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Exploring Extra Virgin Olive Oil

By Amy Lively Jensen

Although I use olive oil frequently, I hadn’t thought about its health benefits, where to find the finest olive oil, and the best way to taste it. Researching and sampling olive oil was definitely a pleasure. What struck me immediately was that olive oil is labeled a “superfood.” I discovered the proof of this designation. A recent study by Harvard University revealed that people with the highest use of olive oil consumption had a 19% lower risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, this sample of men and women who were studied over 25 years, had a 17% lower risk of cancer deaths; 29% lower risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease; and an 18% lower risk of respiratory mortality. What extraordinary benefits! You may reap these rewards from just a tablespoon of olive oil per day.

There are nutritional benefits as well. Olive oil is an excellent source of healthy fats. It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which help to reduce bad cholesterol levels and promote heart health. It is also high in antioxidants, which help to protect the body from free radical damage. Olive oil is also rich in vitamins and minerals. It contains vitamins A, D, and E, as well as potassium, calcium, and iron. These nutrients help to support healthy bones, skin, and hair.

For the benefits and flavor, it has gotten so popular that it is being used in unusual ways. The New York Times reported that five olive oil infused beverages were debuted in Italy recently. There was a steady stream of customers in Milan; a favorite was the golden foam olive oil espresso martini. The Italian Association of the Edible Oil Industry said: “olive oil has migrated from the salad bowl to more innovative uses, including ‘oil dream,’ a cocktail using grapefruit and olive oil which is expected to be presented this year.

When buying extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), it's important to make sure you're getting the real thing. The best way to do this is to look for the seal of the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC). This seal indicates that the oil has been tested and approved by the IOOC as genuine Sicilian olive oil. For the freshest olive oil, look for the harvest date; it should be the present year. Unlike your wine, olive oil does not get better with age. You should also keep it away from excessive heat and light, as that can turn your olive oil rancid.

So where do you find the best olive oil in the world? The island of Sicily is at the top of the list; their unique climate and soil composition create an exceptional flavor. For 5,000 years Sicilians have been producing olive oil, and the location is ideal for growing the highest quality olives. These olives are harvested in late autumn and early winter. Then they are cold pressed to extract the oil, followed by filtering and bottling. In recent years, the quality and quantity of Sicilian olive oil have increased dramatically due to advances in technology and farming methods.

Sicily’s largest producer of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the family-owned company Bono. They make 70% of all the olive oil that comes from Sicily. Fifteen thousand tons of olives are utilized yearly to create their award-winning oil. Bono’s 90 honors since 1995 include Gold Medals in 2021 and 2022 at the New York International Olive Oil competition. The Bono family started the business in 1934 and continued it through the generations by master olive oil producers.

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What distinguishes Bono olive oil from others? According to President and CEO of Bono USA Salvatore Russo-Tiesi, “Bono is proud to boast one of the most prestigious and awarded extra virgin olive oils in the world. The climate and microclimate of Sicily allows for the growth of very special olives, notably the Biancolilla, Cerasuola, and Nocellara olives, which together blend to make a distinguished olive oil. Furthermore, our products carry PDO (Protected designation of origin) and PGI Certification (Protected geographical indication), which are rigorous standards that must be abided by to attain the certifications.”
Before I started the tasting of Bono EVOO, I needed to know how experts taste it. No bread or any other food should accompany your oils so you can get the true flavor.

According to the California Olive Oil Council, the four S’s are key:
Swirl —this releases the oil’s aroma molecules. Keep the oil covered until ready to sniff.
Sniff —uncover the oil and quickly inhale from the rim of the glass. Take note of the intensity and the characteristics of the aroma.
Slurp —take a small sip of the oil while also “sipping” some air. This slurping action emulsifies the oil and helps to spread it throughout your mouth.
Swallow—an oil’s pungency is judged by a sensation in your throat, so you must swallow at least a small amount to thoroughly evaluate it. If the oil makes your throat scratchy or makes you want to cough, it is a pungent oil.

If tasting a series of oils, be prepared to clean your palate between tastes with a bite of green apple (preferably Granny Smith) followed by either still or sparkling water.

Armed with this knowledge, I was ready for the experience. The Chicago Wine Press tasting panel evaluated three Bono extra virgin olive oils. The lightest was Val di Mazara PDO olive oil; it was very smooth, tasting of fresh grass with a peppery finish. The spiciest was Sicilia PGI. It was more robust and intense, with a pungency in the throat. We made a balsamic and Dijon vinaigrette with this spicy oil resulting in a zestier, more complex dressing than usual. The panel’s favorite was Bono’s Italian Organic Unfiltered EVOO. It was fruitier with an herbaceous finish. We noted good viscosity on the tongue. We also perceived that all the Bono Olive oils had pure and clean olive flavors rarely noticed in other oils. This made for a memorable experience.

As Bono’s president concludes: “Good oil is never an extravagance. It’s always a necessity.”

Look no further than the distinctive olive oil from Sicily to add a bold and intense flavor to your cooking. Sicilian olive oil is a must-have in any kitchen.

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