Our friend Keith Richmond has a thousand olive trees in the Tuscan hills, south east of Florence.
Every November he harvests his olives and wins prizes with the rich green oil they produce.
He recently picked up a gold medal in Los Angeles and another important prize in Germany.
We first met him at an olive oil tasting demo in Florence and were smitten with his passion for this miraculous product and his beguiling way of expressing it.
He knows his subject.
I thought I’d ask him to write a brief note about the tricky task of choosing a good olive oil.
He obliged with this:
It occurs to me that, since you mention extra virgin olive oil so often in your recipes and recently extolled the virtues of the Mediterranean diet in your blog, some of your readers may like to have some pointers on how to select an olive oil of good quality.
The supermarket shelves are loaded with olive oils of questionable quality, many of which may be suitable, I imagine, for frying or cooking in general. Price is certainly an important first indicator: cheap oil is, well, cheap oil – and you get what you pay for!
When taste and flavour are indispensable you have to go to the top of the range. Ideally you should know the grower and how the olives are processed. Obviously that is seldom possible, so the best alternative is to head for the more expensive olive oils on the shelf. You are more likely to find an olive oil of good or even exceptional quality in that way, especially if the label indicates that the olive oil is organic (‘biologico’ in Italian, for example) and that it is (for Italian olive oils at least) IGP or DOP, a sort of appellation controllée. This means that the olive oil has passed rigorous olfactory and chemical tests and is reliable.
Pay attention to the ‘best by’ date. This should never exceed 18-24 months after the year of production. Oils can still taste good after that date but will have gradually lost most of the characteristics beneficial to health. Also, you have no idea how the olive oil has been stored, so keep your distance from ‘old’ olive oils.
Your readers in North America would do well to consult a web site and blog run by Tom Mueller (www.truthinoliveoil.com). He gives a lot of sensible advice on a variety of oils that are available in the US especially.
I’ll be happy to answer any queries. Keep cookin’, best, Keith
This is meant as an introduction to his excellent site–which is worth a visit.
Keith and Helen Richmond also offer excellent holiday accommodation on the farm.