Monday, May 28, 2007

O for Olive Oil

Even in America, olive oil has become a cook’s basic. But the oil sold in supermarkets bears little resemblance to the nectar of a boutique olive oil operation, where citrus and spices and even apple flavor the richness of the virgin press.

These are the olive oils produced in Israel by companies like Natur from the Holy Land.

Eli Cohen, Natur’s owner and an industry consultant, filled me in on the process: How the olive’s variety, the soil in which it is grown, irrigation and other farming practices, the timing of its harvest and the milling method can combine to create a fine oil or destroy it. Oils labeled as “100 percent olive oil’’ are generally manufactured in large quantities and have little taste or aroma; virgin olive oils are generally added back in to give it those properties. (Ini other words, buy "extra virgin'' -- which has a low acidity rating -- or "virgin.'')

And good olive oil does have both aroma and taste, we learned. Like the wine from Amphorae, it is meant to be enjoyed with fresh local produce: freshly sliced peppers and tomatoes, cheeses, pita, hummus and, of course, olives. A lovely way to learn about the oil … and a great way to spend a few hours of a breezy afternoon in Israel.

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