Our customer “Wayne in Connecticut” has sent us a few excellent questions about olive oil production. We’re happy to share them with you.
Q. Is olive oil pressed from just the green unripened olives, the black ripened ones, or both? If both, there must be a distinct general difference between the taste of “green olive oil” and ripened olives.
The highest quality olive oils are pressed when the green olives just begin to change color. This yields an oil full of flavor and possessing the best attributes. As olives continue to develop and ripen, they yield more oil, but that oil possesses a higher acidity level. It is very expensive to produce a high quality oil. There are some productions that yield only a liter or two per tree.
If you are mixing an oil having a very low acidity, with an oil with a significantly higher acidity level, you will end up with an “average” oil. Oils pressed from riper olives also seem to degrade or lose their characteristics at a faster clip.
Q. I notice in your descriptions of the oils, their flavor is usually a reference to a particular taste… say “green grass”, some fruit, peppery, etc. Is this a product of aging the olive oil with flavorings or just the natural flavor of the individual brand of olives grown? I assume olive oil is aged–maybe it isn’t?— just pressed & bottled instead?
The grassy, fruity, peppery characteristics are due primarily to the olive cultivars. The oils from Sicily (predominantly Nocellara, Biancollila, and Cerasuola cultivars) tend to be grassy, and the cultivars are different from the more pungent oils from Tuscany (predominantly Frantoio and Leccino). For top quality extra virgin olive oils those lovely distinctions are directly due to the cultivars grown and the skill of the grower.
The Novello oil (first of the season) is freshly bottled by those producers who believe in selling new oil. Not all believe this is the right thing to do! By tradition, some producers prefer to let their oil settle or decant for a few weeks before bottling. Those producers store oil in stainless steel tanks with great care to preserve the freshness. Aging is not a good thing.