Title: Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil
Author: Tom Mueller
Publisher: W. W. Norton Company
Release Date: January 1st, 2011
Length: 238 pages | 10 hours 13 minutes
Source: Borrowed from my local library
For millennia, fresh olive oil has been one of life’s necessities-not just as food but also as medicine, a beauty aid, and a vital element of religious ritual. Today’s researchers are continuing to confirm the remarkable, life-giving properties of true extra-virgin, and “extra-virgin Italian” has become the highest standard of quality.
But what if this symbol of purity has become deeply corrupt? Starting with an explosive article in The New Yorker, Tom Mueller has become the world’s expert on olive oil and olive oil fraud-a story of globalization, deception, and crime in the food industry from ancient times to the present, and a powerful indictment of today’s lax protections against fake and even toxic food products in the United States. A rich and deliciously readable narrative, Extra Virginity is also an inspiring account of the artisanal producers, chemical analysts, chefs, and food activists who are defending the extraordinary oils that truly deserve the name “extra-virgin.”
My sis-in-law, Wendy, recommended this book and I’m so glad she did. This is a fascinating read, filled with real-life characters (historic and modern) from across the olive oil production chain, history and mythology as pertains to olive oil, and the science behind why extra virgin olive oil is so good for your health. I was fully engaged from start to finish (a rarity for me, with nonfiction) and found myself looking up Tom Mueller’s website afterward, wanting to get even more.
The only thing that felt missing from this book was help for the consumer in distinguishing between real extra virgin olive oil, and the mislabeled/doctored stuff. There are hints (it should taste a bit bitter, a bit peppery, and have a distinctive, green “fruity” olive flavor) but when you know that the odds are against you actually getting what’s labeled on the bottle, it’d be nice to feel more empowered as a consumer to fight the rampant fraud in the industry. There was a bit of that, too, in learning what’s marketing (“from Italy” means bottled in Italy, not grown there- most olives are not grown there, in fact, but can be amazing regardless) and being very curious about the olive oil grown in, for example, Australia. Aside from that, though, it pretty much had me enchanted with olive oil.
How enchanted? I tasted what we have at the house, straight. I think it’s the real thing, or mostly the real thing, although I really want to attend an olive oil tasting so I know from experience what “rancid”, “fusty”, “musty”, etc. taste like. So that’s on my list of things to do (too bad our upcoming honeymoon isn’t on the continent!) Before the end of the month, I’ll be going back onto my keto diet (slightly less strict) but switching from predominantly dairy-based fats to predominantly olive oil (gotta get those polyphenols).
I definitely recommend the audiobook, too. The narrator (who also narrated The Shining Girls, which threw me at first) pronounces the Italian words beautifully, and even though his bass voice sounds arresting at first, it soon lends an air of knowledge and experience to the words. Plus, did I mention the Italian pronunciation? *le swoon*
I highly recommend this for anyone who enjoys playing with and learning about food, Italy and the Mediterranean, gastronomic history (which I would’ve majored in, if I went to the right college), and something with so many random facts you’ll be able to easily impress people at dinner parties.