Olive Oil: The Bad and the Good

First, the Bad

I recently read the book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller. It opened my eyes to the shocking process by which most of the world’s olive oil is produced and sold. While we know much about the health benefits of olive oil, these benefits convey only via fresh, pure, unadulterated olive oil. Unfortunately, there is little chance the mass produced olive oil you buy at your local grocery store actually contains “100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil” as the label claims. Because of lax standards in regulating the industry abroad, and due to lack of truth-in-labeling requirements for imports to the United States, most commercially available olive oil is mixed with other cheaper and less healthy seed oils (e.g., cottonseed, sunflower, canola oil).

Furthermore, due to lengthy shipping times and dubious storage conditions, these inferior quality oils are often rancid by the time they make it to grocery store shelves. Consumption of rancid oils can be deleterious to health. But because the American palate has become accustomed to the taste of these inferior oils, we hardly notice the “off” taste or the adulterated flavor of the olive oils we typically consume.

Mueller educates the reader about how small olive farms can hardly survive in the cut-throat world of international olive oil production. The average consumer tends to base purchasing decisions on the lowest available price and does not realize that the product they are paying for is inferior. As long as consumers are unaware of the poor quality of olive oils they purchase and are unwilling to pay the true cost of quality olive oil, the industry is unlikely to change. And unlike the wine industry in Italy, which became highly regulated after a number of deaths occurred from adulterated wine produced in the 1980s, the olive oil industry has had no such calamity that has forced governments to pass laws and enforce regulations which would implement higher standards.

Now, The Good

In spite of all this bad news, there is hope! As consumers become better educated about the issues surrounding olive oil, small specialty shops have opened throughout the United States that specialize in the real thing. And if you are lucky enough to live in or travel to California, where 99% of the olive oil in the US is produced, you might even be able to visit an olive oil ranch and purchase it directly from the grower.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the 140 acre Pasolivo Ranch in Paso Robles, CA. Not only did I see the olive orchard where the olives are grown, I also received a tour of the milling facility. Afterwards, I was able to taste fresh oil from these very trees and purchase some high quality olive oil to bring home.

Pasolivo harvests their olives by hand in the fall. (It should be noted that most large industrial growers use machines that voilently shake the trees, damaging the trees and bruising the olives in the process.) After harvesting, the olives immediately go through a sorting and cleaning process before they are pressed. The olives and pits are pressed together in one ton batches, creating a thick paste. This pomace undergoes treatment in a centrifuge to separate the oil and remove any naturally occurring water. The oil is then transferred to stainless steel vats. Over the next several months the remaining sediments settle to the bottoms of the tanks and are drained off. Finally, the unfiltered oil is bottled.

The entire milling operation takes place here. Freshly harvested olives are weighed, twigs and debris removed, and then pressed. The pomace is centrifuged to separate the oil from the paste and remove any water. The oil is then routed to large stainless steel tanks where any remaining sediments are allowed to sink to the bottom of the tanks before being drained off. The unfiltered oil is then bottled.

“Olio Nuovo”

The early oil produced in the first two weeks of pressing is called “olio nuovo” or “new oil.”  It is highly prized by Italians for its robust grassy flavor but is extremely difficult to come by because of its short-lived and fragile nature. I was lucky enough to get to taste three of Pasolivo’s olio nuovo blends from the 2017 harvest. Comprised of different olive varietals, these very special oils were among the most delicious olive oils I’ve ever tasted. They were all dark green in color, with a fresh, grassy flavor.

The rare and elusive olio nuovo, or “new oil” from this year’s harvest.
This olio nuovo is a blend of three varietals of olives: Mission, Frantoio, and Lucca.

The Tasting Room

Pasolivo also produces flavored olive oils, all made with fresh, local ingredients. For example, the lemon flavored oil uses lemon peels that have been pressed to extract the essential oil which is then incorporated into the olive oil. The basil flavored oil is macerated with fresh locally grown basil leaves for a short period of time to impart the wonderful flavor of basil to the oil.

Tasters are encouraged to dip bread in various combinations of flavored oils and vinegars. Spice mixtures are offered to enhance the tasting experience.

In Pasolivo’s tasting room, visitors are given a complimentary tasting of all eleven types of oil they produce. In addition, they mix up their tasting repertoire with various flavored vinegars and herb/spice/salt mixtures from local producers to give visitors a unique tasting experience and to display the range of uses for their products.

This olive oil was fresh, fruity and pungent, far superior to any mass-produced supermarket olive oil. While its spicy, robust flavors might require a palate adjustment for some people, I loved the intense flavor and the kick in the back of my throat that this oil produced. In fact, knowing that this “kick” is exactly what honest olive oil is supposed to provide, I relished it.

As one might expect, this is not an inexpensive product. The labor intensive process involved in producing these small artisanal batches of liquid gold demands that consumers pay a fair price. Pasolivo offers a membership program where a 15% discount is provided to those agreeing to receive three shipments per year. Knowing that I am getting pure unadulterated olive oil makes this membership well worth the splurge. For more information on their Press Club, click here.

Upon joining Pasolivo’s Press Club, I was given this lovely burlap tote bag and a recipe book containing recipes using their olive oils and other products. With each shipment, I will receive new recipes to add to the notebook.

Since reading Extra Virginity  I have not looked at olive oil in the same way. And now that I’ve found a great resource for truly excellent olive oil, I will gladly support this industry. I encourage you to seek out local sources for high quality olive oil near you. Let us help create demand for the real thing so that oils of a dubious nature are not allowed to continue to flourish.

Pasolivo’s beautiful tasting room offers a variety of olive oil related products including bath and body products, handcrafted wood and ceramic items, and flavored salts, spices, and vinegars.

For more information on this topic, see the 60 Minutes expose, “AgroMafia” here. Also, Tom Mueller has compiled a list of the best supermarket olive oils at reasonable prices. To see his list, click here.

Note: I have not received any compensation of any kind from Pasolivo for this blog. All opinions are my own. I do wish to express my appreciation to Pasolivo for the tour and special tasting of the olio nuovo I received.

Sorbet Mimosas

The holiday season is in full swing and it’s always a good idea to have a go-to drink on hand that can be served when guests drop by. Nothing could be easier than sorbet mimosas! This drink requires only two ingredients which can be kept stocked in your kitchen and served up at a moment’s notice.

A small spring loaded ice cream scoop is a very helpful tool in making this drink. It releases the sorbet in perfectly portioned rounded balls.

The two ingredients are:

  1.  A bottle of your favorite bubbly
  2.  Sorbet
Put a scoop of sorbet in the glass first and then slowly pour the bubbly on top of it.

For the bubbly, you can use champagne, sparkling wine, or even non-alcoholic sparking cider or ginger ale. Tailor the flavor and color of the sorbet to the holiday you wish to celebrate. In this example, I am using mango sorbet because the orange color is a nice compliment to my current fall palette. For Christmas, a pretty red raspberry sorbet or lime green sorbet would be fitting. Gourmet shops often stock more exotic flavors so feel free to experiment, coordinating the color and flavor to your occasion.

Served in fluted glasses, and garnished with a sprig of mint and a fun polka dotted straw, this is a pretty cocktail that takes mere minutes to whip up.

I can’t think of a better way to welcome visitors during the holidays!

 

 

An Old Toy Truck

Are you a Pinterest addict like me? I can spend hours drooling over beautiful photographs and gathering ideas. Last year around the holidays, I came across a decorating idea I loved and decided that I would start looking for a way to replicate it. It was an old toy truck that had been decorated for the holidays as a table centerpiece.

I came across this picture on Pinterest and it became my inspiration. Photo courtesy of Janet Collazo.

A few weeks ago I found my truck! I visited a new-to-me thrift store and sitting right at the front of the shop was my toy dump truck. Best yet, the price had been marked down from an outrageous $75 to only $6. I’m not sure why it had been marked down so drastically but I don’t ask questions when I see these kinds of deals–I just do my inner happy dance and snatch them up!

While I initially intended to use it only for Christmas decorating, I quickly realized that it could be outfitted for fall as well. I immediately filled the bed of the truck with fallen leaves, dried foliage, sprays of orange berries, an acorn squash, and white mini-pumpkins for a natural fall display. I even placed one mini-pumpkin at the rear of the truck to make it appear as though it had fallen off during transit.

After enjoying it decorated this way for a while, it was time to look forward to Christmas. The truck’s original bright yellow color had been painted over with black paint and while it wasn’t terrible, I knew I wanted the color to be a little more vibrant for the holiday season. I was leaning heavily towards red but ultimately decided that green would be more versatile.

Milk paint comes as a powder and is mixed with water to create paint. It is a completely natural, non-toxic substance that works well on metal as well as a variety of other surfaces.

Knowing that milk paint adheres well to metal and makes for a old fashioned matte finish, I decided that this was the type of paint I wanted to use. I like its chalky texture and knew from a previous project that it was easy and forgiving to work with. I researched my options on line and purchased a fairly bright Tavern Green color.

After two coats of milk paint and a light brushing with an antiquing glaze, the truck has the rough vintage look I was going for.

After the first coat, I could tell the color was going to be a little brighter than I had hoped so I added a second coat and then brushed on a brown antiquing glaze to tone it down a bit. To add more detail to the truck, I added an accent of cream colored paint on the tires to create “white walls.”

A couple of packages were placed at the rear of the truck to appear as if they had fallen off during transit.

I love how it turned out! I tucked in some evergreen cuttings and placed a small artificial Christmas tree in the bed of the truck. I added a string of fairy lights to the tree to enliven it and filled the bed with a load of tiny wrapped gifts. A couple of the packages were placed at the rear of the truck to create the impression that they had fallen off during transport. To decorate the front grill, I added a tiny spray crafted from a sprig of rosemary, a brass bell, and some faux berries.

The toy truck adds a spirit of fun and whimsy wherever it is placed and I just love how versatile the piece is. I can envision it filled with a pretty spring flower arrangement in the summer or pots of succulents in the summer. I may even use it as a serving platform for party favors, drinks or utensils at an outdoor party. Rest assured, you’ll likely see it again in a future post!

Perhaps you have an old toy truck that once belonged to your children–or maybe you saved one from your own childhood. If you’ve got one packed away somewhere, I urge you to bring it out and use it in your seasonal decor. It is likely to bring smiles to the faces of everyone who sees it.

 

An Enchanting Fall Gathering

Fall is my favorite season. I love to take advantage of the ideal combination of warm days and cool nights by hosting an annual outdoor dinner party. It is the perfect excuse to gather friends around a beautifully decorated table and serve up some delicious comfort food. In this post, I share my thought process for creating the decor and table setting for this dinner party.

Several years ago, I purchased a set of antique English transferware at an estate sale. It provided just the sort of rustic elegance I desired for this dinner party. Its cream colored background and floral pattern consisting of brown, gold, and orange colors perfectly reflected the fall theme and became the starting point for the entire table setting.

Because nothing is more elegant than a white linen tablecloth, this was the table’s first layer. Another vintage tablecloth with a yellow-orange damask border was positioned diagonally across the center. Overlays such as this create an opportunity to introduce additional color and texture while giving the table a luxe feel. Matching napkins were gathered up in the wine glasses to add height and dimension to the setting.

Because my tables are somewhat narrow, I needed a centerpiece that would not interfere with the flow of food or conversation. I placed a rustic lantern in the center as an anchor and created a “runner” of greenery consisting of eucalyptus and other leafy clippings from my yard. I topped this base with branches of ornamental eggplant, also known as “pumpkin on a stick.” These cute mini-pumpkins added color and texture while giving the table a whimsical touch. Tiny white fairy lights and votive candles were dispersed throughout the plant material for extra sparkle.

I recently started collecting mismatched vintage silverplate flatware and I set the table with it. Though tarnished, worn, and imperfect, it was a nice compliment to the antique china which was also crazed and imperfect. Incorporating older pieces, even when in less than pristine condition, can add loads of character and personality to a table.

As a party favor, each guest was given a loaf of homemade cranberry-apple bread in a ceramic baking dish. Wrapped in cellophane paper and banded with dotted orange craft paper, a name tag that doubled as a placecard was attached with jute string. After guests were seated, the breads were removed and placed off to the side so that the table would not get too crowded. The favor was returned to each guest at the end of the evening to take home as a memento and perhaps to be enjoyed for breakfast the next morning.

Menu cards stood in little slices of tree branches to announce the coming meal. I designed the menus and name tags using clip art I found on line.

The meal was designed to be hearty, seasonal and comforting. Each course was paired with a wine that had been recommended by a nearby wine shop to help bring out the best in both the food and wine.

In anticipation that the weather might turn chilly by nightfall, cozy polar fleece blankets were folded over the backs of the chairs. A patio heater was positioned at one end of the space and the fireplace was lit at the other end so that warmth would be evenly distributed. I purchased a few white plastic tablecloths from the local dollar store, gathered them up, and stapled them to the top of the beams at the entrance of the patio. These easy, inexpensive makeshift curtains created a sense of intimacy, as well as helped hold in the heat.

Once the meal was over, we lingered around the table enjoying one another’s company. While the glow of the candles, the crackle and warmth of the wood fire, and the jazz playing on the stereo created lovely ambiance, it was the company of good friends gathered around the table that made it a truly enchanting fall evening.

The fireplace mantel was decorated symmetrically with candlesticks and pumpkins flanking each end.  Leafy plant material, fairy lights, and votive candles added fullness. For additional reflectivity and sparkle, a metallic bronze garland was threaded throughout the display.