Mysteries of Olive Oil Production Explained

Chef Mario Batali provides an explainer on his favorite golden-green liquid: olive oil. Batali hosts the Food Network program Molto Mario, and is author of the cookbook, Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home.

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The technology of olive oil production has changed some since biblical times, but not that much. A few months ago, we asked chef Mario Batali to explain how it's done.

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Mr. MARIO BATALI (Chef): Olives and olive oil is an annual harvest just like grapes. It happens right after grapes. If you can get your hands on something they call olio nuovo, that's what they call the new oil right when it's pressed. Now the first months, November, December, January, try to find someone that's bringing it over from Italy right at that time. And what you'll taste is this almost piquant, more viscous, intensely green liquid that is a little cloudy maybe. That's the best part of olive oil that you'll ever find.

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Mr. BATALI: A Frantoio is an Italian olive oil mill that has a giant moat made of granite around which rolls a giant wheel made of granite. So they take all the oils in--I mean, all the olives in. They pick all the leaves off and they throw them into this moat. The wheel goes around and crushes all of them, pits on and everything, to something that they call sansa. Sansa now's this olivey mashy stuff with the pits. It looks kind of gray-green kind of--not that appealing.

They put them on these giant kind of greeting mats that you have in front of your door that are made out of kind of fabric, and they're called feaschooly(ph) and they smear the paste on about two or three inches thick on top of these feaschooly. Then they stack each of these feaschooly on a giant skewer up to about 10 feet tall. Then they push down and the olive oil and the water that's in it comes pressing out. Now they take that and they put it into a centrifuge. The centrifuge separates the oil on one side from the water on the other side.

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Mr. BATALI: The very first pressing after they've taken it off of those feaschooly and pressed it down is called extra virgin olive oil. Then they may press it a little bit harder to get virgin olive oil. The measurements between these two is a relative component of the acidity. Sometimes even a first pressing if it's too aggressive will make it more acidic and make it less of an extra virgin olive oil because they got too greedy when they did that first pressing. When I cook, I use extra virgin olive oil exclusively, even for...

ELLIOTT: All the time?

Mr. BATALI: in private. All the time.

ELLIOTT: On everything?

Mr. BATALI: On everything.

ELLIOTT: Now should I...

Mr. BATALI: Taste it. Put your finger right in it. The Italians put it right on top of the little area between their thumb and their forefinger and you just smell it. That's what the Frantoio smells like. That little heated up part.


Mr. BATALI: Let me take another little bit and you can just taste that. You know why olive oil culture has been living since the time of Mesopotamia.

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