Your extra-virgin Italian olive oil might not be as pure as you thought. 60 Minutes recently blew the lid off what is known in Italy as the agromafia: organized crime’s corruption of olive oil purity and certification. It seems that while the health benefits of olive oil are crystal clear, when it comes to sourcing and purity, things are quite murky. I spoke with Stephen and Suzanne Capizzano, owners of Capizzano Olive Oils and Vinegars in Pawcatuck. They’re wise to the oily underworld. Their olive oils are held to higher standards by independent lab certification, and their goal is to educate their consumers while training their taste buds to appreciate what fresh and well-stored olive oil is meant to taste like.
Many of the straight extra-virgin olive oils you stock are sourced from areas like Australia, South Africa and Chile. These areas produce lots of olive oil, but might not be at the tip of everyone’s tongue in the states. Should they be?
Stephen: The first thing to know about great olive oil is that it comes from all over the world. It is more about the crush date (freshness) and the quality of the olive that was crushed than it is about the country of origin (this is coming from an Italian).
One of the misconceptions people have about extra-virgin olive oil is about cold pressing or first pressing. Over the years, this has become a marketing ploy. It is always about the quality of the olive. You can cold press or first press all the olives you want but if the olive wasn’t good to begin with you will not get extra-virgin olive oil.
Most people are familiar with infused olive oil: some well-selected ingredients getting all cozy in a bottle and gently coloring the flavor. Agrumato or fused oil is something different entirely. Fused vs. infused, for readers who are con-fused, what’s the difference?
Suzanne: All of our infused or fused olive oils start with the same certified ultra-premium extra-virgin olive oil with polyphenols around 325ppm [parts per million] that are seasonally crushed. Fused is when the olive and fruit or herb are crushed together at the same time. Infused is when the olive oil is crushed first and then the herbs, like garlic or basil, are crushed separately into it. Fused olive oil is a more complex process for getting the right flavor. We have blood orange, limonata, baklouti pepper, fennel and rosemary fused olive oils and [for] infused we have garlic, basil and Persian lime to name a few.
Infused olive oils are often a gift around Christmas time, then months later you often see them littering the back of some dusty cupboard. How do you educate your customers to use your product more as a daily driver and less as some novelty?
Suzanne: Coming from a cardiac rehabilitation specialty as a clinician, we educate about the health benefits of our extra-virgin olive oils and the quality of our fused and infused olive oils, how they can be used on specific foods and what pairings of balsamic vinegar goes with each olive oil. Introducing people to flavor and aroma along with healthy choices benefits us all. We have regular educational tasting events that showcase the simplicity of preparation, flavor, texture, color and health. We carry a great cookbook, As Old As Time that highlights all the pairings with foods.
I assume you don’t have an olive oil store in your kitchen; what is your olive oil arsenal at home?
Suzanne: We joke about this; we do have a cornucopia of our evoo [extra virgin olive oil] and balsamic vinegars at home on our counter. We use them every day with creating, cooking, in smoothies, as a drink, on salads, drizzled on desserts and as skin and hair care essentials…
One of our favorite combinations is blood orange fused evoo and dark chocolate aged balsamic vinegar. We whisk this together and drizzle on a sponge cake or unflavored Greek yogurt add a few berries and you have a happy dance going on in your mouth. This pairing is also divine on salads for a different twist – not a novelty at all – if it helps getting vegetables and greens into your daily diet – hurray!
Capizzano Olive Oils and Vinegars
5 Coggswell Street, Pawcatuck, CT