Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

The first oil wars--the battle for resource supremacy in the West--took place in the Mediterranean climes of ancient Greece and Rome. Olive oil, not crude, served as the source of life and sustenance, a salve and aphrodisiac that also cemented peace and provoked war between nations and linked the earthly to the divine. This catalyst of civilized life is the topic of Extra Virginity, Tom Mueller's delicious treatise expanding upon an article he wrote for the New Yorker in 2007.

Between tidbits of ancient and modern folklore, Mueller presents olives in their natural, pristine beauty--a fruit simultaneously cherished, abused and plundered with Mafioso-like zeal for the glory of country and of wealth. True olive oil, distinct in its fruitiness and chemical composition, is not a commodity to be tampered with or rendered tasteless by inferior fruits and by-products that assault consumers in watered down, cleverly disguised vintages lining today's supermarket shelves. That EVOO that Rachael Ray hawks on her popular Food Network programs? Maybe it's not so real after all.

Extra Virginity educates even as Mueller bemoans the lack of distinction in what we consume. "Olive obsession is an ancient obsession," he writes. "The fruit and fragrance of good oil are tempered with bitterness, as life's beauty is." Maybe it's about time we took inspiration from his words, stood up and gave ourselves the genuine taste of life. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer

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