I made a breakthrough discovery recently while sauteing Brussels sprouts: All olive oils are not created equal. I know this is a pedestrian observation, but I'd never cooked with super-fresh olive oil until my sister-in-law Holly hustled home a 5-liter can from Italy. That's Holly in the photo above picking olives at her friend Riccardo's orchard in Panicale, Umbria, one of the premier olive oil regions in the world. Riccardo has more than 100 trees and picking olives in November is a life ritual.
“Some olives were green, others were black, some were almost a deep plum color, some were plump and large, other's quite small,” Holly explained. This year's harvest was on the smaller side, according to Riccardo, because olives tend to produce larger harvests on alternating years.
Remarkably, Riccardo's olives are still picked by hand. Pickers spread nets under the trees and use a rake to shake the olives from the branches. Holly says the process is slow but wonderfully meditative, at least until the falling olives bop you on the head. After four days of picking, the olives are pressed, and the oil is back to the table in two weeks. No wonder it tastes so good that it's almost sinful to use it for anything but dipping fresh chunks of bread.
I'm already worrying about my dwindling bottle, but feeling a little better because I've found Olio Tasting Room in Alexandria, Virginia. I discovered Olio's blood-orange EVOO at a friend's dinner party before Christmas and was so impressed that I promptly went online to order holiday gifts. The store has an impressive assortment of olive oils (black truffle, portobello and garlic) and aged balsamics (chocolate raspberry, Persian lime). Click here to check out your choices.
Diane used the blood orange EVOO and pomegranate balsamic for a “Harvest Salad with Pears, Blue Cheese and Pomegranates” recipe from the “Wine Lover's Cookbook.” She mixed a little of the blood orange oil with regular EVOO, turning the salad into a standout start for a delicious meal.