12.8.08

Olive you, olive you fanatically

There's something to be said about a lover of great wines. They can recognize a great wine and enjoy it. But that does not make them a true knower of wines, one who can have encyclopedic knowledge of wines, compare them, analyze them, decipher them. And of course cherish them. This difference is probably pretty clear in the world of wine.

But what about oil? Specifically, extra virgin olive oil, the undisputed heavyweight champ of oils. To be quite honest, I believe it's the champ of food, period. There are few things in the culinary world nearly as nuanced, complicated and in-depth as olive oil. Yes, of course wine. And cheese. And maybe beer. But little else. And while knowing next to nothing in the world of wine, and little more in the complicated worlds of cheese or beer, I think I am content just enjoying the fruits of those pantheons. But EVOO is a different story. It intrigues me and interests me but also seems like a graspable realm. What a useful if not delicious encyclopedia to know. Why not?

Why not spend time reading about ancient Roman methods of cultivating and pressing olives? Why not take weekend afternoons to roam to different olive oil tasting events? Why not spend a few hundred dollars on the Olio award-winning bottles as determined by the Der Feinschmecker Club, so I could experience the best? Why not learn countless more ways to use this magical elixir of taste in my cooking to impress my friends, and well, you! Why not? A wine enthusiast would!

So why not wine then, you ask? Because wine doesn't taste as good, and I'm all about taste! Call me the worst wine drinker in the world, but you better call me the most devoted foodie! Ask yourself this, since wine and food are inextricably linked: given the choice, would you take a dinner from the best chef in the world with only a slurpee to drink, or drink a comparably tremendous glass of wine from the best vineyard in the world with only a McDonald's cheeseburger to eat with it? I'd take the meal. Don't hold it against me.

I'm not going to tout the health benefits of EVOO, since (red) wine is just as “pop” healthy these days. And I can't say anything else about extra virgin olive oil other than the simple adage that a little goes a long way. A nice bottle of wine might cost you between ten and a thousand dollars. A nice bottle of olive oil will cost between twenty and a hundred dollars. But the bottle of wine will be gone in one evening of enjoyment, where the olive oil can be used and enjoyed in far smaller increments. So your olive oil investment will pay dividends far longer than a bottle of wine will, within reason. And it will make all of your sandwiches, salads, breads, dips and dishes sparkle with nutty or fruity or spicy or earthy or tangy or flowery or herby or buttery flavor.

Of course, once I'm a true olive oil aficionado and not just an enthusiast, I'll be able to select and write about and enlighten you about the precise bottle of oil to perfectly match any sandwich, salad, bread, dip or dish that you can name, so one bottle would never do. I suppose that would be a little more expensive, but we do have wine cellars! So why not olive oil cellars as well? I could see this love becoming a little fanatical.

Preview: Now that I am officially on an olive oil quest here at your witness, I will be reviewing a bottle of olive oil in a post later this week and including a great dish we cooked at home recently that really evokes the best from olive oil. So at least you get some fun out of it too!

3 comments:

rich said...

Why must you divide the lovers of olive oil and wine? Can't we all just get along!?!

I must admit that your attack on wine, on behalf of olive oil, is impressive. But for the sake of debate, I must defend wine.

You say that a bottle of wine does not last as long as a bottle of olive oil as if that is a bad thing. Wine has a faster consumption rate because it is more desirable. It is (usually) a social drink. It can be a romantic drink. It is a sophicated drink.

You fault wine for costing, in some cases, thousands of dollars while the top olive oils only cost a few hundred. That shouldn't be looked at as a negative. Again, top wine is priced higher than top olive oil because of demand. People are willing to shell out thousands for wine. But thousands for olive oil? Not so much...

I have one last point: I would rather drink a glass of wine instead of a glass of olive oil. Think about it. LOL.

Thanks for the interesting debate. Keep it up.

-rich

~~BT~~ said...

Love the comment, and your spin on the "debate" (i thought of it as more of a comparison LOL).

A great meal can also be social and romantic, and great olive oils will make that happen in many cases as well as wine.

Good economic argument there in the middle. But scarcity does not equal utility with luxury foods like this. If you can get 50 doses of "goodness" in a bottle of fine olive oil and 50 doses of "goodness" in a fine bottle of wine, the relative scarcity in wine drives its relative price up, but not its goodness to you. As a result, it's actually easier to enjoy the good that is less scarce and therefore cheaper (i.e. olive oil).

Lastly, some Italians actually do enjoy drinking shots of olive oil! Now that's something to think about! Kidding -- again, love the comment!

foody said...

I have to agree with Ben on this one and side with... I have to agree with Ben on this one and side with olive oil. EVOO, although admittedly less "in demand" than wine, is so much more versatile. While wine can create the perfect complement to virtually any meal, olive oil can CREATE virtually any meal.

Complexity can be appreciated in both high quality olive oils and wine. Simplicity, on the other hand, creates a one-dimensional experience when applied to wine whereas in EVOO it is often the simplest oil that best brings out the best flavor of a meal.

It's diversity of flavor is arguably as diverse as wine, as evidenced by many of the same descriptors (e.g. "fruity", "earthly", "nutty") being used for both. But frankly, oil is just easier than wine. One need only to enjoy the taste of an olive oil in order to consider it "great". In the absence of the pretension that so surrounds the world of wine expertise, one can feel more free to sit back and enjoy the experience.

This is what I most appreciate about olive oil. It puts us all on a level playing field. I don't know how many times I've felt awkward as someone chooses a bottle of wine at a restaurant, as if they are not just taking an educated stab in the dark. Then the waiter allows them to taste the wine before serving it to others at the table, as if they are any better of a judge than the other diners. The air that people take on in this situation makes me lose a bit of respect for wine as an element that brings us all together, as Rich said, "socially". Arguably wine divides us as much as it brings us together.

Thanks for a great debate, Ben (and Rich). Can't wait to hear what others have to say.

-Jen