International Cooking School

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

The history of the olive tree can be traced back more than 6,000 years to Asia Minor. So beloved is this tree, that it is embraced by many cultures and religions, often referred to in the Bible, the Talmud, Greek mythology and Persian and Indian poems. Olio Extravergine d'Oliva represented prosperity, joy, friendship, and for some time only the wealthy could afford this precious commodity. Atheletes massaged and toned their muscles with olive oil before competition, with olive leaf laurels part of the winner's prize. The Etruscans and Romans were so fond of the olive tree and its fruits, they planted huge groves from the North, in Provence, to the South, the tip of Italy's boot.

From ancient Palestine to Crete and Greece, through the Aegean Islands to the Mediterranean Basin, olives became a major crop with its fruit providing food, its oil providing light, its branches carved into bowls and utensils and its trunk providing furniture and shelter. Today, each hosting country utilizes the evolution of the olive tree and its components in its own way. In Italy, not only do we cook with extra-virgin olive oils in all types of recipes, we also use olive oil in soap, body lotions, massage oils and shampoos - it's goodness is part of our daily life. Allegorically and practically, the entire olive tree continues to be a source of illumination for its therapeutic and nutritional qualities. Many olive trees live much longer than any of us!

Every Italian region grows specific olive varieties conducive to local climate and soil, giving the resulting oil its distinctive character and acid content, quite different from other Mediterranean countries' oils. Some olive oils are good for light salad dressings and baking, some for main dishes, some for finishing dishes as the sauce. Being one of Italy's major breadbaskets dating back to Roman times, Emilia-Romagna produces extra-virgin olive oil in the Romagna area that remains superb for cooking and blends deliciously well with our fresh local vegetables enhancing their flavors.

What an added bonus that olive oil is so good for our health! Being about 79% monosaturated which lowers the harmful LDL cholesterol, while maintaining the level of beneficial HDL cholesterol, olive oil can reduce the risk of artery blockage and gastric acidity, stimulates the metabolism and promotes normal bone growth in young children. Extra-virgin olive oil contains carotene, chlorophyll, lecithin, oleic, linoleic and arachidonic acids, Vitamins A and D and other antioxidants needed for maintaining health.