“An authentic, extra-virgin olive oil is full of flavor, like a fine wine,” says Tonio Creanza, whose family has been harvesting olives in southern Italy’s Puglia region—which produces more olive oil than anywhere else in Italy—for six generations.
Each November, Creanza gathers volunteers from around the globe to help harvest his family’s 700 olive trees as well as partake in the celebration that accompanies it. At his family home in Altamura, a small, ancient city on Puglia’s Murge plateau where olive trees grow seemingly by the thousands, glass jars filled with Famiglia Creanza olive oil take up prime kitchen real estate beside bowls of homemade orecchiette pasta and hearty slices of fresh bread. It is both the product of hard work and a symbol of great pride, as it should be.
Once you see what goes into producing a bottle of authentic extra-virgin olive oil—and then tasting the results—there is really no going back.
Olive harvesting is back-breaking work. Creanza and his volunteers rise at dawn to drive out to the orchards, laying massive nets beneath each to catch the olives before removing them with pneumatic rakes and by hand.
They move meticulously down each orchard’s often misaligned rows, careful not to step on any of the fallen olives while removing as many stems, leaves, and branches as possible from each net before gathering them up and pouring their bounty into crates. Once the sun descends and most every crate is full, it’s off to the press for the extraction of olive oil.
Creanza is the founder of Messors, an organization that runs workshops in—among other things—the culinary wonders of Italy’s Puglia region, and he has made it part of his mission to help educate others on the benefits of consuming extra-virgin olive oil. While he’s not a scientist, Creanza has done plenty of research on these benefits and has more than four decades working in the fields.
“Authentic EVOO,” he says, “is made without the use of chemicals and industrial refining. Therefore, it’s the olive varietals, the terroir where they grow, and the countless decisions and production practices of a dedicated producer that influence the oil’s overall quality and taste.” For Famiglia Creanza, this means an extra-virgin olive oil with hints of pomegranate, quince, figs, and green apple. However, says Creanza, any olive oil without defects should taste of things like grass, fruit, and almond.
“You can also sometimes smell vanilla due to the overall flavor combination,” he says. Still, if you simply walk into a supermarket and choose the cheapest bottle of olive oil off the shelf, chances are you’ll walk away with a bland, doctored oil sporting none of the qualities—such as antioxidants (recognizable by the burning effect on your throat when tasted properly)—that a real EVOO provides.
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