Street Market Wisdom…

Well, we did it: our first year of sales, and after a grand total of 14 markets, Alivu’s 2015 harvest has sold out. The last bottle flew off our stall at Malmesbury’s Petticoat Lane market in early September. Thank you to old friends and family, and new friends we have made this last 6 months for buying and rebuying our fresh olive juice!

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It’s taken me the whole of the rest of the month to catch my breath. Mamma mia, I have been on chatter mode. Even for me. I’ve been busy extolling the virtues of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and unsurprisingly, dispelling a few myths.

1. No, we do not grow our olives in the UK. There are no commercial groves here, yet. Not enough sun, too much rain. Though there are a few brave romantics making some attempts, and producing small but tasty fruit. We grow our fresh green olives, harvested early in the season (green olives turn black – another frequent question) in sunny, hot, dry, beautiful Sicily.

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2. Cooking with EVOO: You can, nay, should, cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and not the cheepo stuff. Fresh, genuine EVOO has as high a smoke point – the point at which it begins to break down and lose its health properties (c. 200’c as compared to 100’c for unrefined and 227’c for refined sunflower oil) – as other trendy oils (e.g. coconut or walnut).

Fair enough, you don’t want to use your nice oil for deep fat frying your chips. Ok. But if you can afford to, do. The higher the quality the oil, the more stable it is, it gets hotter quicker and cooks quicker. There is even research showing that vitamins and antioxidants (those polyphenols I ceaselessly rave about) transfer to the food you are cooking. So go and fry those aubergine and make Sicily’s most famous dish, La Parmigiana di Melanzane! I’ll blog a recipe soon, but you can find some on-line. Apart from these oil guzzling veg, most others only require a couple of tablespoons to fry with.

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3. How long does it keep? Most supermarket EVOO are not Extra Virgin any more (if they ever were) at point of sale when tasted blind by official tasters. And we’re talking 70-80% according to most articles. With 7 of the leading Italian EVOO companies under fraud investigation it’s hardly surprising – but that is a whole other blog post. This is the oil you buy at £4 a litre.

Industry standards require that you put a 18-month ‘use by’ date WHEN YOU BOTTLE your oil. Which could be months or years after you have had it extracted and analysed to prove it has the requisite low acidity to make the Extra Virgin grade (oil increases in acidity with time as it starts to go off). It’s a fresh juice, albeit a stable one: any self respecting producer puts the harvest date on their label. And you should eat that oil before the next harvest  – ideally within 6 months. And…it won’t improve with time. Once it’s open, enjoy it, it has started deteriorating! And remember, not in the sun, not by heat, and keep your bottle tightly closed!

4. I’ve got a bottle but I don’t get through it very fast, what do you use it for? I can’t have much as it is a Slimming world sin. The government recommends 2 tablespoons a day. That’s a fair few drizzles. We use more. We cook everything in our oil, and put it raw on everything: our soups, pasta sauce, roast veg, bread, muffins, pizzas, lentils, steaks…you name it. As a family of four, we get through at least a litre a week. The biggest pro-capita consumption of EVOO is the population of Kritsa, in Crete, who get through 50 litres a year; nearly a litre a week per person! They drown their food in it, but I suspect they do not fry mars bars. They are not obese, and as for the Creten spirit! Anyone read Zorba? Low levels of diabetes, cancer, heart disease are among the much-extolled benefits of the Mediterranean diet. There are websites galore explaining the health benefits of EVOO, and I summarize them very briefly on our website.

5. Taste it?? No thanks, I just had breakfast. (So?) Actually it’s delicious, we have it for breakfast every day.  The bimbi  have it on their English muffins in the morning, and we only use butter for bechamel sauce now. EVOO should taste good! It’s the old, fake oils which at best taste of nothing, a worst, leave a cloying paint stripper burning sensation in your mouth; this is rancid fat you are tasting.

Everyone who has tried our oil has been surprised at how pleasantimage2-3 the sensation is, especially those who have learnt to taste it like a pro: neat. I’ve taught a few bold market visitors to taste oil properly using the 6-step tasting technique we learnt at the Ministry of
Agriculture/Chamber of Commerce official olive oil tasting course last year (warm, smell, sip, slurp, swallow, breath out through your nose). This picture shows us being examined on the level of a common default (we had give the oil a number from 1-12 by comparing our sample to a standardized group with increasing levels of fault). Here is a good video if you are interested in learning (or even better, get in touch and I can organize a tasting session).

If your oil doesn’t taste pleasant, of green grass, with a hint of herbs or tomatoes maybe even artichokes, it is probably a) old – how long have you had it open? b) never was EVOO in the first place….ever heard of olive oil fraud? If you can’t buy it from a producer, or on a trip to Italy or Greece, then look for things like PGI* (Protected Geographic Indication), whether it is a single estate oil, or if has a harvest year.

5.  I can get it cheaper in the supermarket…Really? If the market visitor who makes this comment stays for long enough I try to refer them to any of the above…

*The Protected Geographical Identification (PGI) is a EU designation to protect the origin of an agricultural product or foodstuff which originates in the European Union and is made according to the procedures established by the Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and the Council of 21 November 2012.

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