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Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil Paperback – April 8, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 185 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2011: E.V.O.O. just got a whole lot more complicated. Tom Mueller's Extra Virginity is about as explosive as an expose can get, at least if your subject is liquid fat. The road from tree to table, it turns out, is fraught with corruption, fraud, and laboratory interventions. Mueller shows how and why the trade in adulterated olive oil is about as profitable as the trade in some hard drugs, and with a lot less risk, too. There are equally entertaining detours into olive oil's long history, the politics of regulation and enforcement, and even debates over the best way to taste it (swirl, aerate, spit, or just swig?). All in all, it's a great read not just for foodies, but also for anyone interested in the complexities of global trade and organized crime. --Darryl Campbell
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

How long have readers been waiting for a book like this? A century? A millennium? Finally, the earth's most poetic food has found its storyteller. Essential, smart, and ridiculously overdue. --Bill Buford, author of "Heat"

Mueller reveals the brazen fraud in the olive oil industry and teaches readers how to sniff out the good stuff. --Dwight Garner"

Mueller builds a convincing case for olive oil as one of the most miraculous and versatile substances in all of nature. . . . Passionately written yet clear-headed. "

Tom Mueller is, in turn, chemist, explorer, scholar and bard, infusing the narrative with a sense of wonder. "

Extra Virginity may make you reconsider the extra you re paying for extra. "

The New Yorker writer does for his subject what Susan Orlean did for orchids. "

... [Extra-Virginity] does for olive oil what Eric Schlosser s Fast Food Nation did for hamburgers. Mueller traces the history of this valuable product from antiquity to the present, but the really disturbing part is his expose of the inferior quality control and outright fraud among today s oil producers. "

Starred review. Engrossing history, vivid contemporary reporting and a cogent call to action, expertly blended in an illuminating text. "
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (April 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393343618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393343618
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (185 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There is no other fruit with a deeper history than the olive. With the publication of Extra Virginity, Tom Mueller has taken it to its bitter end and brings it back again. A book filled with twists and turns that would shame the best mystery writer, Mueller tells a riveting tale about an age-old staple. He explores both ends of the spectrum - the dark, devious world of adulterated oil that has plagued the industry for centuries and a new host of characters from chemists to chefs who are trying to take extra virgin olive oil to a higher level.

It is a story of two opposites: first-class quality doing battle with worldwide commodity pricing and big-money subsidies. Mueller, best known for his 2007 exposé on the world of adulterated olive oil in The New Yorker magazine, spent the last four years delving deep into the subject. When the stakes are as large as a rapidly growing, $1.5 billion business in the U.S. alone, it's understandable that Mueller would uncover an undercurrent of shady dealings.

He introduces readers to a cast of characters from around the world. From "hero" archetypes like Paolo Pasquali of Villa Campestri in Tuscany, a former philosophy professor, who spearheads a new system to protect oil from tree to table to villainous players like Domenico Ribatti, whose illegal activity eventually led to a plea bargain in Italian court. Even Mark Twain gets a mention.

Kudos to the well-deserved acknowledgement of Mike Madison's long years of diligence as a small-scale producer of first class oil. I was only disappointed that there was so little mention of many other ardent, honest and ethical growers in California who are toiling to see extra virgin olive oil gain its rightful place on the shelf. I hope Mueller gets to meet some of them before he completes a sequel.

Caroline J. Beck, The Olive Oil Source
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An interview with author Tom Mueller on NPR's "Splendid Table" program led me to buy the book. Mueller is just as passionate in person about his subject--great olive oil--as he is in his writing. He is equally strong in chronicling his outrage over what the greed of producers and distributors is doing to undermine the quality of the product. All of this is laid out at length in "Extra Virginity". And it is the extensive investigatory reporting on the greed and criminality that makes the book drag considerably. Still, it does make his warnings and buying counsel to consumers of olive oil the more convincing, even if it makes the book more difficult to read.

What I (gratefully) did get from this book were some great sources to find authentic extra virgin olive oil and a persuasive argument that quality in the product does matter for culinary and health reasons. These are two good reasons to buy Mueller's book. And here's a tip to perspective readers who might, like me, tire of the long passages about Italian oil criminality or semi-cryptic descriptions of olive oil's chemical makeup: you can skip to page 221 of the book where begins Mueller's detailed Appendix, and where you will find all of the information you need to locate, buy and appreciate authentic extra virgin olive oil of any origin. It includes what to avoid as well as how and when to purchase. I have used the information and bought my first Mueller-recommended oil--a Spanish label, Castillo de Canena, that is every good thing that Mueller promised it would be, including crushingly expensive.

Finally, here are a few important things that the reader will get from this book: most extra virgin olive oil sold in the U.S.
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Format: Hardcover
At a conference in Córdoba, Spain last summer Tom Mueller addressed a gathering of politicians, olive oil producers, scientists and journalists and urged them to repeat the words "extra virgin" three times slowly. The words soon become, he said, "not a food, but a strange religious cult, a language of initiation, or some place on the internet where you really would not want your children to go."

He should know. Mueller is the investigative author whose 2007 piece in The New Yorker, Slippery Buisness: The Trade in Adulterated Olive Oil, forever changed the discourse about olive oil quality by uncovering plenty of places you wouldn't want your children to go.

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil is Mueller's first book and, while the title emphasizes the weight and complexity of those words, it's all about people.

Mueller is driven by a profound respect for the dedicated people who make good olive oil and a disdain for the fraudsters and profiteers who have always had their way with us. But much more than just getting in the faces of the good guys and the bad guys, he tells why it matters. And then you get it -- you understand what olive oil really is, and why so many care about it so deeply.

After 256 engrossing pages that go by way too quickly, someone who never contemplated the tin of olive oil on the kitchen counter will know why it has brought out the best, and the worst in people for thousands (yes thousands) of years.

I tore through the book, then went back to the beginning and tore through it again. The only times I paused were to read a passage over to take it in a second time, marveling at Mueller's way with words.
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