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Olive Oil, Seattle, WA, February 28, 2004 — Olive Oil is a funny thing to me. We grew up with it in the house but I don't know that it occupied a particularly special place in our pantry. I seem to remember us having one of those super big gold colored square metal containers filled with it. My dad would use it when he was cooking Italian food. I remember the garlic shimmering in the greenish olive oil, sautéing slowly. We would also dribble it over tomato slices followed by balsamic vinegar. Later we would also pour a bit onto plates of chummus and baba ghanoush. Yummy.

I only really started understanding what was interesting to me about olive oil after I spent a year living on a farm in Israel. The eating pattern is very different. The big meal of the day is lunch. Breakfast and dinner are very similar if not identical. Dairy products, eggs, chummus, baba ghannoush, pitas, and of course an Israeli salad. The basic version is: diced cucumbers and tomatoes with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil. Truly perfect. The fresh vegetables from the farm didn't hurt either.

Up until my time in Israel Olive Oil seemed lighter than a traditional vegetable oil, but it didn't really have any strong flavor I could discern. Not so with the olive oil in Israel (and in the middle east in general). Almost all the olive oil I've ever tasted from Israel, Lebanon, Syria, etc. have had a really strong but pleasant olive flavor. And for those who have an aversion to olives, while the flavor is strong, it's still somehow mild. It really adds something to cooking that is altogether different than the comparatively "pale" olive oils I've tasted from Italy, Spain, and California. More recently I've come to appreciate the extra light olive oils of Italy for use in dressing dishes right before they're served. I guess I really think of them as two separate experiences - one a deep flavor foundation for dishes, the other a glossy accent. Both good.

With that short history for context, DebDu and Peyman decided to host an Olive Oil Tasting. Very cool. They gathered a whole bunch of Olive Oils and set them up so we could taste each one. First up was Mishelanu made in the Galillee of Israel. This extra Virgin Olive Oil had a beautiful yellow color. It was nice and olivey. Really light and delicious. Lauren felt it had an odd flavor, almost meaty. Trampetti Olio, Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Super light. Something I'd like to try on super delicate noodles. But a bit of a burn on the finish. A touch sweet. Castelas, Huile d'Olive, Verge Extra, De La Vallee Des Baux De Provence, Provence France. Grassy flavor, slightly bitter. (I didn't like this one much but everyone else did). Medi Terranea, Getsemani, Extra Virgin Olive Oil - really not that flavorful at all. No substance. Olio Extravergine Di Oliva "Pianogrillo". This stuff was sweet at first and then a horrible burn on the finish. Terrible. Casa Brina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, was a flavor vaccuum. Just nothing. Like a black hole. Badia a Coltibuono, Extra Virgin Olive Oil - plain flavor, burns like hell on the finish.

Not a bad start on our olive oil journey. More work to do. There are thousands to try.


     
     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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