Is Your Oil Cold-Pressed?
We get this question all the time. The short answer is yes, all of our olive oils are cold-pressed. But like many things, the answer isn't that simple.
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We get this question all the time. The short answer is yes, all of our olive oils are cold-pressed. But like many things, the answer isn't that simple.
Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was known for his many passions, including politics, science, agriculture, and food. Did you know that one of his particular interests was in the cultivation of olive trees and the production of olive oil?
Jefferson first became interested in olive oil during his time as the United States Minister to France in the late 1780s. While there, he encountered a variety of Mediterranean foods, including olives and olive oil, which he found to be both delicious and healthy. Jefferson believed that olive oil was a key component of a healthy diet and encouraged his fellow Americans to consume it as well.
In 1787, Jefferson began to experiment with growing olive trees at his home in Virginia, Monticello. Despite the fact that olive trees are not native to Virginia and the humid climate is not ideal for their cultivation, Jefferson was determined to succeed. He obtained a variety of olive tree cuttings from Europe and began to plant them on his property.
Unfortunately, Jefferson's early attempts at growing olive trees were largely unsuccessful. The trees struggled to survive in the Virginia climate, and many of them died. However, Jefferson did not give up on his dream of producing olive oil in the United States. He continued to experiment with different varieties of olive trees and planting techniques in the hopes of finding a way to make it work.
Finally, in 1805, Jefferson's persistence paid off. He successfully harvested a small crop of olives from his trees and pressed them to produce a small quantity of olive oil. This was a significant achievement, as it was the first time that olive oil had been produced in the United States!
Despite the fact that Jefferson's olive oil production was never able to achieve commercial success, he continued to champion the benefits of consuming olive oil throughout his life. Along with wine and books, Jefferson considered olive oil as a "necessary of life" and personally imported 4 gallons every year for his own consumption.
Today, Jefferson's legacy in the world of olive oil lives on. While the United States still imports the vast majority of its olive oil from Europe and other parts of the world, there are now a growing number of American olive oil producers who are following in Jefferson's footsteps. Some of these producers are even located in Virginia and other parts of the United States where the climate is not traditionally conducive to growing olive trees.
Thomas Jefferson's passion for olive oil was an example of his curiosity and persistence in pursuing his interests. While his attempts at cultivating olive trees in Virginia were not entirely successful, his efforts laid the groundwork for a growing interest in American olive oil production. Today, Jefferson's legacy in the world of olive oil serves as a reminder of the importance of exploring new ideas and pursuing one's passions, even in the face of challenges and obstacles.
The history of balsamic vinegar can be traced back to the medieval era in Italy, where it was originally used as a medicinal tonic. Today, balsamic vinegar is enjoyed worldwide, with its production and aging methods strictly regulated to ensure its quality and authenticity.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is produced in the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions of Italy by cooking the grape must (unfermented juice of crushed grapes) to concentrate its flavor and then aging it in barrels made from various types of wood, including chestnut, oak, cherry, and juniper. The must is transferred from one barrel to another, with the aging process typically taking several years to complete. The type of wood used and the length of time that the vinegar is aged determine the flavor and texture of the final product.
White balsamic vinegar is made a little differently. The grapes are crushed and cooked the same, but then the must is filtered to remove skins and mixed with a little white wine before being stored in new oak barrels for the aging process. The result is a lighter, more tart balsmic with a light color.
Shoppers should be aware that commercially produced balsamic vinegar, which is made from a combination of wine vinegar and caramel, is often sold in stores and passed off as the real thing. Naturally, traditional balsamic vinegar is more expensive than commercially produced balsamic vinegar, but it is also considered to be of a higher quality, with a more complex flavor profile.
In order to be labeled as traditional balsamic vinegar, the product must meet strict quality standards set by the Consorzio del Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. The consortium sets guidelines for the type of grapes used, the production process, and the aging process. Traditional balsamic vinegar is also subject to rigorous testing and tasting to ensure that it meets the required standards.
In addition to its culinary uses, balsamic vinegar has also been credited with a number of health benefits. Research has shown that balsamic vinegar contains antioxidants, which help to protect against cellular damage, and has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Balsamic vinegar is also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to reduce pain and inflammation in the body.
Whether used as a condiment in cooking or as a finishing sauce for dishes, balsamic vinegar is sure to add a rich, complex flavor to any meal. With its numerous health benefits and its versatility in the kitchen, it's no wonder that balsamic vinegar remains a popular ingredient in kitchens around the world.
Ever heard of oleocanthal? It’s fun to say! It’s also good for you and is found in quality extra virgin olive oils.
Oleocanthal is one of the many, many different biophenols (aka polyphenols) found in real extra virgin olive oils that tend to disappear when the oil is treated with heat or chemicals, and is yet another reason that ensuring your EVOO is authentic is worth the extra effort.
This amazing compound was first discovered and isolated by Dr. Gary Beauchamp a biomedical researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia after attending a molecular gastronomy conference in Erice, Sicily in 1999!
Here’s the experience as described in “Extra Virginity” by Tom Mueller:
A SHARP SEAR came at the back of Gary Beauchamp’s throat, together with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. As his eyes filled with tears and he started coughing convulsively, a eureka moment came of the kind that scientists dream of, a chain reaction of interdisciplinary inspirations ricocheting through biochemistry, immunology, and human history. All triggered by one sip of extra virgin olive oil.
The reason for Dr. Beauchamp’s déjà vu? He had been working on a study comparing ibuprofen to acetaminophen. Ibuprofen, when chewed and swallowed, produces a very distinctive burn on the back of the throat, and Dr. Beauchamp experienced the same burn when tasting olive oil in Sicily!
He took some of the olive oil back to his lab, isolated the individual compounds, and began tasting them. When he tried (what he would later name) oleocanthal, there it was again. That distinctive burn in the back of the throat.
After further experimentation, they confirmed that oleocanthal - like ibuprofen - inhibited COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes in very similar ways. Inhibiting COX enzymes is the main chemical property that gives ibuprofen its pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects.
OK, that’s a little deep. I’m not a scientist so please don’t ask me anything ore about COX inhibitors!
It is also worth noting that - unlike ibuprofen - we already know that olive oil contains a whole host of additional compounds with numerous health benefits!
Before I wrap up this post, a little bit about the name oleocanthal. Dr. Beauchamp and his staff named the compound by combining the latin words “oleum” (oil), “aculeo” (sting), and “aldehyde” (aldehyde).
Since the term “Mediterranean diet” was popularized as a healthy approach to eating in the 1950s, researchers have been trying to figure out why. Oleocanthal may not be the only reason, but it is certainly a major factor!
Additional reading: Google is your friend, but this short article from the IOC is great!
This is going to be the easiest blog post ever, thanks to our friends over a trees.com!
Trees.com is a site where you can find all sorts of great information on trees and order trees to plant in your own yard, and they have a fantastic infographic on the Olive Tree, along with a page packed with even more information! Check it out!
Whew, the holidays were busy around here and the shopping season was good to us here at The Olive Basket! Of course, the doldrums of January are in full force now. :)
I've been too busy to do any blog posts recently, so this one is a little different. This one is more of a business update and insight into changes we're thinking about. Thank you for your business in 2021, and we hope we can continue to be helpful in 2022 and beyond!
We tried a few new things in 2021, starting with moving to a new location. The new store in Epps Bridge Centre in Athens, GA is getting a lot more foot traffic, which is great! Unfortunately, the rent is a bit higher too! For 2021, I think it about evens out, but we have seen so many new customers this year that I'm sure it will prove to be a good decision in the future!
We added a Membership Rewards program in 2021 and I'm pleased to report we have over 450 members already! If you haven't checked out our rewards program, what are you waiting for?
We also added a review system to our website! As of now we have 184 reviews! And most of them are 5-star!
Focus on In-Store Sales
Don't worry, we're still going to ship orders from the website, we're just going to redirect our marketing budget to try to get more in store traffic. The truth is that online orders have a lower margin, and by the time we add in the marketing, it's even lower. It just makes sense to focus on in-store sales. A lot of our other ideas are driven by this focus as well
I've had a plan now for a while to offer an olive oil education / tasting event a few times per month. I am hoping we can do that in 2022, but it really depends on how this whole COVID thing goes. I just don't feel like it is responsible to have a lot of people in the store with masks off tasting olive oils.
This one isn't fully baked, for much the same reason. Also the new store is so much smaller than the old one so space is an issue. I'm looking at how we can do some simple demonstrations or sponsor a dinner at a local restaurant.
I haven't taken any steps yet, but I have been researching and crunching numbers on getting a real, Italian Gelato counter for the store, so we can offer a few flavors. I'll admit, this is driven by my own desire to have real gelato. Also, it should help attract people into the store. :)
Thanks to all of our customers, we really appreciate you, and we're looking forward to bringing you the freshest oils, the best balsamics, and the highest quality gourmet food items (and treats!) for years to come!
It is one of the biggest myths about extra virgin olive oil, and I can't believe I haven't written a post about it yet:
"You Should Never Cook With Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It Can't Take The Heat!"
False. False. False. A thousand times false! Let us explain why:
First and foremost, extra virgin olive oil is packed with healthy organic compounds!
Most cooking oils don't have any of these properties, so already EVOO is ahead!
In addition to the heart health benefits listed above, monounsaturated fats are highly resistant to heat. This means that even when heated, oils containing monounsaturated fats do not break down as easily.
Most cooking oils (canola, vegetable, soybean, etc...) are primarily polyunsaturated fats, which not only break down and oxidize under heat, but have been shown to produce harmful compounds when they do!
This is the big one. Everyone says EVOO is a poor cooking oil because it has a low smoke point.
That is not only false, but it is misleading!
Smoke point is a difficult thing to determine, but is defined as the point that an oil begins to smoke, indicating that it is breaking down and producing harmful compounds.
However, when a cooking oil begins to give off smoke, it may not be an indication that chemical bonds are breaking. This is for two reasons:
Refined oils that are typically used for cooking contain very little free fatty acids and almost no trace nutrients.
EVOO on the other hand contains both, so it will appear to reach its "smoke point" long before the monounsaturated fats in the oil begin breaking down.
What all of this boils down to is that EVOO can have a smoke point between 375-400°F, plenty high enough for most cooking applications!
We're not going to lie and say that EVOO is impervious to heats involved in cooking. Heat will make any oil degrade, but contrary to popular belief EVOO is actually very resistant to heat compared to several other popular cooking oils.
In addition, EVOO contains nutrients that simply cannot be found in refined oils. While the application of heat to EVOO will "cook out" some of these nutrients, the fact that they are there to start with means that at least some of them will make it to your plate.
For cooking with EVOO, we recommend using an EVOO with a higher phenol count. Starting with a high phenol count means that more biophenols (and other compounds) will still be in your food at the end of the cooking process.
Fused Olive Oil may be the best thing you've never heard of, but we're about to change that!
Fused olive oils have an interesting history. In the Abruzzo region of Italy, farmers would crush ripe lemons or oranges in with the olives in their mill to produce a very special olive oil that had a beautifully balanced citrus flavor, thus inventing what is now known as the fused process.
Only today, the fused process is no longer restricted to citrus fruits. Citrus still creates a wonderful fused oil, but so do peppers and herbs!
With an infused olive oil, oil extracts are mixed with olive oil (preferably extra virgin!). It is relatively easy to experiment with proportions until the right mixture is obtained. Not so with fused oils.
Because every fused oil is made by crushing the olives along with the produce, a small test batch isn't really feasible. In addition, the ratio of olives to produce will be different for different fused oils, so the only way to get it right for a specific type of produce is trial and error over the course of years, even decades!
The trial and error involved in producing a quality fused means it is expensive, time consuming, and difficult to produce. This, of course, means that it is rare and somewhat expensive.
But oh is it worth it!
The flavor that a quality fused gives is absolutely fantastic and really can't be duplicated. Blood Orange or Lemon fused oils can be used in confectionery applications, on grilled vegetables and light meats, even over ice cream! Pepper-based fused oils can take a salsa or intentionally spicy dish to the next level. And, you haven't lived until you've drizzled Rosemary fused oil over roasted potatoes!
All of the Fused Olive Oils here at The Olive Basket are the product of decades of experience and fine-tuning and are produced by our supplier's mill in Tunisia, where they are careful to produce within hours of harvest, for both the olives and the produce. The result is a collection of absolutely amazing tasting oils that we hope you will enjoy!
You've seen fancy bottles of olive oil in the supermarket all your life. Some of the bottles can be really fancy, or conjure up images of Tuscan countrysides and Italian grandmothers assembling incredible delights that make your mouth water. You've probably thought that olive oil is just olive oil and they are all the same, but that is definitely not the case!
Some of the earliest recorded writings in ancient Sumeria were merchants keeping tabs on their trade, one of which happened to be olive oil. As long as there has been trade, there has been fraud, and olive oil is no exception.
In ancient Rome, olive oil was imported to Rome from all over the mediterranean empire, especially from olive growing regions like Greece and Spain. Even way back then, quality was a concern. Researchers have found amphora from the Roman empire with markings on them to record such information about olive oil shipments as:
Even in the 20th century, olive oil fraud has been a problem. It is part of the reason that the "extra virgin" designation was created in the 1960s. Unscrupulous manufacturers have routinely either cut their olive oil with cheaper oils or treated less-quality olive oils with chemicals to remove taste imperfections and passed it along. While the European Union and the US FDA have tried to implement safeguards against fraudulent practices in the olive oil industry, the truth is that those laws are rarely enforced and adulteration can be really difficult to detect, which can lead to fraudulent oils being sold in supermarket shelves even today.
Are all supermarket oils bad? No, of course not. Some of the largest olive oil producers in the world may sell real extra virgin olive oil in branded containers in supermarkets. That said, those oils will never have the flavor of a quality oil bought in a boutique store like The Olive Basket.
The reason is simple: Large olive oil producers aim for consistency. Just like a Big Mac bought today is going to taste exactly like a Big Mac from a year ago in a different state, large olive oil producers want the bottle you buy next month to taste exactly like the one that you bought last month. To achieve this, they acquire oils from multiple sources and blend them until they have the exact flavor profile that they are looking for.
Smaller producers, such as the producers of the oils we sell at The Olive Basket do not do that. When the olives are crushed and the oil is extracted, it undergoes a decanting process and then it is packaged up and sealed for shipping. Nobody touches it until it comes to our store, and we bottle it from there!
Since our oils are not blended to target a specific flavor profile, it is almost impossible for you to get the same flavor with every EVOO that you purchase from us, but we can guarantee that it will be fresh and authentic every time!
Here in the United States, balsamic vinegar has been gaining popularity for years. It can be found in vinaigrette dressings, marinades, sauces, pan reductions, and all sorts of recipes and culinary techniques. Over the last 20 or so years, balsamic vinegar has indeed become a household term.
But what is balsamic vinegar, and what makes it different?
According to wikipedia, the Italian term balsamico has origins in ancient Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but it generally means restorative, curative, or balm.
There is some evidence that suggests that balsamic vinegar does have some health benefits and we'll get into that in another blog post, but what really puts balsamic vinegar on the map is it's taste!
Traditional vinegars are produced by a double-fermentation method, where sugars are first fermented to produce ethanol (yes, alcohol), then fermented again to produce acetic acid from that ethanol. The resulting acid is diluted with water to produce the desired vinegar (white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, etc...).
The production of balsamic differs quite a bit. Balsamic vinegar is produced by crushing grapes into grape must, which is basically just crushed grapes, including the juice, seeds, and skins. The grape must is then cooked to the point of caramelization in copper pots over an open wood fire. It is then placed into a series of old wooden barrels to age for at least 12 years, a process known as the Solera method.
This Solera method is truly unique and describes the process used to age the grape must in wooden barrels to produce balsamic vinegar. The barrels are made from all kinds of woods: oak, chestnut, acacia, cherry, mulberry, ash, and juniper. Different producers use different woods in different sequences to produce different flavors!
The Solera method can be a bit complex. Imagine these barrels of different woods arranged from largest to smallest. The largest barrel contains the most recently cooked grape must, and the smallest barrel contains the balsamic that is closest to complete. When the balsamic is ready in the smallest barrel, a portion of it (not all of it) is withdrawn. That portion is then replaced with balsamic from the next larger barrel, which is replaced by balsamic from the next until the largest barrel is reached. Then the largest barrel is topped up with fresh grape must.
You may be asking yourself, why do the barrels get smaller? If you've ever visited a whiskey distillery, you already know the answer. During the aging process, there is a bit of evaporation, which reduces the volume of total product over time. This is what's known as the angel's share, and it also helps to explain why balsamic vinegar is known for it's thick viscosity!
The process described above is how traditional Dark Balsamic Vinegar is produced, but the process for White Balsamic Vinegar is a little different.
White Balsamic Vinegars start out with the same grape must that Dark Balsamics do, but it is mixed with white wine vinegar before the cooking process. The grape must is still cooked - though not for as long as Dark Balsamics - and the grape skins are filtered out prior to barrel aging. The barrels themselves are a little different as well, as White Balsamic Vinegar is aged in new white oak barrels, the Solera process described above is not used, and they are not aged for quite as long. This results in a less complex, thinner, and more tart flavor.
Although traditional Balsamic Vinegar originates from Modena, Italy and the surrounding area, legally speaking it can be made anywhere, thanks to a 2019 court ruling. There are also no real standards on aging. While the traditional Solera method described in this post requires 10-12 years or longer and other traditional methods would require 3 years at a minimum, there are "balsamic" vinegars on supermarket shelves that is produced in a matter of days or months.
Here at The Olive Basket, all of our Balsamic Vinegars are produced in Modena, Italy using traditional Italian Albana, Trebbiano, and Montuni grapes and our Dark Balsamics are made using the Solera method. In addition, our White Balsamics are aged for at least 8-10 years and our Dark Balsamics are aged for at least 12 years.
This is why we can proudly claim that we offer authentic, aged Italian Balsamic Vinegars, and we invite you try them all!
Let's say you had a time machine and spoke fluid Latin, and you decided to take a trip to ancient Rome!
After taking in the newly-built Coliseum and wandering around the Forum in it's heyday, you might get a little hungry. If you were to go into a restaurant and ask for some "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" to go with your meal, they just might look at you like you had a second head.
But, everyone knows that ancient Romans used olive oil, right? Well, yes, but the term "extra virgin" part was unheard of until 1960 (AD)!
At the time, there were no distinctions in olive oil grades, so consumers didn't know if they were getting cold-pressed fresh oil or industrially extracted lampante oil (not fit for human consumption), so the European Parliament passed a law creating different grades, including Extra Virgin!
The original definition required EVOO be made solely from mechanical methods (no heat or solvents), included some chemical requirements (free acidity of no more than 1%) and that the oil "must not demonstrate disgusting odors such as rancidity, putridity, smoke, mould, olive fly and similar".
And thus, Extra Virgin Olive Oil was born!
This definition remained in place until the EU strengthened it in 1991. As of 1991, EVOO must have no taste flaws and some perceptible fruitiness, and it lowered the free acidity requirement to no more than 0.8%.
The interesting thing about this law is that it makes olive oil one of the only foods in the world whose legal definition includes at least some references to taste!
The 1991 EVOO law is still in effect today. The weakness of the law is that it doesn't really specify exactly how taste defects are to be detected, and that has largely been left to the International Olive Council (www.internationaloliveoil.org). Visit their site for everything you ever wanted to know about olive oil (including their definition for different grades).
Here at the Olive Basket, we have laboratory and tasting panel results available on all of our Extra Virgin Olive Oils, and we post those right here on the website.
Although our Fused and Infused Olive Oils can't technically be called Extra Virgin (because they contain more than just olive oil), they are as close as possible to EVOO.
Our Fused Olive Oils are produced using a process in which fruits or herbs are crushed with the olives at the same time, so technically speaking, they never have the chance to be considered EVOO.
Our Infused Olive Oils do start life as an EVOO, but then the oil from whatever is being infused is mixed in with the olive oil, which technically violates the strict definition of EVOO.