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on October 16, 2015
A wonderful book! I loved it, I learned so much about different varieties of olives and oil. My husband and I knew next to nothing about olive oils and were interested in the various tastes. We soon visited a place where we could taste many different kinds and had the pleasure of the "bite" at the back of the tongue that the author described so vividly. Who knew. The various families the author got to know and the history of the ancient mills up to the present time were fascinating. Some of the older families making olive oil still are doing it after generations and still going strong. We now know so much about olive oil, the various types, the types of processing, the trees themselves and how,old and huge they can grow to be, and how to store it, etc. We need to take a tour, and also find abandoned groves!! And take part in an olive harvest!!! An incredible book written by a man who experienced all he wrote about.
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on July 3, 2005
_Olives_ by Mort Rosenblum is a well-written, witty, and engaging book on all things olive, thorough in its coverage. Rosenblum became an olive aficionado after acquiring five acres of land in the Provence region of France, site of an abandoned farmhouse and two hundred half-dead and heavily overgrown century-plus olive trees, long neglected. From that point on he became not only committed to bringing his trees back to life but on becoming an expert on olives in general, traveling throughout France, Israel, Palestine, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Morocco, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, California, and Mexico to speak to olive growers, those who press olives for their oil, government regulators, those involved in marketing table olives and olive oil, chefs, and nutritional experts. Though not a cookbook, _Olives_ even includes cooking, buying, and storage tips as well as recipes for such fare as eliopitta (a Cypriot olive bread) and imam bayaldi (the name meaning "the imam fainted," supposedly reference to a long-ago reaction to this eggplant and olive oil dish).

The origins of the domestication of _Olea europaea_ are lost in the mists of prehistory. The olive, a close relation to the lilac and jasmine, was maintained in groves in Asia Minor as early as 6000 B.C. Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans spread olives to Sicily, the Italian mainland, France, Spain, and North Africa. Spanish missionaries in the 1500s brought the olive to California and Mexico. Today there are 800 million olive trees in the world. Though found on six continents, 90% of them are found in the Mediterranean (Spain has the most).

Olives have long been an important fixture in Mediterranean history and religion. Golden carvings of olives decorated ancient Egyptian tombs. Greeks used so much olive oil to lubricate their athletes that they invented a curved blade, the strigil, to scrape it off. Saul, the first king of Israel, was crowned by rubbing oil into his forehead. In Hebrew, the root word for "messiah" comes from "unguent," meaning that the messiah when he arrives will be slathered in oil. The fuel referred to in the miracle of Hanukkah was olive oil. The Old and New Testaments refer to olive oil 140 times and the olive tree 100 times. The Romans had a separate stock market and merchant marine dedicated just to oil.

Rosenblum vividly showed that olive oil is a nuanced as wine. There are seven hundred cultivated varieties, or cultivars, with some grown for pressing, others for eating, ranging from cailletiers (favored in salade nicoise) to malissi (the standard tree of the West Bank) to the hardy, wilder Moroccan picholine to the famous Greek Kalamata. Oils vary a lot in taste, from syrupy yellow oils of southern Italy to thin green Tuscan oils with a peppery after bite to the spicy and light oil of the Siurana region of Spain. Acidity and taste vary due to local cultivators, the weather that year, the presence or absence of pests, when the olives are harvested, and how long they sit around before pressing (as fermentation drives up acidity).

There are regional differences in harvesting olives. In Israel, Palestine, and France, they "milk" trees, the pickers using their fingers and dropping olives into a basket or a net under the tree. "Whackers" - prevalent in Spain, Italy, and Greece - use sticks to hit the branches to dislodge olives, faster and not requiring ladders, but tougher on the trees.

The actual process of pressing olives is extremely well-covered, Rosenblum vividly describing the one favored in most olive-growing countries, the modern continuous system (which uses linked centrifuges to grind up pulp), often highly automated, and the traditional method of using a tower press, which is a very interesting device (though labor-intensive and on the decline outside of niche markets). There are considerable debates in the industry over exact methods, particularly on the use of water and its temperature.

Olives are big business; an industry producing about $10 billion a year as the world consumes nearly 2 million metric tons of olive oil each year. In some areas consumption is quite high; the average per capita consumption annually in Greece is five gallons of oil. Though Spain produces 37% of the world's oil compared to Italy's 19 % and Greece's 17%, it only has a 16% share of the American market (compared to Italy's 70% and Greece's 3%). Ten brands dominate the American domesticate market; most labels are small, sold only regionally or instead growers sell their olives to Italy to produced blended oils for export as a "Product of Italy" despite being grown perhaps in Tunisia, Greece, or Turkey. Rosenblum investigated the corruption that existed in the industry, from waning Mafia influence in Italy to adulterating olive oil with seed oil to cheating in some areas to gain EU agricultural subsidies.

Sales in olive oil have grown a great deal, particularly in the United States, thanks to a growing consensus on its healthfulness. Monounsaturated, olive oil drives out bad cholesterol without reducing the good. Rich in antioxidants, it has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

The author provided some valuable education to the consumer about oils. Extra-virgin for instance means that the amount of free fatty acids - mostly oleic acid - is below 1 percent, with the organoleptic properties (aroma, taste, and body) rating high. Virgin oil, rarely found for sale, has up to 2 percent acidity. Both are produced by "first-press" or "cold-press" methods. Plain olive oil, (or "pure"), is refined inferior oil used mainly for frying, treated with steam and chemicals and mixed with some better oil for a little flavor and aroma. Pomace oil comes from the first-press leavings, refined to bring it below the 3.5 percent acidity level that designates lamp oil, though often pomace is instead used to make soap (the oil for soap may have 40% acidity). "Lite" oil has the same number of calories (125 per tablespoon), simply being a refined olive oil with less extra virgin added, a clearer color, cheaper to make, and inferior.
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on August 24, 2013
not everyone is interested in this. I grow olives, and the people featured in this book are like a family reunion...along with a lot of new friends. Also a fair amount of info on the "dark side" of olive production...yes there is a dark side. and what people view as "edible" in olives. Oh yeah, it's well written and entertaining too...
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on April 2, 2015
This is a good book to In the US we are not very sophisticated in this field, and when we buy olive oil it is usually not a particularly well informed choice. It is interesting to learn that much of the so called Italian oils are blends from crops from Italy, Spain. Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, and elsewhere. They are marketed as from Italy in a matter of speaking. Oils often carry a premium price in the US for no particular reason other than the producers can get away with it. This book cover this field through the mid nineteen nineties. The present circumstances are probably but not necessarily the same. The growing, the diseases, the pressing, both traditional and modern are covered. I did find the effort a bit repetitive. The information is there, nonetheless.
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on February 28, 2015
If you are interested in olives, this a good read. Filled with history, the differences between the processing and products between locales, even the individual farms. It contains anecdotes of his visits and impressions of all the diversity along with a few recipes from the different cultures. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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on August 11, 2007
The author of this book clearly loves olives. Like the author himself, I have come by my interest in them them rather late in life. This book has caught me up nicely in understanding about olives, their cultivation, and their cultural place in all the regions around the Mediterranean.

The fifth star is missing in my rating because many chapters left me with a vaguely depressed feeling about how traditional olive culture is fading under pressure from modern economic forces and the pervasive cheating that goes on in European Union agricultural subsidies. This sensation may have been another testament to the author's writing skill, but I found it unpleasant and it distracted from my enjoyment of the book. Nonetheless, I can recommend the book to anybody with an interest in olives and how things work behind the grocery store shelves.
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on December 26, 2016
Anyone with an olive tree or a taste for olives should have and will treasure Mort Rosenblum's wonderful book
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on May 20, 2016
Trip around the Med talk with everyone about olives and their oil. Enthusiasm and enchantment!
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on May 18, 2014
The reading flows and full of information from many countries and numerous aspects of the olive industry. Highly recommended and a pleasure to read (though the hardback edition is much - for lack of a better word - nicer.)
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on January 18, 2014
This book is a great adventure traveling to find the best olive oil.Very historical and a well told adventure! A person needs to taste the "gold" of olives.
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