Look What’s in the Warner Library!

Warner Library serves Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. There’s a big browsing section of what new books the library bought.

(2014-07-12 004)Author: Tom Mueller

Title: Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

Publication Information: New York: W.W. Norton, c2012 (1st ed.)

ISBN: 978-0-393-07021-7 (0393070212)

Library of Congress Classification: TP683

Dewey Decimal Classification: 664

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Olive oil–History
Olive oil industry
Food adulteration and inspection

This is a very interesting book, and one that should be read by anyone who is interested in eating real olive oil.

Those barbarian tribes that overran the Western Roman Empire did more than just conquer the land. They changed the diet of the former Romans. From bread, wine and oil, the new masters introduced meat, beer and animal fat, which quickly caught on. As Mueller goes on to say (p. 70), forests were no longer measured in hectares but in hogs (amount of land that could be grazed in a day), the images of the oil harvest in December gave way to hogs fattening on acorns and slaughterhouses, and the descendants of those ancient writers who wrote with disgust and fascination at the barbarian diet now celebrated it. Ironically, only the Church preserved the ancient respect for olive oil through the rites and rituals.

And just what makes good, virgin olive oil? After reading this book, anything that actually IS virgin olive oil. The olive oil industry is a big market for forgery and deception. The European Union was cracking down on the “watering down” (oiling down?) of olive oil with other oils–vegetable, cotton, etc.–that are easier to make and can be doctored to taste like real virgin olive oil. Sometimes it’s only in a laboratory that the truth about an olive oil is discovered. Olive oil fraud is big business in the EU, and in a country where olive oil is in no way regulated–everyone together, the United States–you really don’t know what you are buying.

Buying from big olive oil companies doesn’t guarantee you purity; most of these companies get their oil from different distributors who get their oil from different fields as well as countries that produce olive oil: Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Tunisia. Getting all this different oil from all over is an easy way to introduce impurities (read: adulterated oil) into the process. Price doesn’t always guarantee you quality or purity, either, although cheap olive oil is probably always made from what is called lampaste–traditionally whatever is left from the olive oil process that was used in lamps. Now lampaste is being turned into olive oil. There are now chemical solvents and processes that can draw out the residue oil and destroy the bad taste to make it palpable to humans.

Problem with all this adulteration and processing is that the benefits of olive oil–what makes it so good for humanity–begins to be destroyed. What’s the point of buying what is supposed to be olive oil when it isn’t it and that most of the benefits from the olive have been destroyed? There’s evidence that even in Roman times there were attempts to falsify olive oil by adulterating it with cheaper oils–perhaps where the Latin saying Caveat emptor, “Let the buyer beware,” comes from.

Mueller travels all over the world to talk to different olive oil producers about their product. There’s a lot here, not only about corruption but about laboratories and people attempting to raise the quality of olive oil and stop those who are just trying to make a quick buck. Mueller met with people who can sample olive oil and tell what harvest, where it’s from, if it has any impurities–although he also admits that sometimes even tasters can be fooled.

It’s a very good book (one that really needed an index), and one that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning about the world of olive oil.



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