An Ode To Liquid Gold: Olive Oil: How It’s Made and What “Extra Virgin” Really Means

In the U.S., more and more people are starting to discover what Mediterranean peoples have known for–literally–7,000 years: the wonders of olive oil.

Homer called it “liquid Gold” and the ancient Greeks claimed that Athena created them. King David hired guards for Israel’s olive groves, warehouses, and other areas. Olive oil was used by ancient peoples for cooking and for perfume. ).

We have attributed olive oil with many health benefits, such as preventing cancer and heart disease. This is due to its high level of monounsaturated oils and antioxidants, which include vitamin E. Olive oil is one of the main building blocks.

It’s a great idea to visit Italy and try the olive oil. Pliny, a first century A.D. writer, said that Italy produced the best olive oil. We believe he understood what he was talking of, and that the situation hasn’t changed.

You’ll need to try olive oil to see for yourself. What are the different types of olive oil (extra virgin, cold-pressed, first presse, oh my!)? What is the best type of olive oil? Ask your questions below… and, if you have more questions, leave them in the comments!

What is olive oil? What is olive oil?

How is olive oil made The first step is to grind olives (or almost-ripe olives) into a paste. This was traditionally done using large millstones, but today it is often done with steel equipment. The process is delicate because the olives must be ground without breaking down the stones.

The oil must then be separated from any remaining watery or bitter liquid in the paste. The paste was traditionally spread on disks and stacked on top of one another. Next, squeeze out any liquid by pressing down. This would be called the “first pressing.” After that, the paste would be mixed with hot water and steam and then pressed one more time. The “second press” oil would not be as flavorful because heat is the number-one enemy of olive oil. Remember to heat olive oil in a skillet next time! This is how we come to believe that “first pressing” or “cold-pressed” olive oils are better.

However, this method is not used today by many mills. It’s about centrifugal force. Because water is denser that oil, spinning the paste separates them. It’s the same principle that separates cream. You could heat the paste to make more oil but that would degrade its flavor. Most places will split the difference and heat the paste to room temperature.

(Check out the video below to see how olive oil is made! ).

What does it mean to be “cold pressed”? In some cases. The European Union states that if the paste is kept below 27 degrees Celsius (or 81 degrees F), it’s still considered “cold-pressed”. However, that sounds a bit warm to us! However, the U.S. doesn’t regulate the term or label “cold pressed”

Modern methods have made the term “first presse” obsolete. There is no second press, it’s a continuous centrifugal process. You wouldn’t know this from how many times you see it on labels.

A caveat: “First cold press” in Europe must not only mean that the temperature was below 27 degrees Celsius, but also that the oil was obtained from traditional hydraulic presses and not from a centrifugal machine. Look for the “first cold pressing” label if you are looking for traditional oil.

What about the “extra virgin” label? Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality. This means the olive oil was not altered in any way during extraction and that no additives were added. These regulations also address the “thermal conditions”. Please no heat!


These olives are very beautiful!

Extra virgin olive oils are also supposed to be low in acidity. The International Olive Oil Council defines this as 0.8 percent acidity. The European Union regulates it to less than 1 percent. Only in October 2010, the U.S. made this a legal standard by setting it at 0.8%. These oils must also meet other standards.

Extra virgin olive oil is so pure that it can be affected by everything, from the type of olives used to their origins. This is what makes olive oil tasting so fun!

Next is the “virgin” oil. It has a lower acidity than extra-virgin olive oils and has more flaws, according to the IOOC.

Below this are oil grades, including “lampante virgin oil”. It can’t be bottled, but it must be used for another purpose. It is mostly used in the industry.

After lower grades of olive oil have been refined, they are often combined with higher quality virgin oil. These blends account for the majority of the olive oil sold around the globe. The oils were labeled “extra light” or “light” in the U.S. before the F.D.A. changed that. They should now be called “U.S. They should now be labeled “U.S. olive oil” for a refined olive oil/virgin olive oils blend or “U.S. refined olive oil (for pure, unrefined oil).

And… “made in Italy”? Here is where E.U. Here is where E.U. regulations really fail. It is possible to send olive oil to Italy and mix it with a small amount of Italian oil. The oil then can be sold as an Italian or local product.

Oils that are D.O.C. will help you avoid this and ensure that you’re getting the best local oil. D.O.P. (statuses conferred upon local goods to preserve their purity) or that are directly from small producers (like the ones you can buy at an Agriturismo or Farm Market).

Why would you “taste” olive oils? This is a great question, especially when you are referring to the poor quality, mass-produced oil that most people are familiar with. Do you want to try one more cup of this oil? You’re not welcome!

You will start to notice why olive oil tastings appeal when you concentrate on extra-virgin, local olive oils. Every oil is different in taste, smell, color, and texture. Olive oil tastings can be just as enjoyable as wine and cheese tastings.

How would you describe olive oil? Similar to wine. In a small glass, add about one tablespoon of oil. To get the best results, swirl the oil around in a small glass. Next, place your hand on the top to release the aroma. Finally, take a deep breath and inhale the scent. Take a sip and let some air in your mouth. This allows the oil to spread around your mouth. Then swallow. Take a moment to notice the flavors and smells, as well as how bitter or pungent it is.

Have you found an olive oil that you love? What now? Now you have a great bottle of extra-virgin olive oil. Great!

First, olive oil is not wine and aging is not good for it. Look for the “vintage” year on a bottle you purchase. You should consume it within two years. Pliny, our friend, is more strict: “It’s not with olive oil like it is with wine,” he wrote.

You won’t want it to be used for frying or sauteing. Gillian Riley, a food expert, says it’s like “freshening up the kitchen sink with Chanel No. 5. Use less expensive oils for your everyday cooking needs. You should use a top oil in dishes where it is actually tasted: as a dressing on salad, with or without vinegar, or on hot dishes right before serving. This allows the oil’s aroma to release.