Olive Oil Expertise from a Pro

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(Quick aside: According to the Talmud, the olive oil in the Hanukkah story was unadulterated and undefiled, with the seal of the Kohen Gadol, or high priest, needed for the menorah in the Temple).

Hirschbein attended graduate school at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy and thought she would write her master’s thesis comparing the California and Italian olive oil industries. But after finishing her coursework in Italy, she decided to come home and focus on California’s industry, which is formidable in its own right. She drove up and down the state visiting olive farms and meeting producers, many of whom became friends that she still works with today.

While California produces 99 percent of American olive oil (Georgia and Florida produce a tiny amount), Hirschbein said that’s only a tiny drop in the bucket of olive oil produced worldwide — just .01 percent. Up to 60 percent comes from Spain, but much of that is not extra-virgin, is of subpar quality and is exported to other countries including America. Greece and Italy are the next largest producers.

Hirschbein said a lot of what is marketed to American consumers is of questionable quality. “People are misled when it comes to olive oil,” she said. For this reason, she encourages supporting the California industry — and the local-eating ethos. She recommends always having two bottles on hand, a cheaper, “everyday” one for cooking and a more expensive bottle for finishing.

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