I sort of bummed myself out with my whiny rant the other day so when a friend invited me to go on an olive oil tour, I agreed with alacrity. The tour was for journalists (and bloggers, which is how I snuck in. I’m a blogger!) and organized by the Rome Chamber of Commerce with funding from the Ministry of Agriculture. It was one of a series of events with the objective of promoting EU-certified products from Lazio: Castelli wine, Roman lamb, Romanesco artichokes, Genzano bread, olive oil from Sabina, etc. This week it was olive oil’s turn.
We headed off to Sabina, a region about 50 kilometres northeast of Rome. It’s where the Sabine women came from. Remember them? Romulus and his band of merry early Romans carried them off to populate Rome, thus enraging their husbands, in an incident that has gone down in history as the rape of the Sabine women (‘rape’ is from the Latin word raptio and in this context means abduction). Olive oil has been produced in Sabina for 2000 years.
We arrived at the Consorzio Sabina DOP where we saw some picking going on and some processing. DOP is the Italian translation of PDO (protected designation of origin), one of the two elements of a system the EU has devised to legally protect particular product names that are linked to a territory or to a production process, the other being PGI (protected geographical indication).
The olive oil tasting was interesting. You’re supposed to warm the cup up a bit with your hands, put a drop of the oil on your tongue and suck it back with a loud squelching noise (this apparently breaks up the molecules) and taste for bitterness, pungency and fruitiness. I learned some new stuff:
- The colour of the oil is not relevant to its quality and depends on the olive variety used. Greener is not always better. Since we all think that the pretty green oil must be the best, some unscrupulous olive oil peddlers inject chlorophyll from the olive leaves into the oil to make it look greener. Never buy olive oil in a clear glass bottle because the producer is trying to exploit the colour thing and the oil will be more susceptible to heat and light, which make it go rancid faster. Not cool guys.
- To get designated as extra vergine, olive oil is subjected to scrutiny by a panel of olive oil experts who meet once a month. They have to pass a test to make sure their tongues are sophisticated enough to detect pungency and the rest. Many people fail. This goes on all over Europe, wherever olive oil is produced. Hundreds of panels of tasters with sophisticated tongues, squelching. The oil being tested is always served in a special blue glass so people aren’t distracted by the oil colour issue because you can’t really see the colour in the special blue glass.
- Don’t keep your olive oil hanging around for more than a year and never store it above 30 degrees C (well, this one’s pretty obvious).
- Not only do some people have more discriminating tongues when it comes to oil tasting, some people are better at the squelching than others. Me? Not so much.
Afterwards we had a truly amazing lunch. I got a few pictures although I was so busy gobbling everything down that I missed out on photographing about half of the courses. The dessert was delicious. A rich rich super rich and thick chocolate spread made with olive oil and cookies to spread it on. I bought 4 jars.
Here’s just some of what we ate.
The cultural part of the day was a visit to the medieval abbey at Farfa, which dates back to the 11th Century. Very nice too. The best part was a little museum featuring works by Emmanuele Luzzati to show the history of the abbey. He was a set designer and illustrator with an interesting life who died a few years back. I’ve been reading about him and will write about him soon. He’s awesome. Here’s a taste.