Thursday, June 28, 2007

Amelia Oil at the Dundarave Farmers' Market

Our latest shipment of olive oil has arrived and we are going to be at the Dundarave Farmers' Market in West Vancouver this Saturday from 10am-4pm. This is our last shipment this year so please stock up before we sell out. We are also now accepting orders for 2008 extra virgin olive oil. This year I will be filling the bottles myself in Italy and our shipment should arrive in Canada for January 2008.

Please come by and try our oil. See you at the market.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

The Olive Gazette

I have really enjoyed getting reader comments the past few weeks. I was starting to think I was writing just for my own entertainment.

In particular, I have found Henry Mackay's comments stimulating and well-informed. Mackay is an olive oil producer in Jaen, Spain who writes a very interesting blog called the Olive Oil Gazette. Topics on this blog range from current prices and futures of olive oil to the various awards handed out by international committees.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Olive oil that is too cheap

When olive oil is too cheap I usually suspect that there are one of two things going on. First, I imagine the consumer is getting a raw deal. Usually cheap oil means that quality is compromised and what you think you are buying is not really what is in the bottle. Second, perhaps the producers are being forced to sell at a rate that is lower than their production cost. This sometimes happens when big olive oil companies get involved and monopolise international markets. I personally see this as the death of small-scale olive oil production in the Mediterranean.

If you are buying very inexpensive olive oil, you should expect to get what you pay for, which is usually not much. I am aware that different types of cooking require different types of oil; however, there is really no way I would ever consume 'lampante' or 'olive oil' grade. In fact, many consider these grades of olive oil unfit for human consumption. When the Romans said "caveat emptor" I think they were talking about buying olive oil. What can you do to ensure you are buying quality oil? First of all, read the label carefully and look for signs of fraud. Check that your oil is extra virgin (if that is what you are after), that it has a specific and identifiable origin and there should be a 'best by' date. Although these indications are a start they do not always ensure a high-quality product. I would even suggest checking on the Internet to find out more about the producer and distributor.

That said, I do not think that good quality extra virgin olive oil should be available exclusively to the privileged. There is lots of over-priced olive oil out there on specialty food store shelves. I will have more to say on that topic in the future...

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

More thoughts on fair-trade olive oil

It is the consumer's right to know how the product they are purchasing is produced; this goes for olive oil as well. When you buy a bottle of olive oil at the supermarket there is little indication on the bottle or the shelf of how the oil was produced or about who did all the work to turn olives into oil. Making olive oil is a year-long agricultural process that requires the attention of farmers, extra labour for harvesting and pruning as well as the people working in the mill.

Although there are few issues around fair trade in Italy it is something that needs to be considered nonetheless. Are farms getting their fair share of the profits? This is particularly important for small-scale farmers who have a hard time competing in the global market. When my mother and I started to import olive oil from Italy we wanted to make sure we were giving back to local communities and encouraging the continuation of agricultural practices and traditions.

Buying direct from the producer and selling direct to the client is one way in which we keep the cost of our oil reasonable. However, quality comes from careful labour, passion and expertise, which have their price. Generally these are not values espoused by industrial production.

As you may know, I am not a big fan of certifications and although Amelia Oil may not be certified fair trade, we are proud to be a part of sustainable, local agriculture in Italy.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fair-trade olive oil from Palestine

As I was researching the Mediterranean and Palestine, I came across this site. Zaytoun is fair-trade Palestinian olive oil. It is an attempt to help Palestinian farmers reach the marketplace and continue their cultivation of olives: "Resisting the occupation by insisting on life."

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ship coming in

We have just been notified that our shipment of olive oil will be arriving in a few days. We will be sending out a notification to everyone on our mailing list. If you aren't on the list, please sign up on the side bar of this blog. If you would like to secure your supply of oil please place an order on our website or call is for more information at 604-925-3028.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007


Another type of olive in Amelia Oil is the moraiolo cultivar (featured above). This cultivar is most common in Umbria, Tuscany, Le Marche and Abruzzo. It is usually cultivated together with the frantoio cultivar. Moraiolo tends to have a grassier taste and balances the fruitiness of the frantoio olives. I personally think it is this olive that gives our oil its 'green' taste. It reminds me of lying down in long grass when I smell it. To really enjoy this grassy, greenness it is best to consume fresh oil that is no older than a year.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Olives - a symbol of peace

Hardly a day goes by without talk of the Middle-East Crisis. This has been a constant throughout my life. This summer I am teaching an ethnography of the Mediterranean course at UBC and as I prepare my syllabus I am looking at different ways I can work olives into my teaching. Olives as food, culture, landscape, a good for trade and barter and as a symbol of peace and discontent.

While reading about the Mediterranean Voices project, I came across this image. These are bottles of olive oil from the Cremisan monastery, whose land was divided by the Separation Wall. Olive trees in Palestine have been hard hit by conflict. In fact, these trees are particularly loaded symbols of not only peace but also ownership and settlement. To plant olive trees is to stake claim to land; olive trees are potent symbols of life, culture and a thriving community. Over the past decades olive trees have been planted and torn out in contested areas of Palestine and Israel.

When will the olive tree return to the Middle East as a symbol of peace?

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Becoming an olive oil sommelier

In September I will be moving back to Italy to teach and do research at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo (picture above), which is associated with Slow Food. This is an amazing place for anyone interested in the history, culture and future of food in the world. Besides teaching an anthropology of food course, I hope to indulge in a little formal learning of my own: I would like to become an olive oil sommelier.

This is something I have been interested in for a few years. As far as I know, there are no courses offered in Canada (surprise, surprise). I looked into a few courses in Italy when I was still living in Umbria but had no idea which were above-board. The problem is there are two serious courses, as far as I can tell. There is a course offered by the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS), whose main focus has traditionally been wine. The other course is offered by the The National Organisation of Olive Oil Tasters (ONAOO), who only specialise in olive oil. Who knew it could be so complicated.

I hope I can find a course that covers the history and culture of olives, as well as the science and art of tasting oil. All I know is there is a big, beautiful world of olives and oil that I want to learn more about.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Cultivars - Frantoio Olives

The various types of olives trees are called cultivars. I think it is interesting that not many olive oils mention what fruit from which plants goes into making oil. Mono-cultivar oils exist but they are quite rare. Most olive oils are made up of a mix of different olives. For example, Amelia Oil is composed of frantoio, leccino, rajo and moraiolo. This is what gives our oil complexity and balance.

Usually the type of cultivar depends on the climate and geographic location of the ulivetto. Typical Umbrian cultivars include: leccino, frantoio, dolce agogia, moraiaolo, rajo and San Felice.

Frantoio (featured in the photo above) is one of the most common cultivars in all of Umbria. It is well suited to hills but adapts easily to different terrain. Frantoio olives give Umbrian oil much of its fruity taste. The olives are quite small but give a substantial yield of oil. Interestingly, all olives start off life green and end up black. The frantoio olives I picked in Amelia were usually just starting to change coulour.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to write more about cultivars and olive trees. Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Olive oil as an anti-inflammatory?

Can olive oil add anti-inflammatory to its list of beneficial properties? A recent article in the New York Times suggests that extra virgin olive oil may inhibit inflammation and this maybe another reason for singing the praises of the Mediterranean diet. Apparently, more research is needed but scientists may be on to something here. Vince, thanks for sending this article my way.

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