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heart_healthy_secrets_olive_oil_v-708152Just as different grapes and regions produce different wines, so too do olives produce a litany of different flavors and quality levels around the world. In Italy, many of the best winemakers also grow olives and produce some of the finest olive oils.

It’s time to take note! The health aspects of naturally monounsaturated olive oil have long been known by Mediterranean cultures, and now science has proven that starting a meal with a tablespoon of olive oil can jumpstart the healthy digestion of your intake. A great way to do this is to serve a starter course of bread and dip it in a small dish of oil.

All Mediterranean countries grow olives and produce olive oils, but Spain and Italy have the world’s admiration for production of the best examples. Their climates and soils provide the best growing medium, and the traditional methods and respect for quality shown by both countries ensures consistently outstanding results. California, Greece and France also produce fine olive oils.  Identifying flavors in olive oils is similar to evaluating wines, with a similar degree of experience and knowledge required to sort out the results!

Producing olive oil is similar to winemaking in many ways. Olives and grapes are both fruits, with hundreds of individual varieties that must be matched to soils and regions. Harvesting must be done carefully and at the optimal time. Production takes place in immaculately clean facilities, under delicately controlled pressures and temperatures.

The biggest difference between winemaking and olive oil production is the fermentation process. Fermentation by definition is of primary importance in winemaking, but is carefully guarded against when making olive oil. Fermenting of olives produces an off taste which destroys the final product.

olive_tree_lithoAll olive oils are graded by the degree of acidity they contain. The best are cold-pressed, a chemical-free process that involves only pressure. Extra virgin olive oil, the cold-pressed result of the first pressing of the olives, is only 1% acid. It’s considered the finest and fruitiest of the olive oils and is therefore also the most expensive. In general, the deeper the color, the more intense the flavor. Virgin olive oil is also a first-press oil, with slightly higher acidity between 1 and 3%. Fino olive oil is a blend of extra virgin and virgin oils (fino is Italian for “fine”). Products labeled simply olive oil (once called pure) contain a combination of refined olive oil and virgin or extra virgin oil.

The new light olive oil contains the same amount of beneficial monounsaturated fat as regular olive oil…and it also has exactly the same number of calories. What the term “light” refers to is that–because of an extremely fine filtration process–this olive oil is lighter in both color and fragrance, and has little of the classic olive-oil flavor. It’s this rather nondescript flavor that makes “light” olive oil perfect for baking and cooking at higher heats (high heat destroys the flavors of high-quality oils).

Be sure to store your olive oils properly. Bright light and temperatures over 70 degrees will age oils prematurely. Oils will last 6 months in a cupboard/pantry or up to a year in a refrigerator (although you’ll have to let it warm back up before being able to pour it.

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Necessity is the mother of invention

Just like aluminum cans appeared years before the invention of the can opener, so did the bottle sealed with cork appear long before the means to open them.

corkscrewCorkscrews weren’t always used exclusively for wine. The cork and the ability to mass-produce strong glass bottles appeared at about the same time in the early 17th century and was used as the standard package for beer, perfume, ointments, ink, medicines and cleaners. All of these products required the use of a corkscrew to open. Screw caps, pop-tops and bottle caps were all invented much later, well after World War I!

A gun worm

A gun worm

Reference was made to corkscrews in 17th century literature, but nobody knows when one first appeared. It probably was extremely similar to the standard picnic corkscrews used today; simply a steel screw with a handle, shaped like the letter T. The design was based on a “gun worm” used for cleaning stuck bullets from the barrel of guns. It was probably a gun owner’s trial and error that found this use for a spiral screw, probably for his beer!

The first improvement in corkscrew design was rewarded with a patent in 1795 and a slew of inventions have rushed forward since, each trying to improve our ability to extract the cork from the bottle without having to resort to using our teeth or a bent nail and brute force (as was done prior to the corkscrew’s birth!)

Buttons, coated worms, ratchets, springs, prongs, levers and fancy designs have been patented worldwide and have given rise to the hobby of corkscrew collecting. Online auctions have brought as much as $3500 for a single historic corkscrew. The highest bid ever was over $36,000 at a Christie’s of London annual Corkscrew Auction. A ’corkscrew museum’ has been created on the Internet (www.bullworks.net/virtual.htm) and Corkscrew collectors (called “Helixophiles” have formed associations and clubs worldwide.

Our Favorite Corkscrew

The Rialto - Our Favorite

The Rialto - Our Favorite

Although corkscrews come in dozens of styles and hundreds of brands, our favorite at Salut! Wine Co. is the “Rialto” articulated corkscrew. It’s design is compact and effective in pulling corks with the least effort and without splitting the cork.  You can purchase a Rialto online at www.salutwineoutlet.com.  The trick to using this easy tool is to start with the screw at an angle…so the tip of the wire screw appears to be growing straight up from the center of the cork.  Start all corkscrews this way.  After one full turn the screw will “right” itself and proceed straight down into the cork every time if you let it.

The right way to start any corkscrew

The right way to start any corkscrew

Visit www.corkscrewnet.com for a comprehensive collection of links and reference pages if you would like to know more about these complex inventions.