Asking an Italian to dip his bread in blended olive oil is like pouring a Scotsman something other than single malt. In other words, an insult. Just ask Orazio Scaldaferri and Enrico Sorrentino, a pair of Italian-born West Vancouverites, who insist on nothing but 100 per cent extra virgin olive oil.
Today, the men are seated at a small dining table inside Scaldaferri’s character home with a selection of three olive oils and fresh bread for dipping.
“Sample these ones,” says Scaldaferri, a bushy-mustached realtor who used to run the Scaldaferri Deli and Pasta Shop in Dundarave. “[It’s] very important to just have a feel for the oil itself. You just dip and one, two and three.”
After dipping, he enthuses: “Did you notice how they are all very different — it’s unbelievable.”
“The second one is probably a bit lighter, this one has more kick. This is a small producer.”
He then deconstructs the oil like a sommelier might rate a glass of wine.
“Full body, with an extra kick at the end. It almost stings your palate a little bit, the colour is richer, it’s a little bit denser.”
Scaldaferri and Sorrentino met through real estate — Sorrentino, a psychiatrist, was selling a property in Umbria, Italy — but the pair bonded over food.
Since Sorrentino moved to Vancouver five years ago, they’ve teamed up to purchase several cases of old world-produced olive oil for their personal consumption — and expensive proposition because they have the oil flown in.
“Olive oil is one of the most misunderstood products that comes from the Mediterranean region,” says Scaldaferri. “Olive oil is a very interesting subject because most of the olive oil that comes to Canada is a blended olive oil.”
Real extra virgin olive oil can also be found on store shelves here, but the price is “much, much higher” because of production costs. For the average consumer not educated about olive oil, it’s hard to fathom the difference between two bottles of olive oil, one $16 and the other $60.
“At the end of the day the consumer is confused. It’s easier to be buying the cheaper one,” says Scaldaferri.
But it won’t taste the same or have the same properties. Pressed from fresh olives, extra virgin olive oil is known for its low acidity.
“You always have a choice of going cheap or really tasty — the real thing.”
He knows the difference. Scalderri was born in Calabria one of the “big three” olive oil producing regions — along with Puglia and Sicily — that produces most of the olive oil in Italy.
“Where I was born, there’s an olive grove that has 15,500 plants, some 400 years old. I grew up in that area.” He smiles wistfully. “The smell of milled olives during the fall can travel for kilometres — you can smell that it’s been milled because there’s a particular pungent smell when they crush it.”
When Scalaferri moved to Vancouver in the 1970s it was hard to find the quality food he was accustomed to. “Bread, good bread was almost nonexistent. Same thing with coffee and of course olive oil.”
These days its much easier to find quality foods and ingredients. But there are still myths about olive oil, they believe. For instance, many think extra virgin olive oil should only be used for dipping and salads — and used sparingly. “OK, in reality there’s only one olive oil and that should be the extra virgin and it should be used for everything, says Scaldaferri.
“Even for frying,” adds Sorrentino, “because for frying the extra virgin olive oil has the highest point of smoke. For cooking everyday I couldn’t use any other.”
There are other uses for the liquid gold: from moisturizing your hair or skin to even helping with constipation. Sorrentino is currently working on launching a project between the University of British Columbia and University of Parma in Italy to collaborate on a course on the Mediterranean diet.
“The king of the Mediterranean diet is the extra virgin olive oil. [It’s] the base, together with pasta and tomato and veggie and cereals and so on.”
He’s also keen on an educational-commercial project that would allow North Americans to adopt olive trees in Italy. “We have in Italy more than 200 million olive trees that are currently in production.”
The goal, he says, is to create awareness and develop relationships between consumers and producers and farmers which would help increase consumption of extra virgin olive oil and help to decrease the price per litre.
In Canada consumption per capita of olive oil is around 1.5 litre per year, while in Italy that number is closer to 50 litres, says Scaldaferri. He and his family are doing their part to increase olive oil consumption here. “We will consume between 40 and 50 litres a year, for sure.”
His advice to those who haven’t experienced a real quality, extra virgin olive oil?
“I would say buy one litre of good extra virgin olive oil instead of two or three that are lousy.”