Liquid Sunshine: Olive Oil Magic

Manni Olive Oil

I have to admit I’m a bit of an eavesdropper. I try not to make a habit of it, but sometimes overhearing a conversation is unavoidable - and the outcome opportune.

I was on the train to London the other day (minding my own business, I hasten to add) when I overheard two ladies behind me in conversation. “Oh, I’ve used several lubricants in my time…” revealed one of them. Now, come on, who wouldn’t be intrigued at this point? Disappointingly, I couldn’t catch the rest of the conversation because the loud speaker announced we were pulling into Clapham Junction. It got worse; they got off. I was left hanging with the wicked thought of lubricants and an overactive imagination in situational usage.

Next stop: Waterloo, then onto the International Food Fair (IFE) at ExCeL. IFE is the UK's largest food and drink trade event taking place every two years. It’s a fantastic event to visit if you want to discover emerging food trends and check out new products available on the market. IFE is a mine of information, and well worth the sore feet and dehydration. I was going there to look for writing inspiration, so it was a wondrous, karmic moment when I came across the Olive Oil Village. I had my column nailed.

Sniffing, tasting, and perusing my way around the sample oils like a pro, it soon became evident there is a generous range of cosmopolitan oils out there with individual characteristics ranging from ripe, creamy and fruity to peppery, spicy and clean, which amply satisfies the upsurge of upscale consumers of olive oil. The oils ran from translucent greeny-yellow, fresh-smelling, liquid-sunshine to light, non-aromatic, pale coloured oils, which for me, aren’t worth bothering with. There was no sign of the top-of-the-range luxury, ultra-premium, extra virgin “couture” olive oils - Manni and Lambda. These niche oils appeal to a select market with their contents, packaging and price tags reflecting this.

The company Speiron makes Lambda oil from Koroneiki olives grown in the Kritsa region of Crete. It’s described as having “very low acidity, intense fruity notes with an unforgettable aftertaste”. The olives are picked and cold pressed within eight hours, then bottled and labeled, all by hand. It comes with a price tag of around £36 for a 500 ml bottle. You’d almost want to place this stylish bottle on your dressing table, not in your larder, and spritz it on your neck rather than your salad.

Over in Tuscany we have Manni’s oil - Per Mio Figlio and Per Me. Manni’s oil is made from high-grade olives organically grown on the slopes of Monte Amiata, in southern Tuscany. The thorough and precise process involved in producing and monitoring these exceptional gourmet oils dictate the high prices you’d expect. This brand runs at £46 for two 100ml bottles. These chaste oils are definitely finishing oils, and shouldn’t go anywhere near a hot flame, and like all extra virgin olive oils, they have a low smoke point so you wouldn’t want to be overheating them for fear of releasing free radicals. And we all know what free radicals do to us.

There is an assortment of oils available with a fitness for purpose, and in my time I have cooked, drizzled, eaten, rubbed, dipped and squirreled away a fair few. Avocado oil is delicious on salmon, hazlenut oil perks up a vinaigrette dressing, pumpkin seed oil flavours-up veggies, coconut oil is a great help-mate for curries, cookies, and desserts (think ice cream), sesame and peanut oils are perfect stir-fry companions, safflower is for the health conscious. When I lived in LA, I had a spell of consistently using Pam - mainly because it was very low in calories and gave ingredients a non-stick finish. One can never be too thin in California.

But whatever you use, always keep your oils the dark and never in a warm place. By all means experiment with infusions, but beware of garlic versions as you could well end up with a nasty case of botulism (like paralysing your forehead isn’t enough). Then again, you could always develop a sideline in botox serum. Olive oil is noted to be an almost cure-all. If you suffer from high blood pressure, obesity, skin problems, digestive ailments, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, ageing, dementia or pregnant, then olive oil’s your panacea. It can cure an earache, free a stuck zip, and I once fixed a squeaky door with some.

Upon reflection of my foray into oils, I can quite honestly say, just like the woman on the train, I, too have used several lubricants in my time. Funny how eavesdropping works out sometimes.