Allow me to tell you a little bit about, what to me is, one of the most Divine of liquids, Olive Oil.
Olive oil, like wine, is all about the terroir. The olive tree is one that is rooted in the land to which it belongs. This is beyond just the physical root that every plant has, here, the rootedness means its produce of olives and eventually oil are influenced in aroma, flavour and overall characteristic by its environment. Let me give you a small example, in an olive grove where peach trees share the terroir with the olive trees, the olive oil of that grove will take on fruity characteristics. It will smell of fruit, specifically peach (besides of course the most dominant olives). The exact same process and end result of the vine tree. A grove filled with herbs on the other hand, will produce oil that is herby and so on.
There are times when this influence is manipulated and calculated, where the farmers will add these fruit trees to eventually influence the aroma of their oil. This is especially true with premium oils where the owners assist the quality or enhance a specific characteristic in their oil that way. Also, owners can tremendously enhance the quality of their oil by improving their handling, as quick examples (of many) how fast is the oil extracted from the time of picking the fruit. How much exposure it has with oxygen after extraction, light exposure and so on…
With that said, there is an environmental and uncontrollable part that comes to play – a most crucial component – and that is simply the terroir. The land, the environment, which also includes temperature, altitude, exposure to the sun/shade, rain fall and its frequency….etc. This is exactly why we can speak in generalisation about the “Spanish olive oils”, the “Moroccan olive oils” and the “Palestinian olive oils”…etc. where despite the huge varieties and characteristic variations among the oils within any category, we can say that: in general the Tunisian olive oil is so and so, while the Italian olive oil is so and so. You cannot put an olive oil from Napa Valley and compare it to that from Lebanon. They are simply very different. It is like comparing Chilean wine with classic French wine. Yes wine in general has a set of defining characteristics that make it wine, however what every area produces is vastly different and unique. (it really is a world of knowledge this olive oil business).
Now that we acknowledge the terroir, we must also acknowledge that every terroir developed its recipes and hence its cuisine based on its indigenous ingredients. When hummus is made it is best dressed with Palestinian olive oil. Because the hummus and the olive oil come from the same terroir. As such they are best suited together. Now does that mean that dressing hummus with the best Italian olive oil will taste wrong or bad? No, not at all; but if you want to transform hummus, if you want to highlight and open its aromas, dress it with Palestinian olive oil and see for yourself how it flowers and how it opens up its nose and taste. Take another example, my Zaatar is fantastic – even if I say so myself, I believe I sell the world’s best Zaatar 🙂 ask the ones who tried and know it – if you really want to experience my zaatar to the fullest, see how it develops its full flavour, then have it with my olive oil. It will still taste amazing with any olive oil, however it becomes exceptional with my olive oil because they come from the same terroir. They grow within a close proximity, they enjoyed the same environment, the same weather, the same everything. They are already acquainted and they just mix well.
Open your eyes to the world of terroir, understand the land you understand it’s cuisine and foods. As such you produce more extraordinary foods. learn more about olive oil from planting to the extraction of oil in my book Plated Heirlooms. I tell you all about this tree, its produce and all about Palestinian Olive oil and Terroir. In fact the whole (500 page book) is about the inevitable relationship between land, food and people. You can order your copy here.
Only when we go back to land do we understand food. Only then do we cook exceptionally outstanding food.