It’s that time of year again. And no, I’m not talking about the time to stuff a turkey or deck the halls…rather, I’m talking about the emergence of one of the simplest yet most celebrated Italian culinary events. ‘Tis the season of the olive harvest, and it has descended upon Italy in full swing. Olive groves across the peninsula are harvesting, and many offer visitors an experience to see and gather the fall crop, but the fruits that you’ll pick are virtually inedible for those who like to even slightly enjoy their food. However, they become savory additions to dishes or delicious by themselves when brined and even more celebrated when turned into the star of the Mediterranean diet: oil.
Oil made from olives has played a part on Italy’s culinary stage since before Roman times, when trees brought from Eastern Europe were domesticated by the Etruscans. Today, October and November brings the harvest of over one hundred types of olive trees speckled across the country, and one of the most highly-anticipated products resulting from this harvest is the piquant olio nuovo.
Fresher is Better
Olio nuovo, or new olive oil, is exactly what its name implies. While most of the oil produced during and after the harvest is bottled and shipped for future consumption worldwide, some is sold on the spot, offering a fresh, intense oil, different from that which you might pick up in the grocery store. It is quickly recognizable by its greenish tint (as opposed to its matured version that mellows into a pale yellow), distinct bite, and bright flavor. Like wine, the type of olive used noticeably influences the taste of the product, but unlike wine, flavor dwindles with age. L’olio nuovo va consumato fresco, an Italian might say, “new olive oil is to be consumed fresh,” in order to appreciate the true properties of such a fine product.
The Golden Rule of Italian cuisine has never rang truer when you do get to enjoy this product: simplicity is key. Don’t overdo it. If you are ever lucky enough to acquire a bottle of olio nuovo, use the delectable condiment as just that: a condiment, drizzled over a simple salad, a piece of fish or meat, or toasted bread with little or no additional spice. In addition, since the flavor has not mellowed out and can alter greatly with heat, it’s not advisable to use the oil for cooking. It should be consumed crudo, or “raw,” which allows its bursting natural flavors to shine.
Olio Nuovo: Does a Heart Good
In addition to being delicious, olio nuovo is actually quite nutritious! Virgin olive oil – meaning those not treated with heat and other property-altering treatments – is said to increase your levels of HDL good cholesterol and lower that of the LDL bad cholesterol (the recommended dosage is three tablespoons per day). In addition, it acts as a foundational ingredient in one of the most healthy diets on the planet, the Mediterranean diet. The diet was also recently recognized by UNESCO as a culturally-significant form of eating in the world.
Have you ever had the experience of visiting an olive grove and trying new olive oil? Tell us about it!