Oil & Balsamic Vinegar Facts
HOW IS OLIVE OIL MADE?
We’re all getting hooked on olive oil – using it in recipes for baking and cookies, dipping for breads, etc. Many of us now know that Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the oil extracted exclusively from the first press of the olives – the highest quality of oils you can get. But do you know how it’s made from start to finish? We thought it might be helpful to go through the process – and we learned some things in our research too!
There’s a precise timing when olives are just right for pressing – to produce the right acidity, flavor, and polyphenol levels. This period is a short window right after the olives are ripe, lasting only about two to three weeks.
Green (immature): bitter, grassy taste; high phenol, high chlorophyll; hard to extract oil from due to lipid vacuoles (fat storage) being fully intact. Highest shelf life.
Green-yellow-red (Verasion): highest oil concentration, high polyphenol, ripe-fruit characteristics
Black (mature) – declining polyphenol & chlorophyll, golden and mild-tasting oil, shorter shelf life due to higher FFA content
To get olive oil, the olives must first be removed from their trees. In the “old days,” trees were shaken or beaten with sticks to remove the olives. These were then picked up from the ground and collected for the next steps of production. However, this act of dropping to the ground caused bruising to the olives, which causes the fruit (and thus, the oil) to degrade. Newer methods include different ways of catching the olives before they hit the ground, such as shaking the trees and setting nets below the branches to catch the olives in mid-air. These olives are then carried to the processing plant in shallow containers, so the olives are not pressed on top of each other during transportation and remain unbruised. At the plant, the leaves and twigs are removed and then the olives are washed.
Next comes the most interesting part: the pressing of the olives. Stainless steel rollers crush the olives and pits to grind into a paste. This paste then undergoes a process called malaxation, where the paste is stirred until the water separates from the solid particles. This paste is put on mats and pressed further or put into a centrifuge – a machine that spins at high speeds to separate the materials – to extract the oil and water from the paste. Water is then extracted from this mixture, and then we have our delicious extra virgin olive oil!
Our olive oil at The Olive Bin is first-cold pressed, unfiltered, and no chemicals or artificial ingredients are added. To create the amazing flavors found in our store, olive growers utilize two methods of flavor-adding. The first is call fused - or technically, Agrumato - olive oil. In this process, the freshly harvested olives are pressed with a pre-determined quantity of fresh produce in order to achieve a specific flavor profile. An example of this is our Blood Orange Olive Oil, where the olives are simultaneously crushed with the whole fruit of Blood Orange. The second method for flavor enhancement is infusing the prepared olive oil with the essential oil from the fruit at a later date.
The Olive Bin's olive oils are gluten-free, dairy-free (even the Butter Olive Oil!), and Kosher. Olive oil should be used within 12-14 months from when the seal on the bottle is broken. Olive oil benefits and quality decreases with time. It's important to remember oilve oil is a perishable food - all bottled oil will go rancid eventually - but it is said when properly handled, sealed and stored in a cool dark place, olive oil will be 'good' for 18-24 months from the date it was harvested. If your bottle is older than two years, consider starting with a fresh one.
And an extra tidbit: it takes at least ten pounds of olives to produce just four cups of olive oil. (Think about how many pounds of olives that would be for our store alone!)
WHERE DO WE GET OUR OLIVE OIL?
We’ve had many people ask where we get our olive oils – where they’re from, who’s our supplier, and so on. Our oils are produced in many areas of the world – Spain, Italy, Chile, and even Australia – but the supplier of our oils is Veronica Foods Company. Below is a brief history of our supplier, their origin, and their philosophy in providing us the best products possible.
Veronica Foods Company began as a small family business from an Italian immigrant in New York City named Salvatore Esposito. The Esposito family soon moved to California and hoped to expand the business in building the first American olive oil mill. However, the majority of the family joined the military at the beginning of World War II and these hopes were put on hold.
In the late 1980s, Michael and Veronica Bradley (granddaughter to the original founder, Salvatore Esposito) inherited Veronica Foods. They knew the company had strayed from a full involvement in the olive oil market and decided to make some changes. They’ve put a high emphasis on researching the best products and developing a “more practical understanding of olive oil that [places] a greater emphasis on application and performance.” They continue to taste oils from origins all over the world, and in 1997, they purchased an olive grove in Tunisia to continue developing quality flavors and products.
Veronica Foods’ mission continues to be to provide customers with the highest quality of products for affordable and comparable prices. They do this through bulk distribution of oil and vinegar to kitchens, restaurants, caterers, and natural foods grocers; and through the assistance of small specialty stores in opening with their products.
Our oils come from seasonal locations around the world, so you always have the freshest harvest available in the store.
HOW IS BALSAMIC VINEGAR MADE?
So now you’ve been in the store and tried the delicious balsamic vinegars paired with olive oils (or with ice cream – yum!). You’ve learned that balsamic vinegar is very different than your normal white vinegar – sweeter, richer, and full of complex flavor. But maybe you’ve wondered, how is this delicious condiment made?
Balsamic vinegar is actually a product of grape juice; the grape juice is boiled down for approximately 24 hours until a majority of the liquid has evaporated, creating a thick caramelized syrup called “must.” The must is then placed into wooden barrels with "mother" vinegar and aged for years (The Olive Bin carries 18 & 25 year aged dark balsamic). These fired barrels are used over and over again, creating specific taste profiles. The traditional grape used for making balsamics is the white Trebbiano grape. These grapes are only produced in Modena, Italy, and go must follow strict production and ageing guidelines to be labelled as the prized authentic Modena Balsamic vinegar. The highest quality that can be produced, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, can go for up to $500 for a small bottle.
Where does the name “balsamic vinegar” come from? It’s Latin – the word balsamico (from Latin, balsamum) means “balsam-like,” or restorative.
White balsamic vinegar is produced a little differently. The biggest difference in the process is that the juice is not caramelized over a fire and it is not aged in barrels that have been fired on the inside. To produce white balsamic, new non-fired barrels are used to age the must for a short time at low temperatures.
The balsamic vinegars at The Olive Bin have no added sugars, preservatives, artificial flavors/coloring, or sweeteners. If it is a fruit-flavoured balsamic, two methods are often used to achieve flavouring. In one method, real fruit is cooked down with water to concentrate the flavour. This mixture is then strained and the concentrated fruit juice is then added to the balsamic. Whole Fruit Balsamic Vinegars are flavoured using a whole fruit concentrated compote to flavour the vinegar. The result is a thick, smooth condiment with low acidity. Real fruit sediment can be seen in the vinegar and in every drop of this vinegar, you get an all-encompassing sensation of biting in to a ripe, fresh fruit. Herb-flavoured balsamics are flavour-infused with real mashed herbs or spices. This is then sieved out, although some natural sediment remains.
Tips & Quick facts:
- Store in a cool/dark place and sealed when not in use
- Sediment on the bottom (Mother) is part of the natural ageing process and is not a defect
- The balsamic vinegars found at The Olive Bin are gluten-free, dairy-free (no pasteurization), no sugar added, and vegan. They are not Kosher certified.
- We recommend a shelf life of 5 years for your balsamic vinegar. Vinegar does not really expire, it just becomes more acidic over time.
- Only natural flavoring is included in the balsamic - flavors derived from the fruit / herb themselves - botanical essential oils.
- Our espresso balsamic does not contain caffeine.
WHAT IS A FUSTI?
If you’ve come in to The Olive Bin, you know that the oils and vinegars are not in pre-packaged bottles. They’re in large, stainless steel containers. These mysterious containers have nifty pour-spots on them and are arranged row-by-row throughout the store, gleaming at you from each shelf. But what really is a fusti, and why have them instead of just individual bottles?
fu – sti (foo-stee) noun Stainless steel tank with spigot, often used for dispensing olive oil.
- Giving you the freshest oil possible. Fustis have air-tight seals on top, keeping out moisture and maintaining freshness. Many olive oils travel from the Mediterranean and other regions already packed in individual, clear bottles – and are subject to oxidation and damage from sunlight. Pouring from these protected containers in the store means your bottle of oil is the freshest it could be.
- Maintaining nutrition. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has incredible health benefits, but the nutritional benefits decrease as oxidation occurs and freshness decreases. The fusti keeps the oil fresh and nutritious for you and your family!
- Tasting every product before you buy. With our fustis, all of our products are tasting-friendly. You’re able to try every oil and vinegar (with bread and ice cream – delicious!) before you decide which to purchase. Once you’ve found your favorite olive oils and balsamics, one of our associates will fill a bottle – just for you! – and you get to watch us heat seal the top right in front of your eyes.
- Helping to care for our environment. We care about our environment and value ways to keep production cost and waste low.