the southern provinces of Jaén and Córdoba in Andalucia. The long spells of heat and dryness in Spain result in oils that are usually golden, smooth, fruity and aromatic, often with a slight bitterness.

Greek olive oil – fresh, green and grassy
Greece is the third largest olive oil producer in the world and the Greeks consume more olive oil per head than any other country. Greek oils are fresh, green and grassy, sometimes with a peppery aftertaste, although there is great regional variation.Greek oils are excellent with salads, especially drizzled over feta, but are a vital component when creating Greek dishes, such as moussaka. Remember the key factor in the goodness benefits to us of olive oil is "less messing" and the freshest is the best!