All you wanted to know about olive oil

If you think Italians use more olive oil than any other nationality, you’d be wrong.

Spaniards top out as the most enthusiastic consumers of the flavorful oil, with Italians coming in second and Americans third. Italy, however, produces the most olive oil. (Italians grow 400 varieties of olives, the Spanish, more like 250.)

Olives begin green on the tree and turn darker as they ripen. The greener the oil, the younger the olives. Olive oil producers create oils from olives picked at different times, the most coveted being oils made from the first harvest and therefore containing the most potent olive flavor. Olives picked later in the season with riper fruit yield mellower, less peppery oils.

Harvesting techniques differ. Some farms shake the trees by hand to release the olives from the branches, others use a tractor-like machine to do the job. Workers then rake the remaining olives off the limbs. Some farms send workers into the trees on ladders to pick the entire crop by hand.

To keep oil fresh, treat it as you would wine or coffee. Just as exposure to heat, light or oxygen will ruin your glass of chardonnay or flatten the flavor of your morning espresso, the same elements will harm fresh olive oil. Seal open bottles tightly and store them in your pantry (preferably the back.)

Here’s to happy, healthy cooking.

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