‘Mio Olio’: Why people are so attached to their oil in Italy
Since moving to Italy in 2013, we’ve been amazed by how attached people are to their olive oil. The relationship is totally different to ours with oil in the UK – it’s extremely personal.
Not everybody produces their own oil, but in the major growing regions, everybody is either related to or great friends with somebody who makes Olive Oil and it is always “the best in the World”. Loyalty runs deep and they go in early December to collect enough oil to last them for the year. Olive oil is such an important component of the Mediterranean diet, used at every meal (even in their breakfast cake) and is a complete part of life.
The culinary historian Massimo Montanari states that Romans considered olive oil to be like wine and bread: “symbols of their own identity” because it demonstrated their ability to harness nature so becoming material and mental markers in a sociological sense. If you enjoy reading about food then check out Montanari’s books.
To me, the relationship is even stronger than with wine – if you produce your own Olive Oil, you only use your oil (unlike wine, where almost all producers do all they can to taste other people’s wines). Those making serious extra virgin olive oil in the artisanal sense also work extremely manually, pruning and harvesting entirely by hand and often doing much of this work themselves and alone in the cold. Somehow this makes the end result far more personal.