I was an olive oil virgin before I learned to love extra-virgin

Where I Eat, Italy: ‘It was the yellow stuff my mother put on her face to keep wrinkles at bay’

 

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I live in Italy, so I’m going to wax lyrical about pizza, pasta and pecorino, right? Wrong! I’m going to sing an aria to that underrated golden elixir that courses through the veins of this leg that still wants its boot to fit. Animal fats just gave it cellulite, so it chose extra-virgin olive oil as its life-blood instead.

It just takes a few drops of good extra-virgin olive oil to transform the blandest dish into something worth licking your moustache for. I’ll never forget the first time my Roman brother-in-law browned some fresh-cut bread on a barbeque, rubbed in some garlic, drizzled them with olive oil and said “mangia (eat)”. I dug my teeth in and was smitten.

Another of those “I remember where I was when…” moments happened when I first tasted freshly pressed olive oil over a salad. It was sublime.

I’m afraid I was an olive oil virgin before I learned to love extra-virgin olive oil. It was always that yellow stuff in the bathroom cabinet that my mother would put on her face at night to keep the wrinkles at bay. I’ve lost my virginity, and my mother still has great skin at 83.

The quality of course is of paramount importance, on the principle that the more flavourful it is, the less you need to get that flavour. It’s desperately unfair that the “good” fat calories in olive oil are just as calorific as “bold” fat calories.

Since moving to Marche in Pesaro more than 20 years ago, I’ve learned that olives may grow equal, but olive oil isn’t. If you don’t collect your olives at just the right degree of maturity and get them pressed at the local olive mill that very day, you lose a lot of the properties that make it special. A lot of people here in Pesaro have their olive groves in the surrounding countryside. Meetings or get-togethers can be called off at the last minute throughout October or November, if they have to harvest the olives. These slights are obviously forgiven when you get a bottle of the yellow stuff as a present.

We’re in the middle of the harvesting season now, so it’s a great time to pay a visit to nearby Cartoceto and indulge in some tagliatelle with their fabulous olive oil, or go down to visit friends in Loreto Aprunito in the Abruzzi for a bowl of chickpeas and a plate of roast beef and spuds, enlivened with a few drops of that golden yumminess.

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