Extra Virgin Olive Oil Olive oil so fresh, you can feel the leaves on the trees. Photo by B.A. Van Sise.




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KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE. ELIZABET TRAVIS is an Editorial Intern.



December 2007

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Oils, Vinegars & Salad Dressings

Pellegrino Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Certified Organic Olive Oil From Italy



CAPSULE REPORT: Here’s an unusual opportunity. If you use a fair amount of heart-healthy olive oil, instead of going to the store for your olive oil, join a co-op and get fresh-pressed, organic extra virgin oil from a family grove in Calabria, Italy. It’s imported by the grandson of the proprietors: a delicious, everyday fine oil with good fruit flavor, wonderful, buttery unctuousness and just the right amount of pepper finish.

We are a country blessed with diversity. People from Canada, China, Ethiopia, France, India, Italy, Mexico and so many countries in between have brought with them their culture, customs and, of course, food. Because of immigrants, we have a wealth of ethnic restaurants and groceries. Some special products are imported from the homeland by people who now live here. Michele Castaldo (mee-KELL-lay is Michael in Italian) is one of these people. Born in Calabria, Italy, where he lived until age three, Michele and his family moved to North America in the early 1960s. His Calabrian relatives have ancestral olive groves, and make certified-organic extra virgin olive oil. So, with great pride, not just in the food of his country but in the product of his family, Michele began a special program to share this extra virgin olive oil with those who love a fine, fresh olive oil—and enjoy knowing exactly when the oil they buy was pressed, something that one can’t even guess with most oils on the shelf.

And yes, with olive oil, freshness counts. U.S. regulations don’t require expiration dating or date-of-pressing information on olive oil packaging, which can deprive buyers of Olive Grovesthe oil’s freshest flavors. Anyone who has had freshly-pressed oils can attest to its vibrancy. But when you buy a bottle or can of olive oil, you have no idea when it was pressed: It can take six months from the pressing and bottling just to arrive in the U.S. Then the oil goes into the distribution system: Often, distributors warehouse it before it is purchased by stores and goes into their own inventory system. Depending on turnover, by the time you purchase a bottle, the oil could be a year old—and for maximum flavor, you should have consumed most of of it by then!
Photo: The Pellegrino olive groves in Calabria. Calabria and Puglia produce more than 50% of Italy’s olive oil.

Michele’s concept was to provide olive oil lovers with the freshest, tastiest oil from his families groves. Looking for a cost-effective way to distribute the oil, the New York City Olive Oil Co-op was born (more about that in the next section). Pellegrino Certified Organic Olive Oil doesn’t go into a “distribution system”: It comes directly to Michele from the source, his mother’s family’s groves, each December, right after pressing. Michele delivers it to his customers then and throughout the year; by the end of the year, the prior year’s oil is gone and the new pressing arrives, ensuring customers of fresh goods. The only way to get fresher oil is to visit a grove and buy it there.

The Olive Oil

The Pellegrino company was founded in 1920 by Michele’s grandparents, Michelangelo Pellegrino and Maria Antonio Fusinia. They grow and harvest their olives along the Etruscan Olive PressTyrrhenian coast of Italy, located in the foothills of Aspromonte, a mountain massif in southern Calabria. The coastal strip is haven for olive trees as well as the bergamot orange used to flavor Earl Grey tea, which only grows in this region.

The Pellegrinos make their olive oil using traditional olive-growing methods with modern organic practices. The olive is the Leccino, a medium-size olive with a mild fruity flavor, and one of the principal oil olives used to make the famed Tuscan olive oils. The olives are cold-pressed and milled in the Pellegrino’s own ecological mill and are decanted naturally.

The result, “Private Reserve” olive oil, is pure, unblended, organic olive oil at an affordable price. The olive oil has a lovely, green-gold color—the shade people are trained to think of as “good” olive oil, although the color is actually related to the type of olive. The nose is green olive. On the palate there is a moderate olive fruitiness, with a mild amount of pepper on the finish; the texture is rich and buttery, with a substantial, unctuous mouthfeel. Overall, it is a textbook olive oil: just the right color, flavor and texture to appeal to everyone. It’s delicious by the spoonful, too, for those who take their 32 grams a day as a prophylactic against coronary disease.
Photo: An ancient Etruscan olive press—how olive oil was made thousands of years ago.

The New York City Olive Oil Co-Op

The New York City Olive Oil Co-op is an olive oil tasting project. In order to show the Olive Oildifference between Pellegrino and other olive oils (and gain new customers), Michele conducts blind tastings in the New York City area, which include a good amount of olive oil education. Then, participants are invited to taste a group of olive oils and vote on their favorites. The group includes a famous connoisseur brand of olive oil that sells for twice the price of Pellegrino, a best-selling supermarket brand. All of the oils have merit, but invariably, Pellegrino stands out.
Photo: Tasting the olive oils blind.

It’s a good, educational concept: People come to free tastings, try the oil and can sign up to receive regular deliveries or just buy a bottle or two. And, they hear some beautiful music, too (on to the next section for details).

In addition to his olive oil venture, Michele is an award-winning songwriter/producer and recording artist. In fact, his olive oil tastings begin and end with an operatic aria or an Italian song—and his voice is spectacular. We like his CDs as much as his olive oil! He is an illustration of the multitalented people in the specialty food community. Try the oil, buy the CD and take a vacation to Calabria to visit the beautiful groves in person.

Certified Organic Olive Oil From Italy

  • ½ Liter Bottle

  • 1-Liter Bottle

  • 3.8-Liter Can

Purchase online at

For More Information:

  • Telephone 1.212.947.7271
  • Email ncoocoop@gmail.com

Price 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 relationship.

Organic Olive Oil

Packaging is intentionally plain: It’s what’s inside that counts. This bottle is clear to show the color of the oil; the oil is delivered in dark bottles to protect the oil from the light. Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel.