The sacred history and profane present of a substance long seen as the essence of health and civilization.
For millennia, fresh olive oil has been one of life's necessities-not just as food but also as medicine, a beauty aid, and a vital element of religious ritual. Today's researchers are continuing to confirm the remarkable, life-giving properties of true extra-virgin, and "extra-virgin Italian" has become the highest standard of quality.
But what if this symbol of purity has become deeply corrupt? Starting with an explosive article in The New Yorker, Tom Mueller has become the world's expert on olive oil and olive oil fraud-a story of globalization, deception, and crime in the food industry from ancient times to the present, and a powerful indictment of today's lax protections against fake and even toxic food products in the United States. A rich and deliciously readable narrative, Extra Virginity is also an inspiring account of the artisanal producers, chemical analysts, chefs, and food activists who are defending the extraordinary oils that truly deserve the name "extra-virgin."
Italy resident Mueller, who wrote a piece on olive oil for the New Yorker, is well-situated to interpose olive oil against the Byzantine ways of its present-day production in this intriguing and sumptuously researched book. He begins in southern Puglia at a small, family-run olive oil business, then examines the vastness of Italian farming and olive production and the ongoing struggle for quality oil making. His history takes readers through Europe and eventually around to California and Australia. The book's organizing conflict centers on current imbalances between trade quality and quantity, and the problematic roles of politics, government, and regulation. Mueller includes specialists in his book from a variety of disciplines, including archeology, classics, and epidemiology. Interspersed historical material follows the oil's thread out of Mediterranean antiquity through subsequent civilizations and imperiums, into the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Mechanization during the Industrial Revolution, Mueller points out in this engaging story, accelerated production and consumption, but now the industry is plagued by questionable developments that are fortunately offset by the growing artisanal trade.
Well written, well researched, fascinating and long overdue. Shocking and will change how I approach oils in the future.
I had no idea how complex the olive oil world is. I love to cook and eat and I cannot imagine how many times over the past decades I mistakenly used junk oil while believing it is the real thing. Thank you for this book and I can only hope that many others like me will support the real extra virgin olive oil producers and make their live a bit easier.