Go­ing ex­tra vir­gin

Olive oil has a long his­tor y in Le­banon; but wit h an ad­vance in tech­nol­ogy over t he years t hat her itage has been re­fined. LT looks at t he pro­duc­tion of ex­tra vir­gin olive oil; its nu­mer­ous health ben­e­fits and how to taste a good oil from bad

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENT - in­ter­na­tion­alo­liveoil.org

Le­banon has one of the old­est his­tor ies in the world of olive oil pro­duc­tion and the tra­di­tion re­mains deeply in­grained in the countr y’s cul­ture. Many fam­i­lies still grow their own olives and take them to the lo­cal mill for press­ing; oth­ers are loyal to the olive oil of a smallscale farmer or mill-owner from whom they’ve been buy­ing for years. Tech­nol­ogy though has sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved the process of cre­at­ing olive oil and aware­ness is grow­ing about the qual­ity and health ben­e­fits of ex­tra vir­gin olive oil.

THE HEALTH BEN­E­FITS

To pro­duce a qual­ity ex­tra vir­gin olive oil ever y de­tail of the pro­duc­tion process should be con­sid­ered – from en­sur ing the lands and trees from which the olives come are or­ganic, to tak­ing care of how they are trans­por ted and pro­cess­ing them in a fully equipped mill with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy. Many olive oils on the su­per­mar­ket shelf are re­fined, re­mov­ing the im­per­fec­tions to make it smoother and more sell­able, though in the process re­mov­ing the taste, bit­ter­ness and health ben­e­fits. The In­ter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil (IOC) con­sid­ers ex­tra vir­gin olive oil the high­est qual­ity olive oil and to achieve clas­si­fi­ca­tion it must fol­low a cer tain pro­duc­tion process and meet stan­dards. Ex­tra vir­gin is un­fil­tered, mean­ing it is purer and a higher qual­ity oil with an­tiox­i­dants called polyphe­nols and anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries that are good for the health.

The Min­istr y of Agriculture will soon launch a lab in Le­banon, ded­i­cated to tast­ing ex­tra vir­gin olive oil. The panel will be made up of 20 tasters and is due to launch in the New Year. It aims to ac­credit ex­tra vir­gin olive oils in Le­banon; mak­ing it eas­ier for the con­sumer to es­tab­lish the qual­ity they are buy­ing.

THE PRO­DUC­TION PROCESS

There are sev­eral key el­e­ments in the pro­duc­tion process that en­sure a good qual­ity ex­tra vir­gin olive oil. The fruit har vested should be un­harmed and gath­ered in crates rather than bags. They should be taken di­rectly to the mill for pro­cess­ing, with­out a per iod of stor­age. Then af ter the leaves are taken out they should be pressed in stain­less steel machiner y, with­out much wa­ter, at a sta­ble tem­per­a­ture. Fi­nally the olive oil should be stored in stain­less steel tanks.

FIGHT­ING HABIT

Peo­ple’s loy­alty to pro­duc­ers who cre­ate olive oil through a tra­di­tional and per­haps un­hy­gienic process can be hard to break. If some­one has been buy­ing from the same pro­ducer for 20 years, they are un­likely to change, since there is a trust there, even if the oil’s qual­ity has not im­proved. Though af ter years of projects and fund­ing in the in­dustr y, ed­u­cat­ing pro­duc­ers on the tech­ni­cal is­sues of olive oil pro­duc­tion, things are slowly chang­ing.

TASTE BE­FORE YOU BUY

Taste and smell are the keys to choos­ing a good olive oil; with the more bit­ter tast­ing and pun­gent the smell, the bet­ter the oil. Though it might take some time to ed­u­cate your pal­ette there are key warn­ing signs to look out for: fer­mented, rot­ten or stag­nant wa­ter smells are all ob­vi­ous point­ers to a bad oil. If you’re not yet con­fi­dent about your pal­ette – a sim­ple knowl­edge about the pro­duc­tion process will help you ask ques­tions to as­sess whether the olive oil from your sup­plier is up to stan­dard.

For the first time this year, the Beirut Cook­ing Fes­ti­val, hosted The World of Olive Oil event, made pos­si­ble with the fi­nan­cial sup­por t of the In­ter­na­tional Olive Coun­cil. The event fea­tured daily ses­sions and work­shops with celebr ity chefs, ex­per t tasters, di­eti­cians and doc­tors that re­vealed the qual­ity and ben­e­fits of ex­tra vir­gin olive oil. Some of the ques­tions ad­dressed in­cluded: How to iden­tify ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive attr ibutes, how to buy olive oil and how to pair ex­tra vir­gin olive oil with dif fer­ent kinds of food, thus rais­ing aware­ness of not only the prod­uct and its uses but the dif fer­ent var ieties avail­able across the dif fer­ent re­gions in Le­banon and their dis­tinct tastes. If more out­reach ini­tia­tives such as this are cre­ated to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on the ben­e­fits and qual­ity of ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, the in­dustr y will slowly change for the bet­ter.

Olive groves in Baino, Akkar. Pho­tos: House of Zejd

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