Monday, February 9, 2009

My Brother's Olive Oil

When I lived in Italy, the olive oil I used on a daily basis, bought in the little "Mom & Pop" shops in my neighborhood, were unlike any I'd ever had before, or ever had since. Every. Single. Bottle.

It was without too much deliberation that I chose two bottles and brought them home. One to keep – one as a gift. I carried them on the plane in my new Florentine leather bag, from Florence, to Rome to NYC and to Chicago. They were large, and they were heavy, but they were worth it. It never occurred to me that it would be so hard to find a comparable bottle once I'd returned home. Can't we get everything we want here in America? after all?

This is not the case with olive oil. If you can't smell it when the bottle opens, if you aren't overwhelmed with flavor when you swab it with your finger for a taste, this is not the same olive oil you can get literally everywhere you shop in Italy.

I am sure there is some explanation for this that is easy to uncover. A quick search would probably tell me that there are special treatments or whatever, that have to happen during importation. Some stripping of the goodness that is your everyday oil in Italy...

To be honest, even though I miss it, I haven't gone too far out of my way to find it. Instead, I'm basically trial-and-error-ing my way through, hoping to find a surprising and delightful bottle I might happen to stumble upon, right there in the supermarket or specialty shop, that I'd overlooked before. I try and look for "imported", and hope to see a density and cloudiness that's reminiscent of the bottles I used to see everywhere I looked in Florence.

Thing is, packaging goes a long way, and that dense, dark, golden liquid you're looking at might actually be practically clear and flavorless when you pour it out of the tinted bottle. Bummer... Next.

Well, about 15 years later I found something that comes close to what I remember: My Brother's Olive Oil. I found it at Whole Foods, and I bought it because it was a pretty large bottle on sale for an amazing discount. Plus, it was the right color, and there was a nice, thick sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Score.

This is good olive oil.


  1. Published January 1, 1994. From Cook's Illustrated.

    Why are some olive oils cloudy?

    Cloudiness in olive oil can result from naturally occurring sediment or from storage at cool temperatures. Some extra virgin olive oils are unfiltered and will appear cloudy at room temperature. This cloudiness is caused by sediment extracted from olives along with the oil during the pressing process. Arlene Wanderman of the International Olive Oil Council says this sediment—which is nothing more than very small pieces of olives—gives extra virgin oils added flavor and color. She notes that so-called “light” olive oils—mild oils with little flavor or color—are at the other end of the spectrum because they have been subjected to very fine filtration. Many unfiltered extra virgin oils are labeled as such and may have a stronger olive flavor than filtered oils. For this reason, do not filter cloudy extra virgin oils.

    Cloudiness can also be caused by storage in the refrigerator or even in a cool basement. This type of cloudiness is the result of congealing saturated fat. Just like butter or chicken fat, the saturated fat in olive oil will harden in the refrigerator. However, since the amount of saturated fat in olive oil is so much lower than that in butter, the oil turns cloudy as opposed to hardening fully and turning opaque. To clear chilled oils, simply pour the desired amount into a measuring cup and let stand at room temperature for 15 or 20 minutes.