An extra special new season extra virgin olive oil from The Olive Oil Co
“For people who love olive oil, novello is the best you can get,” enthuses Danilo Manco, expert oil producer and owner of The Olive Oil Co. “The novello, meaning ‘new harvest’, is only available for the first month of the season, so it is very limited. We will only have it at the stall for a few weeks.”
A Sicilian olive oil, the Incanto is the first of Danilo’s haul to be harvested. “It is the hottest region, so the olives there are the first to be ready,” he explains. For this particular oil, the olives—almost all of which are grown on Danilo’s own estate—are harvested before they’re fully ripe, so they have a slightly sharper and more bitter flavour than their late season counterparts.
The olives are harvested using sticks, which are used to shake the branches of the trees, then pressed within a few hours for the best quality oil. Pressing the olives this quickly ensures that they do not have time to grow mould or ferment. “There are two ways to press oil: one we call a cold press, because the olive paste never reaches more than 27C. The second way is to heat the paste to a high temperature, which speeds up the process but takes away that freshness. Cold pressed olive oil is much more fragrant.” The Incanto is processed using the former, of course, ensuring full-flavoured, olivey deliciousness.
Fresh and peppery
“As it’s extra virgin olive oil, it means it is oil from the first press,” we chip in enthusiastically—only to be swiftly and expertly corrected by Danilo. Contrary to (semi) popular belief, such is no longer the case. “In the old days, there was a ‘first’ cold press, where you’d only get about 40 per cent of the oil, so we would then add hot water to the paste and do a second press. Nowadays, the machine is so advanced it is all extracted in one press.”
What, then, warrants the esteemed monikers ‘virgin’ and ‘extra virgin’? “The main difference between virgin and extra virgin compared with regular olive oil is that it is totally natural,” Danilo explains. “Regular olive oil is usually refined and processed in a factory.” Whether or not an olive oil is ‘virgin’ or ‘extra virgin’ also depends on the level of acidity—the riper the olives, the more acidic they become. “To be an extra virgin, it needs to have a very low acidity level—usually between 0.2 to 0.8 per cent. Virgin oil is usually between 0.9 and two per cent.” The Novello Incanto sits around 0.2 to 0.3 per cent, which is exceptionally low. “That is the beauty of the new harvest.”
Unsurprisingly, to get the most out of this oil, Danilo suggests using it ‘raw’—you’re certainly not advised to whack it in the chip pan. Otherwise, “you can use it any way you like: with mozzarella and tomatoes, in pasta, or because it is really fresh and peppery it is an excellent ingredient to lift the flavour of fish.” For Danilo, though, this special oil is best used in the classic way. “Historically, the producers didn’t have much to eat the oil with—they wouldn’t have had much meat or fish at the time—so for us Italians, it is tradition that the first olive oil is enjoyed simply with bread.”