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The Food: Olive Oil

Olive oil has been a part of Mediterranean life for over 3000 years.  The Greeks prized it not just as food, but for many other things.  In fact, anyone who cut down an olive tree, was punished by death.  Olive oil is rich in vitamins E and A and is a great antioxidant.  

Today, olive oil is the most essential and basic key to most Sicilian and Italian foods.  In Italy, over 93% of the population use it.  In the United States, the right olive oil tastes so good, people eat it by dipping bread in it.  Others flavor and season it with cracked pepper, hot pepper, basil, garlic and rosemary.  The deeper the color of the olive oil, the heavier the taste.  You generally want to use lighter oil for frying (as it takes on the taste of the oil) and the extra virgin olive oil for salads, dipping bread and vegetables.  No kitchen (Italian or not) should be without it.  While it is said that the greatest Italian olive oils come from the region of Tuscany, Sicily can rival many of those with its consistent gold medal winning olive oil from the Radiva Estate.

Italians and the Greeks are not the only great producers of Olive Oil. The Spaniards and even the French have gotten in on the action.  And of course, California now rivals Europe and the rest of the world when it comes to olive oil and wine as well.

Keys to Selecting, Buying & Using Olive Oil:
 Colors don't always matter (unless it is very very light), oils from different grades, qualities and regions will vary in color
 Choose one with a recent date, after a year on the shelf or in your pantry, it will deteriorate. Don't bother to buy an olive oil if its 2 years old unless its a very high quality oil (say $40/bottle) and you can get a great deal on it (something less than $30). 
 Buy only those in a darker bottle, as sun and light effect the color and quality
 Always wipe the neck of the bottle of the olive oil, as the oil left on the neck and exposed to air/light can effect the taste and quality of the rest of the oil in the bottle.  If you can find one of those bartender pouring spouts from your local liquor store, this is helpful.
 Estate bottled extra olive oil will always be superior to and 'supermarket' or name brand extra virgin olive oil
 If you can, buy olive oil from the same region as the dish you are cooking.  For example, if you are cooking risotto, use an olive oil from Tuscany.  If you are making a Sicilian dish, use olive oil from Sicily.  Again, this is not always possible, and you may not have room on your shelf for 25 different olive oils from all the different regions, but its something to consider if you want to buy a small bottle of olive oil from Sicily, and make a nice spread of Sicilian foods for a dinner party and such.
 Frying foods: While they often say that you should fry foods in the lightest oil possible, olive oil adds the most flavor, it is also the fat that deteriorates least when frying.

'Supermarket' Olive Oils
Bertolli
Calabria
Carpielli
Colavita
Giusto
Rienzi

Gourmet Olive Oils
Fattoria Il Paradiso di Alex Nember
Calabria

Radiva

Olive Oil Recipes
Aglio Olio
Flavored Olive Oil


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