Italian chef Enrico Sartor shares some pointers on choosing the right label for your table
With all the health benefits it is supposed to have, olive oil is being pursued like never before. Food connoisseurs are even going as far as buying the oil at its source or with the PDO (protected designation of origin) label. But for those who prefer not to lug back fragile bottles on an Italian holiday, chef Enrico Sartor has a few tips.
Having recently introduced a fiesty gastro-menu at Chennai’s Amethyst, Sartor says the trend is all about ‘’fresh, simple food, with strong ingredients. Food must have a meaning. It is a language. For instance, if you put mozzarella, basil and tomato together with a drizzle of olive oil, it tastes very good.’’
Yes, olive oil is here to stay and Italy has become the crossroads of the Mediterranean for the industry because it imports olive oil from north Africa, Greece and Spain to be blended with its own. The colour of olive oil is chlorophyll dependant, adds Sartor, but the taste is usually grassy and peppery. You could also look out for Unaprol’s stamp of approval – an Italian olive oil producers’ consortium that is taken very seriously indeed.
When cooking Italian, esp sauteing and stir frying, extra virgin is considered the best. It is least processed, and is from the first pressing of the olives. Technically, extra virgin is also low in acidity
Choose unfiltered oil, where the sediment from the pressing is not removed from the oil. This is said to retain the natural, fruity flavour of olives
Also look for ‘cold press’, a technique used in pressing the oil to prevent heat from breaking it down. The maximum temperature allowed here is 100 degrees F
Unlike wine, olive oil does not improve with age. Consume within the first year before it loses all its sensory qualities
Do not store oil in the refrigerator but in a closed container, away from heat or light
Use a strongly-flavored olive oil to complement grilled meat or a stew. But for a vinaigrette or dressing, a less-strongly flavored oil or a blend is a better choice
‘Virgin’ oil is from the second pressing of olives, while ‘Pure’ undergoes some filtering and refining. And if you’re not really serious about your olive or can’t stomach the taste, ‘Extra Light’ is your choice. It undergoes considerable processing and only retains a very mild olive flavour… perhaps in the process defeating the oil’s many benefits.
Olives are grown right across Italy, but each region has its special characteristics. The terraced hillsides, for instance, produce an olive oil considered more delicate than those grown in Tuscany. And in Tuscany itself, the region produces olives which vary from fruity to robust. However, the heart of olive oil production is Umbria, where a spicier version is produced.
– As told to Rosella Stephen
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