What makes olive oil special?
There are several factors that can make our olives and our oil magical.
To be taken into primary consideration we find: the variety of olive, which affects the yield and organoleptic qualities; the degree of ripeness and the seasonal trend of the olive; the phytosanitary state or the healthy fruit, not affected by insects, such as the oil fly or the like; the use of the right tools for the storage and transport of olives; last, but not least, proper processing of the olive inside the mill.
In the province of Imperia, the whisking of Taggiasca olives can take place between November and February, for mountain areas and for olives at an advanced stage of ripeness. Harvesting is a real culture for the Ligurians who have been caring for their terraces with passion for hundreds of years.
Cultivar is the English acronym for “cultivated variety”, a word that indicates the variety of olive tree cultivated, referring to the quality of the olive tree which over time has been wisely selected and planted on the basis of the characteristics suitable for that particular territory.
Each cultivar has its own peculiarity, we speak not inappropriately of genetic heritage: size of the olive, relationship between pulp and stone, degree of ripeness, flavor, strength of the plant, quantity of polyphenols that will be present in the oil, composition of acids saturated and unsaturated fats, and other chemical components of the fruit.
Italy has the largest variety of olives in the world: it has more than 700 cultivars within its territory, 600 of which are indigenous, half of those known globally. The largest genetic heritage of olives in the world, a wealth of biodiversity to be safeguarded.
The Degree of Maturation
To maintain the high quality of an extra virgin olive oil it is necessary to respect strict choices that precede the milling (pressing) of the olives.
The degree of ripeness is a fundamental component for obtaining an excellent extra virgin olive oil. To achieve excellent quality results, the producer must choose the best time for harvesting the olives, which corresponds to “veraison”, or the stage in which the color of the fruit changes from green to intense purple. The degree of ripeness in this period is 50-60%.
During this period there is an increase in the lipid component of the fruit which is called “inolition” and is the most important moment of ripening of the olive fruit. This period starts in August and ends in November.
The Phytosanitary State
September and October are very delicate months for the olive tree and the olive grower since it is in this period that the most incisive attacks of the oil fly, the famous “Bactrocera oleae”, usually concentrate.
The diffusion and the harmfulness of this fly are not homogeneous in the national territory. Consistent attacks on the olive fruit can be found in the coastal area, while in the internal olive growing areas the insect has a reduced presence and harmfulness.
The presence of water and light is also decisive for the well-being of the olive tree. These two elements allow a successful “inolition” of the drupe (fruit of the olive tree), that is, the highest ripening stage of the olive.
Storage, Transport and Preservation
The storage and transport of the olives just picked from the tree must take place in perforated containers in order to ensure proper ventilation to avoid fermentation principles that would alter the final product.
The best conditions for the conservation and storage of the olives waiting to be pressed are: a low temperature, between 10 and 15 degrees centigrade; low humidity, not higher than 50%, storage in overlapping olive containers with air circulation between them.
If you want to obtain a high quality extra virgin olive oil, transport to the mill must be carried out within and no later than 24 hours. Otherwise, chemical modifications could occur in the fruit that lead to an increase in the degree of free acidity and the number of peroxides, thus developing important defects that would condition the future oil (heating, mold, humidity).
Extra virgin olive oil, like all fats of vegetable or animal origin, is sensitive to oxidative alterations that compromise its organoleptic and chemical characteristics. This oxidative process leads to the creation of the rancid defect in the oil. Therefore it is advisable to keep the oil at temperatures between 14 and 18 degrees centigrade, away from sources of heat, humidity, light, or oxygen in the air.
For optimum oil conservation, temperature-controlled steel containers for large quantities, wrapped or dark glass bottles for smaller quantities are preferred.