The growing awareness of the healthy attributes of extra virgin olive oil and the increasing importance of quality has led to a number of interesting books, articles and web sites over the last few years. Here are references to some of them.
The latest to join the list is the very successful Extra Virginity, by Tom Mueller (2012: Atlantic in the UK, Norton in the US). Tom wrote a very revealing piece in The New Yorker a few years ago about the olive oil industry and its fraudulent practices, and his book (despite the cute title) is more of the same plus much much more: history, interviews with olive growers and oil makers all over the world, health aspects and so on. The sub-title says it all: ‘The sublime and scandalous world of olive oil’. It is very well researched and well worth reading, and it is hard to imagine that it will be bettered for a long while.
Here are two other books that I have enjoyed in English (there are plenty in Italian of course), although they are a little dated now.
- The Feast of the Olive, by Maggie Blyth Klein (1983: Aris Books), deals with some of the history, technology and growing (in Tuscany in particular) but is mainly a compendium of recipes.
- Olives: the Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit, by Mort Rosenblum (1996: North Point Press), has more history and reports from olive-growing countries in the Mediterranean area (and fewer recipes) than Klein’s book. It is an eloquent, sometimes irreverent account of a personal quest to get to the heart of what olives and their oil are all about.
In 2006 Dorling Kindersley published another of their Eyewitness Companions, Olive Oil, by Charles Quest-Ritson. This is beautifully produced and printed (as one would expect from this publisher) and is probably the most comprehensive but compact source of information of all kinds about olive oil: history, health, extraction, tasting and leading producers around the world. If it hasn’t already been updated, it should have been.
There are several annual guides to extra virgin olive oil. The Slow Food movement publishes its Guida agli Extravergini (only in Italian) and the Gambero Rosso puts one out as well.
There is another important guide to olive oils, not just Italian ones, edited by one of Italy’s leading oil experts, Marco Oreggia, and Laura Marinelli, Flos Olei. This not only lists selected producers in the main olive oil-producing countries but also provides a wealth of information on olive growing and oil production. It comes out each year and is bilingual (Italian and English).
Two electronic newsletters published in Italy and containing many articles concerning olive oil are Teatro Naturale (www.teatronaturale.it) and Olio Officina (www.olioofficina.it). The latter (in Italian only) is actually more of a blog, while there is an international version of the former in English (www.teatronaturale.com). They are both the brainchildren of Luigi Caricato, a very experienced writer on and connoisseur of olive oils.
Of course, trawling the internet will bring to the surface many other sources of information on olives and their oil. For example, here are links to a couple of articles that I have written fairly recently, one on olive growing in Syria (which appeared in Teatro Naturale in fact) and the other on olives and oil in Tuscany (which appeared in The Tuscan Scene in 2010).
The following web sites may be of interest. Any suggestions for additional sites are most welcome.
- www.comune.cavriglia.ar.it – Information in Italian about our local municipality.
- www.montegonzi.it – Information, history etc in Italian and English about our local village.
- www.extravirginity.com – Follow-on to Tom Mueller’s book.
- www.officinadeisapori.it – This site is run by the Legambiente, one of Italy’s main ecological NGOs, and deals with more than just olive oil (in Italian).
- www.oliveoilsource.com – This is a very comprehensive California-based site: sales, information, you name it.