EX­TOLLING the VIRTUES of olive oil

Savour - - DISH - By Laura Gold­stein

Long be­fore the “Mediter­ranean Diet” was touted as the key to in­creas­ing life ex­pectancy, or Ju­lia Roberts ex­tolled the virtues of us­ing olive oil on her cu­ti­cles, or Gwyneth Pal­trow used it as a hair con­di­tioner and Sophia Loren — well, she has said she oc­ca­sion­ally bathes in it

mythol­ogy tells us that in an­cient Greece, Athena, the god­dess of wis­dom, and Po­sei­don, the god of the sea, were bick­er­ing over who should rule the roost. To set­tle the dis­pute —- win­ner take all — they de­cided to hold a com­pe­ti­tion to de­cide who could come up with the most im­pres­sive gift to mor­tals. Po­sei­don (for­ever the drama queen) plunged his tri­dent into the Acrop­o­lis, cre­at­ing a mag­nif­i­cent salt­wa­ter foun­tain. Athena sim­ply bent to­ward earth and threw her javelin into the ground where it mirac­u­lously turned into an olive tree. The foun­tain, though beau­ti­ful, was no com­pe­ti­tion for the olive tree that pro­vided food, oil, shade and fuel. Athena won and the cap­i­tal city of Greece, Athens, is her name­sake. Po­sei­don, no­to­ri­ously in need of anger man­age­ment, threw a thun­der­bolt at the olive tree to de­stroy it. How­ever, the next morn­ing a new shoot ap­peared on the tree. Olive trees are ex­tremely re­silient and can live thou­sands of years; it’s not un­usual to see new buds ap­pear on what is thought to be dead wood. To this day, there is a spec­tac­u­lar, lone olive tree grow­ing in front of the Parthenon (part of the Acrop­o­lis) in Greece. Could this be Athena’s an­cient olive tree planted by her javelin? I’m suck­ing on my teeth, mak­ing a hiss­ing sound like a de­flat­ing bal­loon as in­structed. At the same time, I’m try­ing not to cough while savour­ing a fruity yet pep­pery slurp of Van­tera Ex­tra Vir­gin Olive Oil pro­duced in Cam­pa­nia, Italy. The oil hits the back of my throat, un­ex­pect­edly, with a spicy wal­lop. Sam­pling ex­cep­tional EVOO (ex­tra vir­gin olive oil) is very sim­i­lar to wine tast­ing — with­out the buzz — but af­ter tast­ing five va­ri­eties rang­ing from del­i­cate to ro­bust (about a ta­ble­spoon of each) I re­ally crave a side or­der of salad and pasta! Teresa Kuhn and hus­band Gian Marco Litrico of The Olive Oil Mer­chant in Kelowna were so pas­sion­ate about ar­ti­san pro­duced Ital­ian EVOO, that they par­layed their amoré into an im­port dis­tri­bu­tion busi­ness. The com­pany sells di­rectly to Cana­dian restau­rants and gourmet stores and on­line to the pub­lic. The cou­ple met in Mi­lan where Litrico was com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor at Hutchison Wham­poa Limited. “I al­ready spoke French and was told that some­one was be­ing sent to help me learn English (Van­cou­ver–born Kuhn, flu­ent in Ital­ian was work­ing in Italy at the time). That was Teresa and I even­tu­ally mar­ried the teacher!” laughs Litrico. By 2008, preg­nant with her sec­ond daugh­ter, Kuhn re­ally missed her fam­ily in B.C. She wanted a vi­able busi­ness idea that would con­nect both cul­tures when they moved back to Canada. “I no­ticed a huge gap in ex­tra vir­gin olive oils in Canada and sur­pris­ingly even high-end chefs (un­less they were trained in Europe) did not even re­al­ize the dif­fer­ences,” she ad­mits. “I read Tom Mueller’s con­tro­ver­sial book, Ex­tra Vir­gin­ity: The Sub­lime and Scan­dalous World of Olive Oil in which low-qual­ity, even chem­i­cally tam­pered olive oils from Spain or Tu­nisia are passed off as Ital­ian ex­tra vir­gin as in the Ber­tolli ex­posé. That con­vinced me even more that there was a niche here in Canada for im­port­ing top qual­ity ar­ti­san-made prod­ucts.” With an of­fice in Ver­mezzo, Italy, Kuhn started to visit lo­cal farm­ers where the fer­tile ter­roir con­trib­uted notes of tomato, ar­ti­choke, and grass to the fruit. Over 700 va­ri­eties of olives are cul­ti­vated in Italy alone. Un­like high-tech com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion that in­volves truck­ing olives off-site and us­ing sec­ond press­ings of­ten with bland re­sults, the

en­tire process of mak­ing EVOO, by def­i­ni­tion, must take place on the farmer’s land. From hand-picked fruit to bot­tling, it’s a com­pli­cated jug­gling act com­bin­ing art — blend­ing two or more types of olives to at­tain just the right bal­ance of fruiti­ness and pep­per­i­ness, and science — olives must be har­vested and pressed, of­ten by tra­di­tional stone wheels, within 24 hours as they start to de­grade quickly (ex­tra vir­gin refers to the first press­ing and high­est qual­ity). By 2009 Kuhn had sourced their pro­duc­ers and the busi­ness ven­ture was born. Like a re­li­gious zealot, Kuhn de­votes as much time on EVOO (re-)ed­u­ca­tion through ex­ten­sive tast­ings, eye-open­ing sem­i­nars and train­ing restau­rant staff, as she does on en­sur­ing the high­est qual­ity of all the prod­ucts they im­port. Van­cou­ver’s Cibo Trat­to­ria; Chef Neil Tay­lor of the Span­ish-themed Es­pana, Chef Pino Poster­aro’s Ciop­pino’s Mediter­ranean Grill, La Quer­cia, and Kelowna’s Mis­sion Hill Win­ery cook­ing classes have all ben­e­fited from Kuhn’s ex­per­tise. She is a Flos Olei (trans­lated from the Latin as ‘the best oil’) Guide devo­tee. Con­sid­ered the bi­ble of olive oils in the same realm as Wine Spec­ta­tor, the guide is writ­ten by Ital­ian Marco Oreg­gia who is rec­og­nized in­ter­na­tion­ally as the undis­puted guru of re­search­ing and rat­ing olive oils. He and his part­ner fel­low taster, Laura Marinelli, have rated 488 ar­ti­san pro­duc­ers in 45 coun­tries in the cur­rent edi­tion of Flos Olei. Though all Mediter­ranean cul­tures like to take credit for be­ing the first to pro­duce olive oil, the ear­li­est pro­duc­tion dates back to the

4th mil­len­nium BC in an­cient Is­rael. The oil’s medic­i­nal and rit­ual uses are men­tioned many times in the bi­ble. In those times the olives were crushed by rolling an el­lip­ti­cal shaped stone back and forth over them or by foot while wear­ing wooden shoes. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of the first type of me­chan­i­cal tool us­ing a beam and lever dates to around 1500 BC. The olive oil in­dus­try be­gan to use mass pro­duc­tion meth­ods dur­ing the 9th to 7th cen­turies. With the de­vel­op­ment of presses and a cen­tral col­lec­tion vat the new tech­niques spread to Crete and rapidly through­out Greece In 2013, al­though Greece ranks third in the world be­hind Italy and Spain for olive oil pro­duc­tion, Greeks are the largest con­sumers of olive oil world-wide av­er­ag­ing an in­cred­i­ble 26 litres per per­son an­nu­ally! Com­pare that to less than one litre per per­son an­nu­ally in North Amer­ica. Long be­fore the “Mediter­ranean Diet” was touted as the key to in­creas­ing life ex­pectancy, or Ju­lia Roberts ex­tolled the virtues of us­ing olive oil on her cu­ti­cles, or Gwyneth Pal­trow used it as a hair con­di­tioner and Sophia Loren — well, she has said she oc­ca­sion­ally bathes in it, the fol­low­ing was true. An­cient He­brews lit syn­a­gogue lamps with olive oil, the olives were “beaten for the light” (Leviti­cus 24:1-3); Homer re­ferred to olive oil as “liq­uid gold” in the Odyssey; and Hip­pocrates es­poused its cu­ra­tive pow­ers call­ing it “the great healer.” Olympians oiled their bod­ies with olive oil be­fore com­pe­ti­tion and the vic­tors were awarded wreaths of olive leaves. Mu­sic rocker, Sting and his wife — film­maker, phi­lan­thropist and hu­man­i­tar­ian — Trudie Styler, have cham­pi­oned the re­ju­ve­nat­ing ef­fects of yoga for years and now pro­mote the ben­e­fits of olive oil. Could olive oil be the next foun­tain of youth? “We’re all look­ing for ways to en­hance our lives as we age and olive oil is full of vi­ta­min A and an­tiox­i­dants. I use it on my face and I’ve found that my skin re­ally ben­e­fits,” en­thuses Styler by phone from her New York film pro­duc­tion of­fice Maven Pic­tures. (‘Girl Most Likely’ star­ring Kristen Wiig, An­nette Ben­ing, Matt Dil­lon and Dar­rin Criss will be re­leased on July 19.) Styler waxes po­etic about their or­ganic Pala­gio EVOO grown and pro­duced at the cou­ple’s 900–acre es­tate in Italy. Il Pala­gio (The Palace) reigns over the un­du­lat­ing Tus­can hills of the me­dieval town of Figline Val­darno near Florence. Reach­ing back to the 1700’s with a pedi­gree of dukes over­see­ing wine, grain, fruit, honey and olive oil pro­duc­tion, the es­tate had fallen into dis­re­pair be­fore Sting and Styler pur­chased it in 1999. With mod­ern­iza­tion, but still re­ly­ing on tra­di­tional ar­ti­san grow­ing prac­tices and hand labour har­vest­ing tech­niques, Il Pala­gio has be­come a pro­lific sup­plier to spe­cialty stores in­ter­na­tion­ally in­clud­ing Har­rods of Lon­don. The es­tate man­ager, Paolo Rossi, was ac­tu­ally born on the Il Pala­gio es­tate where his fam­ily has worked for gen­er­a­tions. Coin­ci­den­tally, Rossi is one of the EVOO sup­pli­ers work­ing with The Olive Oil Mer­chant of Kelowna. As founders of The Rain­for­est Foun­da­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues are dear to

the hearts of Sting and Styler and fore­most in the agri­cul­tural prac­tices at Il Pala­gio. “We’re re­ally proud of our or­ganic ex­tra vir­gin olive oil — it never ceases to amaze me how olive trees can be sev­eral thou­sand years old and with­stand al­most any kind of cli­mate. Paolo farms bio­dy­nam­i­cally; the groves are 360 feet above sea level to avoid the olive fly and the rock is gale­stro (re­tains heat, very well drained.) The taste is re­ally de­fined — slightly pep­pery and sharp,” ex­plains Styler. When Sting and Styler visit Il Pala­gio for sum­mer hol­i­days their pri­vate chef, Joe Sponzo, of­ten pre­pares one of the fam­ily’s favourite recipes us­ing their home­grown EVOO, Spaghetti al Aglio e Olio. This recipe is fea­tured in the “Women for Women In­ter­na­tional” fundrais­ing recipe book Share: The Cook­book That Cel­e­brates Our Com­mon Hu­man­ity pub­lished by Kyle Books with a fore­word by Meryl Streep. “We love the sim­plic­ity of it,” says Styler. “It’s the ul­ti­mate com­fort food. Just make sure you don’t go to a busi­ness meet­ing right af­ter eat­ing — it’s heavy on the gar­lic. Or eat some pars­ley af­ter­wards!” “I tell my cus­tomers that Ital­ian pros­ti­tutes would make a won­der­ful put­tanesca sauce and the aroma would at­tract the cus­tomers” says ar­ti­san baker, Ben Manea of Walla Au­then­tic Mediter­ranean & Mid­dle Eastern Foods in Pen­tic­ton. His labour of love waft­ing through The Can­nery in­cludes a crusty Put­tanesca Sour­dough Bread made with olives and ca­pers in­fused mul­ti­ple times over a 48-hour pe­riod with Greek Kri­nos Kala­mata EVOO. In fact Manea, a self-taught Is­raeli baker, is absolutely ob­ses­sive about us­ing the finest and fresh­est in­gre­di­ents in ev­ery­thing he cre­ates. True to his Mediter­ranean roots, EVOO per­fumes his quiches, sea-salt sprin­kled rose­mary fo­cac­cia buns, piz­zas, bourekas and de­lec­ta­ble dips. “I chose this par­tic­u­lar Greek ex­tra vir­gin olive oil be­cause it’s del­i­cate and doesn’t com­pete with the other flavours.” “When­ever I tell peo­ple that I have an olive grove on Pen­der Is­land, B.C., the only one in Canada, they start laugh­ing in dis­be­lief,” ad­mits in­ter­na­tional lawyer, ar­ti­san farmer and eter­nal op­ti­mist, An­drew Butt. Butt and his wife, Sandy, un­abashedly love olives. They have trav­elled ex­ten­sively through­out Italy, Greece, Morocco and New Zealand and vis­ited olive pro­duc­ers along the way. When they saw olive trees thriv­ing in the colder ar­eas of Pied­mont Italy they were con­vinced that olive trees would grow in Canada. Butt im­ported 100 Ital­ian Fran­toio and Lec­ci­o­live va­ri­eties from Cal­i­for­nia through Michael Pierce on Saturna Is­land who started the Saturna Olive Con­sor­tium in 2009. Butt chris­tened his trees the Water­lea Olive Grove. “It’s much milder here than any­where else in Canada where the Ja­panese cur­rent and the Pa­cific meet, and our shel­tered prop­erty has re­ally good drainage and sun all day sim­i­lar to a Mediter­ranean cli­mate” he ex­plains. “Our ob­jec­tive is to even­tu­ally press ex­tra vir­gin olive oil but so far we’ve just bot­tled the olives for friends, fam­ily and lo­cal restau­rants un­til we get a big­ger yield.” An­drew Butt’s dream of pro­duc­ing Canada’s first EVOO is a source of con­stant teas­ing from his two broth­ers in El­gin, South Africa who are well-known EVOO pro­duc­ers. Their 3,000 olive trees sur­round a charm­ing inn, Rock­haven Farm where Chef Jaime Oliver is a fre­quent guest. In the mean­time, the en­tre­pre­neur­ial Butt is look­ing into pro­duc­ing olive leaf tea — a new trend in Europe and said to be a good treat­ment for high blood pres­sure. “I drink two ta­ble­spoons of olive oil ev­ery day of my life,” says the 64-year-old “and my doc­tor says I’m in amaz­ing shape!”

The very def­i­ni­tion of EVOO is that the en­tire process from hand-pick­ing to first press­ing and bot­tling must take place on the farmer’s land. To pro­tect the con­sumer all bot­tles must by law in­di­cate the lo­ca­tion of pro­duc­tion and "best be­fore" date.

Cobalt glasses are tra­di­tion­ally used for EVOO tast­ings, as pre­scribed by the In­ter­na­tional Olive Oil Coun­cil. Rules are so strict that only one mouth-blown glass-mak­ing com­pany in Italy, Fara, pro­duces them! B.C. born Teresa Kuhn, her hus­band, Gian Marc

Rocker Sting and wife,trudie Styler pur­chased the 900-acre Tus­can es­tate Il Pala­gio in 1999 restor­ing its grounds and up­grad­ing the pro­duc­tion of or­ganic ex­tra vir­gin olive oil.

Il Pala­gio Es­tate

With bot­tles de­signed by Trudie Styler, Pala­gio or­ganic EVOO is dis­trib­uted world-wide. Styler is a big pro­po­nent of its health ben­e­fits. Ar­ti­san baker, Ben Manea and a se­lec­tion of his breads us­ing Greek ex­tra vir­gin olive oil

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