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  • Writer's picturegfmeade7


It was only when I spent a day on an olive farm in California one time and had the whole history and farming process explained in great detail by the old Italian immigrant owner that I fully appreciated the story of this amazing fruit. The olive tree has more historical and cultural significance than any other from it biblical stories to impressionist art and symbolizing the whole of the Mediterranean. Every time you pop an olive in your mouth you really are tasting the history of mankind in one bite. It was so revered in ancient times that it was our first war crime to destroy any enemy olive trees in battle.

   They have been grown in and around the Med for thousands of years and living for hundreds of them producing fruit every year. They thrive in the warm climate with their deep roots and the unripe green fruit is very bitter of course and hard to the bite. For eating or table olives, they are more or less cured and brined by a variety of methods using water, salt, oil and herbs to make them tasty and edible with the colour darkening as it ferments and indeed the dark black ones have even had a bit of natural colouring treatment from special salts to really show them off.

Each region specializes in how they produce their final varieties like French Nicoise, Spanish Manzanilla, Greek Kalamata and Italian Gaeta. Nutrition wise they are a healthy fat to consume with fibre, minerals and vitamins too but low in calories. It was the Americans who developed the bottling and canning of olives as well as the all important olive pitting machine.

These days olives are a global commodity grown in many other countries but the vast majority are still harvested in southern Europe with the Spanish the biggest manufacturers of almost half of the total.  Only about ten per cent are used for eating though with the rest going to make oil which is a whole other subject.  For oil the olives have to be left to ripen longer on the trees, often into November and the Romans already back then developed mills and presses for crushing them into the liquid gold that is so sought after.

The first pressing is traditionally the more green tinted virgin oil and if extra virgin this simply means the acidity is at its lowest of just one per cent. Its health benefits were long known down the ages helping to explain the long lives of the Mediterranean people. Hence when I was a child olive oil was sold as a medicine in the chemist shop whereas on the continent it went into most dishes in one way or another. We had to suffer cod liver oil instead which I still take today in a capsule form.

Cooking wise olive oil is a dream for the kitchen with dressings and marinades being elevated to the highest standard. Okay it does not have the bigger burn level of other oils but for something like a piece of steak or fish it still does just the job if handled correctly. There is a problem now with it in the counterfeit food black market with regular raids on factories in Italy and Spain.

The criminals have brought in the crooked scientists to convert cheap oil to making it look like expensive stuff and sell it off at the higher price so the customers get duped. The extreme weather and bad harvests the last few years has meant production is well down when demand is till high so prices had risen sharply. So for me I do not use olive oil anymore anyway as in Ireland we have had the rapeseed oil revolution in the last twenty years and this oil has been proven to have as much if not more benefits than olive oil.

There is a fantastic producer near me and at this time of year the fields of Ireland turn yellow with the first harvests of rapeseed ready to be pressed into our very own liquid gold. Okay we do not get to eat the olives so it is still fine to buy the odd jar but I would rather buy my local oil and support jobs than take a chance on diluted oil that has been tampered with by the baddies.

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