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Steven’s thoughts on olive oil, vinegars, food and travel.

THE THING ABOUT EARLY HARVEST OLIVE OIL

Did you know there are styles of olive oil? Big and bold? Yes, most certainly. Gentle? Sweet? Yes, most certainly again.

Big and bold is one thing. Gentle is a legitimate other. But ’sweet’? French people who love Provençale and Languedoc olive oils are catered to by the producers of the French style of olive oil, and they are not the only ones inured to this demonstrably ‘sweet’ style. Sweet olive oil is the result of ripe olives, olives that are purple and black when they are removed from the tree. This is a conscious choice by the grove owner and miller. This is their style. They and their customers are perfectly comfortable with this style of olive oil. Most of them are not even aware that theirs IS a style, nor that harvest time is worth dithering about, that it even makes a difference. Little do they know or appreciate that this difference actually makes ALL the difference in the world. 

But it breaks my heart to not be offering a Provençale oil, or one of a couple of splendid ones from Languecdoc. Not all of them are late-harvests. I can get my hands on killer early-harvest French oil. But, egad, are they expensive. Puts me right off my feedbag. Doesn’t sit well with me. We will likely relent. But not yet. 

It should be known by you Olive Oil Jones people that late harvest olive oil is vastly more plentiful than early harvest olive oil. A ripe olive yields roughly twice and often three times the oil derived from an underripe green olive. The choice and convention of so many olive oil producers for late harvest olives from purplish-black olives is largely one of economics. The more olive oil they produce, the more money they make. Duh. Thus they proceed. So they believe, and indeed in most cases from most groves, this is a fact. And again, this late harvest olive oil is the olive oil they have always and only known, those producers, and those customers — this is the olive oil they were raised on. 

Many, many people who use olive oil, again, not just the French, people from everywhere, within and without the Mediterranean Basin, have a preference for ‘sweet’ olive oil as opposed to spicy, peppery, slightly bitter olive oil. I am sure almost all of them have never even thought about it. 

We have. We think you have. And if you haven’t, it is high time you did.

Welcome to Olive Oil Jones. Again.

Late harvest olive oil is defined by a distinct absence of pepperiness, spiciness. It has none of the incipient, slight bitterness of an early harvest oil. The absence of these characteristics doesn’t mean ‘sweet’ olive oil is bad, or even ‘less good’. It does mean the olive oil has low or barely measurable levels of phenols, mainly the polyphenols, the properties of which are directly associated with health.  Within a week or ten days FROM THE START of the fade from green and beige, ripening silently into the reds and browns, and past them and into the lovely though ominous purples and blacks, the phenol levels do not merely recede. They drop like a rock — like a diver drops off of that three-meter diving platform. And it is those blessed polyphenols that provide the antioxidant benefit, the medical justice warrior that has helped make olive oil such a gastronomic super-hero. The highly celebrated and publicized Ancel Keys-dedicated Mediterranean Diet is predicated and defined by the antioxidant content of olive oil.

So it is that early harvest olive oil has long been established as the reason the Mediterranean Diet has achieved and held onto the honor of global common knowledge to wit: ‘how to live the longest life with the least incidence of illness’.

That’s quite an achievement.

But Olive Oil Jones is not so obsessed with, nor is our biz about, the health angle of olive oil. 

It is a given that you must, or should, consume a minimum of 9 grams of fat per day. Which fat you choose to achieve that level of consumption IS, on the other hand, of utmost importance.

It can come from all sorts of food. Food that’s good for you and not so good for you, and food that is downright BAD for you.

The fat you use to cook with, to dress food with, is to our way of thinking one of the most joyous conundrums in this life. You don’t want to be fat, but you have got to have fat! Which to employ? We love bacon fat and lard. Animal fat is one choice. Duck fat. Schmaltz, the fat from chickens. Butter. Who doesn’t love butter!

Olive Oil Jones loves all kinds of fat. No question about it. But we really love olive oil. We love olive oil more than lard, more than butter. We love it more because as angel goddess Patience Gray said, rest her soul, ‘Olive oil conveys a fine flavor to all the food it touches’. Olive oil is the only fat that amplifies the flavors in food, and if there is one thing you can say about me is that I am a graduate and tenured professor of the More Is Better school. 

Olive oil results in more flavor. It is that slight, incipient (love that word!), brilliant touch of bitterness that is the springboard for that triple-reverse twisting double-flip swan dive-entry, the amplification of flavor. 

Sweet olive oil does not provide that diving board. If those ripe olives were harvested and milled properly and promptly without having lain around as is so often the ignorant, dastardly practice, the resultant sweet olive oil will at least have fragrances that are compelling. But those fragrances are a lie. They merely obfuscate the truth. They mask it. Sweet olive is the emperor who has no clothes. 

Sweet olive oil lies on food like a side of lox. 

It serves no purpose other than to grease things up.

This is harsh, and it’s going to make a lot of people mad. But it’s time somebody told you. You see, the international olive oil biz floats upon on the the ocean of olive oil that is produced every year from October to February, and the months in-between that are almost as important as the seasonal harvesting and milling. If the worldwide audience for olive oil began to insist upon nothing but early harvest olive oil the industry would implode.