I have a pressing question: do quality ingredients really matter? You hear it on food TV. You see it mentioned in recipes (For example: Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce calls for imported Italian tomatoes.). It certainly comes up a TON in food writing. It’s been on my mind since I started reading the Best Food writing collections with editor Holly Hughes.
In 2013 Olive and Lives by Tom Mueller really caught my attention. Mueller tells us of the De Carlo family, who have been making olive oil in Italy for the last four centuries. But the piece really centers on the issue that good olive oil is no longer the production standard and can barely be found even in Michelin stared restaurants let alone at home. Francesco, one of the family tells Mueller,
“ We try to eat only vegetables and fruits that are in season. Many Italians are the same. They prefer fresh things from local gardens to the brown, tired looking produce in supermarkets, even when local crops cost more. So why don’t they buy their oil the same way. Olives are a seasonal fruit, and olive oil is a fresh pressed fruit juice- it’s best shortly after it’s made, and goes downhill from there. Why on earth do people buy expensive vegetables like these, and dress them with the cheapest oil they can find?”
Later another family member, Grazia states,
“Because once someone tries a real extra virgin- an adult or a child, anybody with taste buds- they’ll never go back to the fake kind. It’s distinctive, complex, the freshest thing you’ve ever eaten. It makes you realize how rotten the other stuff is, literally rotten.”
In Best Food Writing 2003 Jeffrey Steingarten goes on an extensive quest (as he usually does, which is why we love him) to find the best tasting butter available, and make his own. Certainly Steingarten can taste the difference, but can I?
Some items are kind of obvious. The difference between canned fruit, frozen, and fresh of the tree is pretty obvious. But what about olive oil, butter, and different quality canned foods? Is there really a difference?
I plan to find out.
I’ve ordered a bottle of the De Carlo’s olive oil. I have Steingarten’s butter list. I will try many and perhaps attempt making my own as well (I have the number for my local dairy handy.) I’m checking out imported Italian tomatoes…
I will report back after extensive testing. Wish me luck. :)