Extra-virgin oil, a rainbow of aroma
by Fiammetta Fadda
Finally, a bit of good news in this period of austerity. This year truffles will be scarce, of only so-so quality and very expensive, so we can forget them without the least regret.
But, it will be an excellent year for oil. "We haven't experienced subtlety like this in two years," says expert Marco Oreggia who is currently wrapping up the 2013 edition of Flos Olei, the guide to the best extra-virgin olive oils in the world, including 488 Italian producers.
All of good-to-excellent quality, although trends do have their influence. In the mid-Eighties, Sicily took over first place from Liguria and in the near future Oreggia is betting on Campania with its Ravece variety: "A magnificent olive, both for oil and to eat, with a scent of basil and mint."
But although blessed with 700 varieties of olives and over 600 quality oils, Italians are loathe to give up certain prejudices. For example, color says nothing about provenance or flavor. There are clear, golden oils that are heavy and filled with defects, and leaf-green oils that are fresh and fruity. And what's more, the cloudiness of unfiltered oils that gives the idea of a wholesome product and makes those in oil mills happy, actually also brings with it the risk of fermentation.
"It is difficult to get people to understand that, just like wine, excellent oils also have very different personalities," complains Tano Simonato from the Milan restaurant, Tano Passami l'Olio, which has 40 different brands on its shelves.
A bitter aftertaste? It is the noble characteristic of an important oil, similar to the austerity of a vine with lineage. A hint of spiciness? The sign of wholesomeness and freshness, just like young wines.
And yet the rules for evaluating an oil are simple: avoid coffee and cigarettes for at least an hour before tasting; don't allow yourself to be influenced by the color; breathe in the aroma deeply; spread the sip of oil around your whole tongue while breathing in. Then, trust your senses - a highly-advanced laboratory of perception that is not satisfied by chemical analysis.
And look for harmony with the rest of the dish, remembering that things that are opposite and alike attract. A good rule of thumb not only for oil, but also when looking for an ideal partner.