20 Aug

Olive oil offerings

By Peta Mathias,

The olive oils you see in the supermarket vary in quality. Some are exceptional value for money but you really just have to buy and taste them to find (a) the best and (b) the one you like.

You cannot tell what an oil is like by its colour – it gives no indication of taste or quality. Tasting is absolutely the only way to know. When you find a good olive oil and olives you like, make note, because the best oil is the one you like and that suits your tastebuds.

It’s great to buy olive oil from a specialist food shop as they let you taste and compare, and are good at giving information. Some of the best oils come from Greece and Spain.

The four enemies of olive oil are age, heat, air and light. They say you should keep oil in a dark, cool place such as a wine cellar, a cupboard or a pantry, as light and heat deteriorate it quickly.

Once it’s open, consume it quickly as air causes oxidation. In the olden days olive oil was stored and transported in terracotta amphoras – jars with large oval bodies, narrow cylindrical necks and two little handles near the mouth. They were always kept in the basement.

Having said that, the oil I use at my school in France is made by a chemist who did his PhD in olive oil and his limited edition is sold in clear bottles. He doesn’t agree with the darkness thing – most people consume their oil far too quickly for the light to do any damage.

When it comes to olives, avoid those that are pre-pitted. They have no taste because they’ve been treated so the stones can be easily removed and then dyed black. Best to buy an olive stoner.

A beautiful use of olives is as a crust for fish. In a blender, combine breadcrumbs, black olives, parsley, thyme, basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and cayenne pepper. Spread it thickly on white fish steaks and cook on a high heat in the oven for about five minutes.

Finally, olive oil has uses other than ingestion. Greek women used to use a big fat Kalamata olive as a method of birth control – instead of a diaphragm. It’s also very good as a sexual lubricant because it doesn’t interfere with the pH status of the skin. Whether you use extra virgin or not doesn’t really bear scrutiny. On her 121st birthday, Jeanne Calment from Arles in the south of France, was asked what the secret to her longevity was. She said “huile d’olive. I eat it in every meal and always have done. I also rub it into my skin. I have only one wrinkle and I’m sitting on it”.

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