[ March 28, 2005 ]
Mastri Oleari: Olive Oil Masters
In Italy, the production and consumption of olive oil is deeply rooted in the country’s culture. Age-old, this know-how is jealously guarded and preserved so that it may be passed down to future generations by the Corporazione dei Mastri Oleari (CMO)—corporation of olive oil masters—whose president we met with during his passage at the MONTREAL HIGH LIGHTS Festival.

With his happy-go-lucky expression and great big smile, Flavio Zaramella, President of the CMO, places us within his context: “As I see it, protecting the production of high-quality olive oils is, above all, the responsibility of citizens,” states Mr. Zaramella with the utmost of passion—a passion he shares with the other olive oil masters accompanying him. The word “quality” is something to be taken very seriously. “Olive oil is more than just a condiment,” explains Mr. Zaramella. “It is key to maintaining good health… when it is properly made.”

Eating for one’s health, and one’s pleasure!

The quality of the final product depends greatly upon the method of production that is used. The traditional method—which does not exclude the use of certain modern-day technologies—requires that olives be hand picked at precisely the right moment, that they be pressed immediately (to prevent them from fermenting) using a mechanical cold-pressing process to ensure that all organoleptic and chemical properties are preserved. This procedure ensures that the resulting olive oil is rich, notably in chlorophyll and carotene which confers the product its colour, in polyphenols which give the oil its slightly bitter taste and a light astringency which are synonymous with quality, and in Vitamin E, the latter two being high in antioxidants. “This is the only way to produce an oil that can be enjoyed both for its flavour and its health benefits,” insists Mr. Zaramella!

The CMO—a guarantee of quality for consumers?

This corporation was established in 1984 out of the desire of several producers and other olive oil professionals to represent and preserve what is synonymous with the highest quality in olive oils. Today, there is a charter that governs the organization and its 100 members are selected according to very strict standards. Members include producers as well as journalists, university researchers, marketing and communication consultants, etc. “Not just anybody can become an olive oil master,” states Mr. Zaramella. In fact, in addition to having their olive oil tasted and chemically analyzed, candidates will be evaluated in terms of their commercial and producer morality. Not only must products be of the highest quality, it is important to ensure that candidates have never violated the ethics of their profession!

“This is precisely why, as a consumer, you look for the Mastri Oleari lion on the bottle of olive oil you wish to purchase. This way, you can rest assured that you are buying an oil of the highest quality,” states the President.

Time for tasting!

Before this mosaic of aromas, flavours and textures that constitutes the world of olive oils, it is not always easy to choose! There are specific olive-oil tasting techniques that can be learned. Here are a few tips from Alfredo Mancianti, olive oil tasting professional, for properly indulging in this palate-pleasing exercise:

- Pour the green gold into a small glass (with no stem if possible)

- Examine the oil’s colour, sheen and density

- Warm the oil in your hands (ideally at 28°C)

- Try and capture all of the aromas using a very special technique:
use each nostril separately before using them together (this helps enhance your sense of smell)

- Place the oil in your mouth and proceed with retro-olfaction—
while keeping the oil in your mouth, take a strong breath to enhance taste while being attentive to reaching a certain point of bitterness, synonymous with a high-quality oil (presence of polyphenols)

- Slowly swirl the oil in your mouth to sense its consistency, density and viscosity

- Lastly, swallow the oil while focusing on the tingling sensation that a good olive oil procures to the throat (presence of Vitamin E)

Mastri Olearis are scattered throughout Italy, but, together, have certainly left us with the desire to discover more about the wonderful world of olive oils!

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Trade Promotion Section of the Consulate General of Italy