Learning the secrets of olive oil
I can’t imagine life without olive oil. I use it in everything. Not just salads and frying. I have even been known to dribble it on a fruit salad.
By olive oil, of course I mean extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed. This means the olives have simply been pressed very hard to extract the oil in the traditional way. No heat or water has been used to help this along, which affects the flavour.
Which olive? There are over 260 olive varieties grown in Spain, though few of these are used for olive oil. I don’t really have a favourite – there are so many good ones out there – but if I had to choose a good all-rounder, I’d go for oil from the Arbequina olive from Catalunya and Mallorca or the Picual olive from Andalucía.
Long ago, in my grandmother’s day, the olives were picked and kept in sacks outside the houses for collection by the guy from the local co-operative. My grandmother would then take her container to the co-operative to fill up with olive oil when she needed it. You can still do this in rural Spain in Winter time.
My grandmother would be bemused by the current fashion for using different oils for frying, dressings, drizzling etc. I suppose I am no different. I grew up using the same cold-pressed local extra virgin oil for everything. And now, as a chef, I have the luxury of being able to buy it in quantity, so it doesn’t work out too expensive for me.
You too can save money by buying in quantity, as long as you remember that it will not stay fresh for more than a year. Of course, you can always use a cheaper, lighter oil for frying, if you wish, but I recommend that you are not too mean with the extra virgin. My advice is to find one that you like and can afford to use on a daily basis, not just for when you have guests.