19 Jan

Olive oil part II: the Mediterranean

By Evie Barkin,

The first settlers predominantly used olive oil for their cooking needs because it was the oil available to them. Due to necessary growing conditions, olive oil comes from a relatively small area of the world. While indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean, olive trees have also been cultivated in the Middle East. Olives are grown in the Mediterranean, Spain, Italy, Greece and France.

Today we also get them from South Africa, Australia and California. Each country’s olives have a distinctive flavor, because of their varied climates. The American oils, for instance, are milder, and more fruity than their European counterparts.

In 1865, Francesco Bertolli opened a small store in Lucca, Italy, the heart of Italy’s olive growing region. He was selling packaged regional goods in sacks, barrels and crates. Ten years later he expanded his business to include the Francesco Bertolli Bank. An increasing number of immigrants to the Americas started writing to him because they could not find the products they were used to, and so, Bertolli became Italy’s first olive oil exporter.

Because of the area where olive oil originates, you will find it more strongly used in Mediterranean cuisine. The health benefits of olive oil are manifold. As a mono-unsaturated fat it helps lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers.

Minestra Maritata, or Italian Wedding Soup, has nothing to do with wedding ceremonies. It is about the marriage between vegetables and meat.

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