A gift of sacred values

Olive oil, the soul of the Mediterranean

A gift of sacred values
Olive oil and olive branch on black background

A gift of sacred values

Olive oil and olive branch on black background

A gift of sacred values

A gift of sacred values

«Fiat lux» and the olive tree was. It does not seem blasphemous to paraphrase the Bible when speaking of the tree that, for the Mediterranean, has a sacred value: with the vine, wine and wheat, it constitutes the vital triad of the people who look out over the sea «crowned» by the Alps. The origins of this plant, which is the alpha and omega of mankind’s existence (the symbol of baptism and final anointing are taken from the olive tree, and, moreover, Christ means for one to be anointed by God), and is capable of assisting history, venerated as the totem of peace and wisdom. Today we are certain of what the ancients, from the Egyptians onwards, had guessed: it is the first ingredient of human life. In the U.S., the strict FDA has approved a qualified health claim for extra virgin olive oil, recognising its medical effects, although the much debated and questionable Nutri-score, the traffic light label that Europe would like to adopt, considers it merely a fat. This is a nutritional mistake, since the extra virgin oil is very benificial: very rich in vitamin A and E, it has a dose of mono and polyunsaturated fats that alone can substitute the amount of animal protein with the advantage of not providing «bad» cholesterol, but above all it is rich in antioxidants, allies of the heart and has a function that lubricates the cells. In addition, it is delicious and if one learns to recognize it and consider it in cooking, not as a condiment, but as an ingredient, it gives dishes an aroma and taste of the highest gastronomic profile. Like wine, the taste nuances change according to the variety of olives used for its production. But the gifts of the olive tree to mankind go beyond the kitchen or the table. It is said - in ancient mythology - that this century-defying plant (in Puglia, Sardinia, Umbria and Tuscany there are trees that date back over 4,000 years, in Giano dell’Umbria there is an olive tree that likely dates back to the eighth century, in Assisi the olive tree still thrives in the shade of which St. Francis of Assisi prayed and it is no coincidence that his symbol, the «T», is carved from olive wood) was donated by Athena to the men in a race which Zeus, the king of Olympus, had summoned between the gods to determine who would offer the greatest benefit to humanity. Poseidon, king of the sea, desired to donate a very strong horse, Athena appeared with a small plant with silver leaves, and explained that mankind would draw nourishment, light and medicine from it. So Zeus determined that this was the symbol of peace and allowed Athena to establish a new city that would spread wisdom in the world: Athens. If you visit Volterra in Tuscany, at the Guarnacci Museum (not to be missed) you’ll find very delicate glass ampoules (at least 27 centuries old!) where the Etruscan women, the most charming of the ancient world, stored their olive oil based ointments in order to have extremely soft skin and goddess-like perfumes. And even today, olive oil-based cosmetics are the most natural. In the archaeological museum in Rome, you will discover that gladiators would usually anoint their bodies with oil to protect and heal their wounds, and in Andria, Puglia, we can see that the oil was always used for making light. Everyone is aware that Noah was assured of the end of the flood, and therefore of divine forgiveness, when a dove returning to the Ark carried an olive branch in its beak. Perhaps for this reason it is the tree that defines the landscape from Greece to Provence, from Andalusia to Morocco, from Sicily to the lakes of northern Italy, so much so that the olive groves that run in Umbria from Assisi to Spoleto (70 seamless kilometers of ancient olive trees) is a nominee for a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But also in Ticino the olive tree is back. There are now almost 8 thousand of them in the Canton and they produce 200 tons of extra virgin olive oil (in Italy they produce at least 30.000 tons!), but above all they are used as ornamental plants because of their infinite significance. So today, to offer an extra virgin olive oil is to offer the soul of the Mediterranean, but also the deep roots of our civilization. We know that the best (and rarest) extra virgin olive oils in the world come from Italy, where more than 360 olive varieties are still preserved and grown. These range from the Ligurian Taggiasca, which produces light and almost minty-scented oils, perfect for fish, to those from the lakes such as Garda, and the Favarol and Rossanel olives that are sweet. There are also oils such as Brisighello from the Ghiaccia variety, with a clover flavor, the enchanting and spicy Moraiolo from Umbria, the Tuscan mix of Frantoio, Leccino and Moraiolo, which has an intense flavor. Plus fruity oils such as those from the Marche, including the Mignola and Oliva dolce ascolana. It’s easy to go down to Puglia, where the Coratina gives the extra virgin olive oils with the greatest amount of polyphenols. Not to mention the oils of the Cilento philosophers made from Pisciottana olives, or the Sicilian fragrant Biancolilla oil, or the Sardinian oil made from the Nera di Oliena, which is almost salty. The world of oils is like that of the great wines, it deserves just as much dedication, just as much passion: year after year, one learns to taste the oils, to pair them with dishes, or to preserve them in crystal bottles or in artist’s amphorae. And there is someone like Matteo Frescobaldi, the heir to the noble Tuscan winery, who has made extra-virgin olive oil a worldwide must-have. An oil like this can cost as much as $150 per litre in New York, but it represents an investment in health.

The 12 apostles of extra virgin olive oil 1) Laudemio Marchesi di Frescobaldi, possibly the most luxurious in Italy, 2) Marfuga Umbria Riserva, a world champion, 3) Casa Gola, the best pure Moraiolo, 4) Colline di Zenone, grown on century-old trees in Zeno’s homeland, 5) Il Palagio, as harmonious as a song by its producer, Sting, 6) Gabrielloni, from the Marche region of the highest quality, 7) Terra di Brisighella, from very rare olives, 8) Frantoio Muraglia, in artist’s bottles, 9) Magihouse - Valle dell’Inferno, rare oil that Ulysses would have liked, 10) Masoni Becciu - Ispiritu Sardu, of absolute value, 11) Turri, the best oil of Garda, 12) Raineri, not to be missed made from Taggiasca olives

A gift of sacred values
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