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Top Pick Of The Week

January 1, 2008

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Lucini’s extra virgin olive oil. Photography by Claire Freierman.

WHAT IT IS: Fine Tuscan olive oils and artisan vinegars.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: Exquisite flavors distinguish these top-quality ingredients. Imagine a white wine vinegar that you can drink from a spoon without puckering!
WHY WE LOVE IT: We adore the green apple notes of the olive oil. The sweet, aged balsamic has with such minimal acidity, you could pour it over ice cream. The Pinot Grigio white wine vinegar so mellow, it’s a work of art.
WHERE TO BUY IT: Lucini.com
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Lucini Italia Olive Oil & Vinegar: Tuscan Treats

CAPSULE REPORT: Several months ago, we wrote about the tomato sauces and soups of Lucini Italia, a company that imports top-quality, handcrafted Italian specialty foods. The products include an extra virgin olive oil and a limited-edition organic extra virgin olive oil, plus a 10-year-old balsamic vinegar and a Pinot Grigio white wine vinegar. Since January is “Healthy Food Month” at THE NIBBLE, we couldn’t wait to recommend the heart-healthy olive oils and the vibrant, yet smooth and mellow, vinegars. The rich, flavorful regular oil has been a favorite at THE NIBBLE offices for many months now. It’s a classic Tuscan blend that is delightfully fruity, bursting with a green apple freshness and sporting only the faintest hint of the pepper for which so many Tuscan oils are known (and which create that infamous back-of-the-throat cough when you try to taste them). The oils are also certified kosher.

Take the money from whatever holiday gifts you returned and buy yourself the Lucini gift set—bottles of both vinegars plus the regular EVOO. When they arrive, enjoy a spoonful of each—straight—and rollick in the delectable aromas and flavors. Read the full review below to find out why they are so special.

     
THE NIBBLE does not sell the foods we review
or receive fees from manufacturers for recommending them.

Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.

Learn More About Olive Oil

Michael Chiarello's Flavored Oils & Vinegars The Flavors Of Olive Oil Flavored Oils - Michael Chiarello
Michael Chiarello’s Flavored Oils & Vinegars: 100 Recipes for Cooking With Infused Oils & Vinegars, by Michael Chiarello. The Food Network chef shares 100 creative recipes for both making and using flavored oils and vinegars that capture the essence of herbs, fruits, vegetables and spices. Sure to dazzle any dish. Click here for more information or to purchase. The Flavors of Olive Oil: A Tasting Guide and Cookbook, by Deborah Krasner. A comprehensive guide to tasting, understanding and cooking with extra virgin olive oil. Includes recipes that contain olive oil—appetizers, sandwiches and small dishes to salads, pizzas, entrées and even desserts. Click here for more information. Flavored Oils: 50 Recipes For Cooking With Infused Oils, by Michael Chiarello with Penelope Wisner. The owner/chef of Napa Valley’s Tra Vigne restaurant shares his wisdom for jazzing up ordinary dishes with flavored oils. His detailed advice on judicious use of them includes instructions for infusions that are easy-to-follow. Click here for more information or to purchase.

 

Lucini Italia Olive Oil & Vinegar: Tuscan Treats

INDEX OF REVIEW

MORE TO DISCOVER

Overview

Many olive oil fans are particularly fond of Tuscan olive oil. The particular soil, climate, trees and “under the Tuscan sun” aura gives this oil a particular personality. The olives are known for their peppery finish—some mild, some cough-worthy.* Tuscan olive oils are green and full-flavored, considered ideal for cooking and drizzling.

*As with grapes, each cultivar of olive has unique flavors and properties; and these properties take on different nuances based on terroir, the soil and climate in which the trees are planted.

The olives are grown on the hillsides just south of Florence, where many of the trees are hundreds of years old (the best olives grow on hillsides, in well-drained soil that is heavily composed of limestone). Extra virgin olive oils are produced from only 100% hand-picked olives that are pressed within 24 hours. Both of these production techniques create the best oil. Hand-picking is laborious, and lesser oils are made with olives that are picked by machine, which mechanically shake the ripe fruit from the trees. When the olives fall, they bruise; bruised fruit begins to deteriorate. Similarly, as soon as the fruit is picked, chemical conversions begin, and the fresh taste is lost (as well as complexity of flavor and antioxidants). People seeking economies of scale wait until a bin is full to transport it from the groves to the mill; artisan olive oil makers count the hours and get the fruit to the mill to capture the best flavors and acidity levels. Although an extra virgin olive oil is any oil with an acidity level of less than 1%, the very best olive oils have acidity levels of .3%; the good ones have less than .5%. The rest, which comprise the majority of “extra virgin olive oils” available for sale, are up to .999% acidity. Lucini (pronounced loo-CHEE-nee) falls under the .5% line.

Premium Select Extra Virgin Olive Oils

You may have a favorite olive oil—we have quite a few. It depends on whether we are in the mood for grassy and herbal, green tomato, green apple or ripe fruity (see The Flavors & Aromas Of Olive Oil for the different flavors yielded by the different varieties and terroirs).

We are huge fans of the Lucini’s regular Premium Select olive oil. It’s a classic Tuscan blend of Frantoio, Moraiolo, Leccino and Pendolino olives. In Italy, there are more than 350 cultivars (or varieties) of olive trees, those gnarly, thick-trunked beauties with silvery leaves. The four used by Lucini are most famed for their oil, and the most popular in Tuscan blends (three of the four are native to Tuscany; the Leccino is found throughout Italy).

  • The Frantoio olive oil is very fruity with a wonderful aroma (it’s the primary olive planted in Italy). It has a scent of green leaves and grass, a hint of green apple and almond layered onto the olive fruitiness, a wee amount of bitterness, pungency and astringency. Overall, it’s a sweet olive oil with a medium-high content of oleic acid, with a medium content of linolenic and palmitoleic acid.
  • The Leccino olive is the second most important variety in Italy. Its oil has a slight fruitiness, very slight bitterness and pungency. Like Frantoio, it has a sweetish flavor. It’s a high-yield, tolerant (to weather) olive that is also enjoyed as a table olive.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Lucini
The olives used in the Lucini blend are known for their fruitiness (the fruit of the olive) and their notes of green apple. Photo by Claire Freierman.

  • The Moraiolo olive is usually cultivated alongside the Frantoio for blending. It has similar qualities: good fruitiness, green apple and almond notes and slight bitter and pungent qualities that are balanced with a sweet sensation in the mouth. Like the Frantoio, it is slightly astringent and has a grassy aroma. The Moraiolo has a more robust flavor than the more refined Frantoio, ripens earlier in the season and is hardier, with good tolerance to wind and adverse weather conditions.
  • The Pendolino olive trees are the “weeping” olive trees that one sees immediately surrounding Florence. The small olives ripen at mid-season and produce a beautifully fruity olive oil. But they also make delicious green and black table olives as well.

Like winemakers, olive oil makers are challenged to blend their fruit in proportions that make the most pleasing oil. These four olives unite to create an oil that is green and full, with a distinct peppery finish, making it ideal for both drizzling over fresh ingredients, whisking into a vinaigrette or making a fine pesto. It’s good to use in cooking when the oil is a featured ingredient, for example, in grilled vegetables. Note that olive oil has a low smoke point; you can use it to sauté, but it’s better to find another culinary oil to fry or stir-fry.

Balsamic Vinegar & Pinot Grigio Vinegar

According to Lucini, chefs from Mario Batali to Emeril Lagasse to Charlie Trotter sing the praises of its olive oil. The vinegars deserve an aria or two as well. It isn’t easy to understand balsamic vinegar. We’ve written a lot on the subject that we hope will clarify things a bit. Here are a few quick bullets:

  • The finest balsamics, called traditionale and condimento, can start at $50 and have the official red consorzio seal and a tracking number, attesting to their authenticity. However, imitation balsamics can put a different type of red seal on their bottles to confuse consumers.
  • There are very fine balsamics that are made in the same region, of the same grapes and aged in the same woods as traditionale and condimento balsamics, but are not consorzio products because the producer did not wish to age it for a minimum of 12 years. Lucini’s product is one of these. Note, though, there are still many imitation balsamics that are simply colored, flavored and sweetened cider vinegar. Read our balsamic vinegar article for more information.

Lucini Italia Gran Riserva Balsamic Vinegar

Lucini Italia Gran Riserva Balsamic vinegar is a fine balsamic aged for 10 years—two years shy of being a consorzio vinegar, but very worthy of attention. Made on a single estate in Modena, Italy (the only region in which authentic balsamic can be made), Lucini’s product is made of the same Trebbiano grapes and aged in the same authentic woods—cherry, chestnut, juniper, mulberry and oak—as the costliest balsamics. Yet, it’s a fraction of the cost. (Online, it can only be bought as part of a set of three 8.5-ounce bottles, one of both vinegars and the regular olive oil, for $35.00—a great gift).

This fine vinegar can be enjoyed as a cheese course drizzled over Parmigiano Reggiano, on baby greens, on an Insalate Caprese (mozzarella, tomato and basil), in risotto, in reductions for meat and poultry, over strawberries...and anywhere you enjoy balsamic vinegar. It’s a delight.

Lucini Italia Pinot Grigio Vinegar

A second delight is Lucini’s Pinot Grigio vinegar. This white wine vinegar is so mellow, you could drink it from the spoon—and with the exception of the Gegenbauer vinegars at two and three times the price—it’s the most elegant of white wine vinegars we’ve ever tasted. We searched for years for a fine white wine vinegar before this crossed our threshold.

Balsamic Vinegar
Aged for ten years, this balsamic vinegar is a beauty. If you’ve never had a good balsamic on strawberries or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, try it. Photo by B.A. Van Sise.

LEARN MORE ABOUT OLIVE OIL IN OUR
OLIVE OIL GLOSSARY

Recipes

These very easy recipes show how basic ingredients with great olive oil yield grand results.

Fresh Oranges with Toasted Fennel

This recipe shows how Italians combine simple ingredients to great effect. Serve it as an appetizer or a palate cleanser between courses.

Ingredients

  • 3 seedless navel oranges
  • 3 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 1/2 cup top-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch arugula (baby arugula if possible)
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Cut off ends of oranges with sharp knife. Remove peel until only flesh is showing. Slice oranges horizontally into 1/4-inch slices.
  2. In a nonstick skillet, stir fennel seeds over high heat until fragrant and lightly toasted. In coffee or spice mill grind fennel seeds until almost powdery. (If using your coffee mill, be sure to clean it thoroughly so there is no coffee powder in the ground spice.)
  3. Using six plates, arrange two orange slices on each. Lightly coat each orange slice with ground fennel. Drizzle olive oil over oranges. Garnish with arugula.

Grilled Marinated Asparagus

Asparagus are not currently in season, but they were when we first began tasting the Lucini products. Asparagus will be back in April (the season is mid-April through mid-June), so count the days and be ready with this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds asparagus, tough ends broken off
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup top-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Mix together lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add trimmed asparagus to marinate at room temperature for one or more hours.
  2. Heat grill to high. Put asparagus on grill, cooking until they become flexible and lightly blackened. Serve immediately. Serves four.

There are quite a few good Italian recipes on the Lucini.com website, including a seasonal pear salad with spinach, radicchio, mushrooms and walnuts. Some people drink a tablespoon or two of olive oil a day for its heart-healthy properties (the FDA recommendation—23 grams, or .8 ounce, is the suggested amount that may “possibly prevent coronary disease”). If your tablespoon is Lucini, you’ll look forward to that daily spoonful.

—Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to olive oil lovers and people looking for fine organic products.

LUCINI ITALIA OLIVE OIL & VINEGAR
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL: Premium Select, Organic
VINEGAR: Balsamic, Pinot Grigio White Wine Vinegar

Certified kosher (pareve) by Star-K (olive oils)
USDA Certified Organic (the organic oil)
QAI and ICEA Certified Organic

  • Premium Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    250ml Bottle, $12.00
    500ml Bottle, $18.00
    750ml Bottle, $27.00
  • Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    500ml Bottle, $22.50
  • Oil & Vinegar Tasting Set
    250 ml (8.5-Ounce) Bottles
    Premium Select Extra Virgin Olive
    Oil, Gran Riserva Balsamic Vinegar,
    Pinot Grigio Vinegar
    $35.00

Purchase online* at Lucini.com
Or telephone 1.888.5LUCINI

*Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. THE NIBBLE does not sell products; these items are offered by a third party with whom we have no financial or other relationship. This link to purchase is provided as a reader convenience.

Lucini Olive Oil
Lucini Italia Oil & Vinegar Tasting Set (note: in Tasting Set, all three bottles are 250 ml/8.5 ounces). Photo by B.A. Van Sise.

 



Check Out These Other Top Pick Of The Week” Oils & Vinegars:

 

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