A great book can change your life or at least part of it. I recently read (and reviewed!) a book like that called Real Food, Fake Food by Larry Olmsed. It reminded me that great food can also be life-changing, especially when you know exactly what it is you’re eating and you are getting what you pay for.
Among all of the fake foods being marketed that the author talks about – from truffle oil to red snapper and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – he says olive oil is one of the most prevalent fake foods that Americans eat every day. In fact, he says that many Americans have never actually tasted real extra virgin olive oil.
This isn’t a news flash. In fact, the fake olive oil industry was exposed several years ago. In 2010, the University of California Davis published a study that shook up the industry and helped inform consumers. It seems that the real deal isn’t impossible to find, but it’s easier if you can find a direct source. When a middleman is involved, olive oil gets cut with cheaper oils to increase profit and mislabeling runs rampant.
I live in Pennsylvania, not exactly the world’s olive oil mecca. Besides knowing the reputable brands, I was stumped about how to find a reputable source. Then, I got a tip from my good-food-loving locavore boss. She adopted a share of a real olive grove in Italy and reaps the rewards in the form of pure, delicious extra virgin olive oil shipped right to her home. I wanted in on this action myself!
The cooperative I am now a proud member of is called Nudo. It consists of a number of small-scale olive growers in Italy who produce real, artisanal olive oil. When you adopt a share of your chosen grove, you provide the farmers with security and the income they need to continue growing and producing quality oil in a sustainable way. I think the idea is close to community supported agriculture (CSA) in that you invest in the farmers and share in the risks and rewards that come with growing food.
I know I am not one of those millions of Americans who has never tasted real olive oil. I certainly have, but I was still excited to receive my first quarterly shipment of oils from Nudo. In the fall, the oils are infused, and I received three tins of oil infused with lemon, rosemary or garlic. My next shipment consisted of three larger tins of plain olive oil.
As I read in Real Food, Fake Food, quality extra virgin olive oil shouldn’t be made into sauces and toppings. Instead, it alone should be the sauce or topping, and I found Nudo’s oil to be completely worthy of standing alone to finish our fancy salads and most decadent pastas and top our homemade sourdough bread. The day our first trio of oils arrived, Mr. President and I happily dug into all of them and dipped cubes of bread into each to taste. Out.Of.This.World!
The cost for adopting part of your chosen Nudo grove is $69 per quarter. This is not cheap olive oil, but I’m using it sparingly and where it has the chance to shine. Now, I really can’t wait until my summer tomatoes come in – I’m dreaming of slices still warm from the sun, drizzled with my Nudo olive oil and sprinkled with just a bit of flaky sea salt. No need for a passport – I can just close my eyes and dream of Italy!