Quality Olive Oil: A Philosophy not a Fat By: Vincent Martello

The olive is one of the biggest and most influential parts of the Mediterranean culture. It is more than a present-day commodity. It is the face of the Mediterranean culture and the brainchild of millions of people across thousands of years who have managed to perfect its preservation and ensure its future success. The olive is more than a critical part of the local diet for those living around the Mediterranean.  It is and has been an integral part of the lifestyle for the last few millennia. This fruit is heralded for its nutritional qualities and its versatility and an agricultural resource. Aside from its consumption as a food, the olive has had an even greater impact on global culinary tradition in the form of olive oil. In present-day Tuscany alone, 70 thousand olive grows devote their lives to 95 thousand hectares land to maintain 14 million olive trees in order to produce this oily elixir. On a more macroscopic scale, when the production of oil in other nations such as Spain, United States, Greece are all accounted for, one cannot help but stop to consider as to why this plant grew to international notoriety.

The global abundant and extensive use of such a valued plant is more than just a coincidence or serendipity. The success of the olive and olive oil takes is roots in a highly philosophical cultural paradigm that ultimately respects the plant for all of its contributions. This philosophy simply stresses that it is physically important, for sustainability and for progeny, to use the entirety of the plant in its purest form. In order to fully embrace and live out this philosophy, one requires a deep connection to the plant, a connection that one would typically find amongst the passion that many ancient cultures, such as Greek or Roman, would express in their aesthetic beauty. Ultimately, this philosophy manifested itself in a perspective that views the olive oil and the olive plant as a resource in which health and aesthetic pleasure are unified.  This philosophy is still practiced today.

La Fonte di Olive
This philosophic lifestyle is carried out every day amongst the thousands that produce olive oil in the Mediterranean. One of the most embracing experiences of this philosophic lifestyle can be found as we dive deep into the heart of olive oil production in Toscana’s region of Bolgheri. Simone and his family purchased Oliveto Fonte di Foiano in the year 1979. In this year they began growing and selecting various varieties of olives to produce quality olive oil for production in a smaller local farm setting. The production of olive oil is actually quite particular. First, the olives are hand-picked from the tree. Then the olives that are deemed to be the healthiest and most conducive for production are entered into the production line, washed, and separated from the remaining dirt and rock that are mixed with the picked olives. These cleaned olives are then sterilized from disease and bacteria by passing through controlled UV radiation exposure before passing into large grinders that begin to mash the olives into a pasty solution. This paste is then centrifuged at extremely high speed of 5000 rotations per second. This allows all of the different parts of the paste to separate and the oil is removed. The oil that is removed after the first centrifugation is deemed extra virgin olive oil. Other grades of oil come from future centrifugations of the used paste to collect whatever remains in the solution. This oil that is extracted is then filtered through a paper filtration system that removes any remaining impurities from the oil. It is then stored in large aluminum vats with controlled exposure to nitrogen gas to prevent fermentation of the oil. When ready, the oil is acceptable for sale.

Quality Olive Oil

The process by which the oil is extracted from the olive itself is clearly very complex and particular. There are many steps that need to carefully monitored and regulated along the way. Therefore, it is only natural that the type and “quality” of the olive oil stems from the regulation of its prediction. As mentioned, extra virgin olive oil is simply the product of the first wave centrifugation to which the grinded paste is subjected. But, the classification of oil as a product is much deeper than its name of extra virgin or not. Olive oil has traditionally been associated with a specific type of quality or standard by which it is regarded. This substantial characteristic of the oil is vastly different than its name. The title extra virgin is a name. It is a grade of oil given based on its extraction during the process. Quality, on the other hand, is an innate property of the oil itself. It is defined by the biochemical composition of the final product combined with the oil’s impact on the life of the consumer. In fact, as one could imagine, producing a “quality” oil would require much more of a careful regulation of the production process.

Quality olive oil requires many specific criteria. Most importantly, the production of quality olive oil must come from a cold press. The entire process, especially the step that mashes the cleaned olives into paste, must be temperature controlled at approximately 23 to 24 degrees Celsius. This specific temperature allows for a clean extraction of the oil in a way that the oil’s highly nutritive characteristics are still maintained. Furthermore, UV radiation control must be extremely precise to make sure that only the bacteria that rest on the olives themselves are killed and the oil’s chemical properties are not altered. Finally, quality oil is often filtered through a paper filtration mechanism to remove the impurities. This prevents the producer from having to raise the temperature of the extracted oil in order to remove the impurities. With this, the chemical properties of the oil are maintained.

Quality oil as a product of a careful method of extraction can therefore be described by a variety of nutritive qualities that may otherwise not be associated with olive oil in general. Quality olive oil is much more than a bottle of unsaturated fats. As we learned from Oliveto Fonte di Foiano, a bottle of their locally farm produced olive oil is found to have various organic compounds that are vital for human life. A bottle of quality olive oil can contain 1200 milligrams of polyphenols which have been proven to reduce the amount of HDL cholesterol in the blood according to biomedical studies. High quality olive oil has also high levels of Vitamins A, C, D and E which are high instrumental in immune system health and digestive system maintenance. With healthy benefits such as this, olive oil in some cases is more than oil, it is a medicine. For this reason, “quality” produced olive oil has been used for millennia as a home remedy to many diseases and afflictions. Now, its role as a remedy has been replaced with modern medicine. Anthropological evidence has shown that our earliest evidence of olive oil production took place amongst the ancient Egyptians who used this product for skin rehabilitation and massage therapy. Evidently, most of olive oil’s cultural significance came from its versatility as a well-rounded quality ingredient made to benefit the consumer’s health in every aspect of life.

 The Purest Form

The development, growth, and success of olive oil during the past few millennia are actually causes worthy of marvel and praise. In fact, given this product’s versatility and the overwhelming benefits it has to offer humanity, its successful progeny was almost inevitable. Olive oil has been more than just a product but a respected aspect of many different cultures’ social structure. Therefore, the important question to ask in regards to this product is what allowed olive oil to become such a staple in society? Was there a specific ideology or perspective that allowed for the rise of such a plant? Well, many years of research and observation of cultural practices have come closer to the conclusion that olive oil success is a result of the cultural philosophy that stresses the use of the olive tree in its purest form.

This as a code of consideration may seem like quite a loaded ideology. In reality however, it can be boiled down to an ideology it which those using the olive plant for consumption have a genuine respect for the entirety of the plant and carry the intention to harness its gift and make the best product possible. Cultures and society respect the plant for everything it has to offer. This active philosophy can be witnessed, not only in Oliveto Fonte di Foiano, but in small local producing farms that take the time to respect the process of extracting olive oil and put pride into their product. From the picking of the actual olive to the final filtration of the extracted oil, the olives are cared for at every step to ensure that the end product produced is of maximum quality. Thus, quality is more than a name or a title applied to the oil. Quality is the active manifestation of a millennia old philosophy that respects the product by using it in its purest form possible.

Pleasure and Health

Simone, his family, and his staff that are responsible for the production of high quality, award winning olive oil at Fonte di Foiano themselves are a reflection of an active philosophy representative of cultural norms and upbringing. Their oil is a manifestation of a philosophy that deals with respect for the plant. They, however, are the exhibition of an ancient philosophy that uses a product such as olives or olive oil as a means to achieve the artful combination of health and pleasure. This philosophy represents the foundation and motivation on which they produce high quality olive oil. For them, the desire, skill, and artisanship used to produce every ounce of olive oil provide the most convenient way to respect ancient tradition and ancient culture. In this case the olive oil is the combination of health and pleasure. Health is represented in the careful regulation that goes into the production of every bit of olive oil in order to maintain the integrity of the plant’s natural qualities. Pleasure is more subtly represented in the passionate expression of the olive oil making tradition that is used to define every bottle. Pleasure is the careful construction of every sip so that the oil itself acts as the perfect and purest compliment to any dish created. Pleasure is the pride in aesthetic emotion that the oil brings out in the consumer.

If there is one thing that the production of high quality olive oil has shown the world is that olive oil can be more than just a large quantity of unsaturated fats destined to harm one’s health. Quality olive oil is a nutritive ingredient and a medicine. It is a representation of a cultural social structure that has withstood the test of time. It is the outward manifestation of a philosophy that specializes in using the plant in its purest sense. Inevitably, quality olive oil is one of the ultimate examples of a cultural way of life, a philosophy that combines the visions of health and pleasure.


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Works Cited

Journey through Tuscany to Discover Typical Products. Regione Toscana- Dipartimento Svillupo Economico, Ufficio Scolastico Regionale della Toscana. 2001. Giunti Gruppo Editoriale. Firenze. Print

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