“60 Minutes” this past January reported that Italy’s olive oil production has been corrupted by the Mafia.  Many young Italian olive growers are defying the Mafia to produce genuine extra virgin olive oil.  The segment brought to our attention that 75-80% of olive oil bought and sold in the US is fake or at best diluted.  Many of my friends and family were shocked to find the olive oil they use to dress, marinate and saute’ their healthy meals was not from real olives.  Olive oil has become extremely popular over the years to enhance food flavor and also used in skin moisturizers.  Due to the high demand and health benefits, companies have been increasing production and saving a buck with fillers like soy, corn and canola oil.  As consumers, we have the right to know the basics of what we eat: where the food comes from, who made it and what’s in it.  You will be happy to know that Italy is cracking down on this world war over food authenticity.

After much time in Italy, I’ve learned to purchase olive oil from local growers.  I’ve had the opportunity to process olive oil with the gathering of olives, sorting them and taking them by crates to a mill where the strong smell and lime green color fills the air.  The fresh pressed olives are incredibly strong and vibrant.  I want to share that same experience with you.  While on tour, we take you to olive groves to meet the growers, learn the process, eat food prepared by their own olives and have the pleasure of purchasing bottled olive oil to take home.  Visiting an olive grove like my cousins groves who live in Rome and Sicily is what we offer on tour.   You are given the opportunity like I had to learn the process, conduct taste tests and pair the olive oil with a homemade meal.  From personal experience, real extra virgin olive oil is spectacularly tasty and the taste various in every area.  Many of my cousins toast Italian bread and use it like butter.  It’s delicious! Here are some of the regions that produce exceptional olive oil.  Once you taste the real deal, you will never go back to your original brand.  By the way, each region of Italy feels they grow and produce the best olive oil.  It’s that local Italian pride.  Gotta love it!

Tuscany – Just outside of Florence, the hills are a patch work of grapevines and olive groves.  As we end the tour in Chianti, we make sure to visit Elisabetta located just steps away from our villa for a presentation, tasting and of course, a fabulous lunch using their very own olive oil.  Before you head back to the villa, purchase a few bottles to take home.  It’s at the end of our trip, so shipping from there is easy peasy.

Sicily – It’s difficult to think of Sicily and not think of Sicilian olive oil.  Sicilian olive oil is the most fragrant and appetizing.  Most of the production of olive oil in Sicily is done near the Volcanic side of the island where richest soil is found.  Capo d’Orlando located in the provence of Messina is one of the best places to taste Sicilian olive oil.   We found Alcantara Valley near Taormina to be highly sought after, too.

Southern Italy –  Again at the end of our 12 day trip down in the Southern part of Italy, we end in Puglia along the Adriatic Sea.  This area is well known to produce the world’s best olive oil.  There are acres upon acres of olive groves.  No wonder they refer to this area of Southern Italy as the ‘Tuscany of the South’.  Pair fresh olive oil with the local favorites like orecchiette, fresh fish and vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant and asparagus.  It’s a real treat!

Sardinia – Not only is the island of Sardinia secluded from the main land sitting in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, but their self-sufficiency has allowed them to produce the finest olive oil.  As we head toward Sassari, we are treated with an abundance of fresh olive oil and exquisite meals.  Sardinians have less territory allocated for olive oil production compared to Puglia, but what they produce is slightly bitter in taste, which pair beautifully with artichokes, salads and their signature roasted piglet.  I call Sardinia, the land of traditions.  A trip to Sardinia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to an olive oil grove to taste the gourmet dishes that olive oil complements.

So you ask, but what do I do when I’m home?  How many bottles can I ship?  This doesn’t seem doable for a daily healthy lifestyle.  You’re right!  Traveling to Italy and loving the flavorful food is unmatched and unduplicated.  Although, there are ways to enjoy olive oil back home.  Buy local!  Many olive oil brands from California are very good and produce extra virgin olive oil.  The Kirkland organic brand has passed the olive oil test.  Give it a try!