Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, by Tom Mueller

I do my fish oil thing and try to use olive oil. I’m an American, so when it comes to using healthy oil I’m a complete piker and an uninformed novice. This book by Tom Meuller was, then, a real alert in several ways.

Mueller sorts through lots of fun facts and factoids about olive oil and also interviews farmers, manufacturers, government food inspectors, and other specialists around the world. Here are a few of the highlights I took from the book:

I don’t eat nearly enough olive oil. Some Italians wake up and drink a jigger of the stuff to start their day. Around the Mediterranean people will consume┬áliters of the stuff every year. American consumption is closer to ounces and the health reduction as a result can be devastating.

Most people don’t know the difference between high-quality oil and stuff suitable for dust control on roads. There is a unique tart or peppery taste to good oil that tastes wrong to an American tongue. The preferred mild taste is a sign of a lower-quality, perhaps even below food grade quality, of oil.

Good oil is expensive to produce. You’ll need to pay for quality and discount oils can fill you up with not just neutral but unhealthy results.

There are some bad operators in the business at just about all levels of production.

The good news is that there are dedicated producers in Italy, the US, and Australia, who are fanatics about quality and you can buy their products, which will bring you many health benefits if you increase your intake, store it properly, and use what you buy within a reasonable time.

Mueller does a great job of compiling information and anecdotes about all stages of production, tasting, testing, and quality control. He also offers horror stories about not just low quality oil but deliveries tainted with strange chemicals and other product nightmares. He does a less great job of transcribing interviews, leaving them coming across as stilted and strangely obsessive about olive oil.

This is an excellent book for anyone interested in improving health or interested in cooking. It’s a relatively short and easy read put together with precision and in a logical order. I already have better oil on order for my own kitchen and plan on smelling like the bottom of an Italian stew pot very soon.