Squeeze a ripe olive and oil comes out. Why, then, is it so difficult to find extra virgin olive oil? From the moment an olive tree is planted, the farmer fights for choice fruit. Provided a farmer can reach harvest season without a detrimental amount of pests, inclement weather, birds and possibly passersby from spoiling their crops, it’s time for olive picking.
One olive, were it to provide enough oil for a bottle, would be easy enough to manage. The sprint from tree to bottle is a race against the opponents of heat, air, light and time. As in any race, preparation is key.
Deciding on a harvest day and time with the Miller is important for a number of reasons. Defects can materialize in perfect fruit in little time.
Olives waiting on the line of fruit ahead of them can begin to ferment within (anaerobic fermentation), creating fustiness in the oil which smells like a swamp or barnyard.
Wet olives can begin to grow mold if waiting too long to mill, creating a musty flavor like old damp clothes.
Olives frozen prior to milling can take on an interesting defect that might taste like ripe banana or green apple. This oil may be interesting to the palate, but is not considered extra virgin.
Olives pressed in improperly cleaned mills, where previous bits of pulp begin to oxidize (aerobic fermentation), can create a sour, winey or vinegary scent and taste in the oil.
As time passes, olive oils oxidize. Fat molecules breaking down within the oil are referred to as rancidity. This can create a smell like crayons or acetone.
The oxidation process can be slowed by storing the oil away from heat, light, and air. This keeps the oil’s fourth enemy, time, at bay. However, depending on the quality of the oil when pressed, the time frame to enjoy an extra virgin olive oil can extend to nearly two years. Like everything else, time eventually wins, so enjoy extra virgin olive oil as close to the harvest date as possible.
Olives are a fruit and like fruit juice, olive oil is best enjoyed fresh. The best way to know if you are consuming extra virgin olive oil is to taste it.