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Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  1,843 ratings  ·  346 reviews
For millennia, fresh olive oil has been one of life's necessities-not just as food but also as medicine, a beauty aid, and a vital element of religious ritual. Today's researchers are continuing to confirm the remarkable, life-giving properties of true extra-virgin, and "extra-virgin Italian" has become the highest standard of quality.

But what if this symbol of purity has
ebook, 288 pages
Published December 5th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2011)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
It can be disheartening to read about the extraordinary benefits of pure, fresh olive oil, only to be told you're not likely to get it unless you grow and process your own olives. True extra virginity is mighty scarce. That pretty bottle of oil on your shelf for which you paid a premium price has probably been defiled more than once before being dressed up and sold as a virgin.

Let the buyer beware. Neither the sellers nor the regulatory agencies are looking out for your interests. There are a f
Updating 7/11 to add link to ongoing controversy of author's evaluation methods and relationship with Veronica Foods. Draw your own conclusions.

Last week I crossed paths with two food-centric non-fiction books. One, a memoir, written by a famous chef, was set in my favorite place on the planet: Paris. I thought for certain I'd love it. I love memoir. I love Paris. I adore cheffy things. Alas, I kicked it to the curb after the first twenty-five pages.

The other, this book here, this rambling, oc
Kater Cheek
This is the kind of book I usually adore: food, science, history, politics, people. I also adore olive oil. Mueller does a pretty good job of giving the reader (or listener, in my case) a good overview of the world of olive oil.

Here are the things I learned from this book. One, there are many, many different kinds of olive oil, almost as many olive cultivars as there are cultivars of wine grapes. Like wine, olive oil has been around since antiquity, and has been a stable source of trade in the M
Gail Kavanagh
If you ever had the sneaking suspicion that the words ‘extra virgin’ on olive oil is a load of old cobblers, pat yourself on the back. Your consumer’s BS meter is working fine.

I certainly feel more educated in consumer BS of all kinds after reading Tom Mueller’s Extra Virginity, about the marketing of olive oil and the somewhat liberal interpretation of the meaningless phrase ‘extra virgin’. Blatted about by enthusiastic celebrity chefs slurping olive oil over everything and pronouncing it the b
First Second Books
This book contains tales of olive oil bandits – actual people who hijack trucks of pure olive oil so that they can take it and sell it for themselves.

This takes place in the present day.

How can you not want to read about that?
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rebecca Stevenson
I can tell already that this is going to be one of those books that makes me look suspiciously at everything on a supermarket shelf.

In the end, after this fascinating glimpse into the shadowy, often bizarre world of olive oil, I came away with one relief: Zingerman's is still safe.
Fan's of Michael Pollan's work will enjoy this. I will not look at all those bottles of olive oil on the grocery store shelves quite the same.
Don Becher
More than you probably ever wanted to know about olive oil. One of those books that might have been done as a long magazine article, so becomes somewhat repetitious. That said, I did learn:

• About the history and historical uses of olive oil.
• About the growing, harvesting and processing of olive oil.
• How genuine extra virgin olive oil should taste.
• Most olive oil sold as “extra virgin” is not.
• A high percentage of olive oil sold is adulterated with other oils and low quality olive oil.
• Over
Becoming passionate about something is easy. These days, craft beer, fine wine, gourmet coffee, and artisan cheeses are all the rage. Tom Mueller's obsession is olive oil. After finishing 'Extra Viriginity,' I can see why. Mueller describes the journey olive oil takes, both through human history and from the grove to the bottle to the table. Unfortunately, the olive oil industry is rife with fraud and misleading packaging, make true extra virgin oil hard to come by. But when oil is good, it's re ...more
I've been exploring the local farmer's market recently, coming home with vegetables I have no idea how to cook. When I look up recipes on the internet, they invariably include olive oil as the first ingredient. Pour in some oil, mince some garlic, saute some onions, and you're in business: This is the lesson I have learned. Alternately, just rub olive oil, salt, and pepper over whatever vegetable you have on hand, roast it in the oven for 45 minutes, and there's your side dish. It's a little spo ...more
Mueller's writing style and anecdotes are generally entertaining, but there is no rhyme or reason to this book. It is repetitive and disorganized. While there are separate chapters with chapter headings (and quotes about olive oil of course), they didn't seem tied to the narrative of the text. He does provide crucial information on supermarket oils and the reasons why they are usually cut with other oils or taken from the "lamp oil" section of he crop and deodorized: it's amazingly cheaper, and ...more
I gotta admit, this should probably be a three-star book, but the descriptive passages of the first section carried me through the rest of the book with boring science and politics and conversations about adulterated food supplies.

Seriously, though, we should probably all be worried about how easy it is to adulterate the food supply.

But after you're done worrying about that (and alerting your congress-persons) come with me on a sensual me rephrase that...join me on a jo
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Feb 06, 2012 Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Snail in Danger (Sid) by: Goodreads December 2011 recommendation email
Shelves: food
More like flipped through. I kind of groaned because ... it's one more thing about food that it is required, or desirable, to be more detail-oriented about. Sometimes, I admit, I mock the (as I understand it) rather stringent EU guidelines about what foods can be called what but ... in the US we have rather the opposite situation, where much food labeling is extremely unregulated.

The most useful thing about this book is probably the appendix, with its information about how to look for olive oil,
Both an eye-opening expose of a relatively little-regulated industry around the globe, and the story of the olive tree's culinary importance in human history, Extra Virginity has definitely made me a smarter consumer.
I now know waaay more about olive oil than I ever wanted.
The author is a great writer! He has such passion and a style that is very enjoyable.

The interviews with the corrupt bosses of olive oil were very entertaining. I laughed out loud too many times.
It is very informative book about olive oil and the industry. I hope it raises awareness and brings on the needed changes to this corrupt business. Consumers need to be made more aware of what's going on with mislabeling, of what real olive oil ta
I will never buy EVOO in the supermarket again.
Tom (the author) is quick to respond to emails.
Apr 25, 2013 Megan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Petrea, Staci, Erin, Kristin,
Recommended to Megan by: NPR radio interview
The author’s original intention was to do a research book about olive oil—its history, how it’s made, its use around the world, etc. But very soon along the course of writing this book, he became aware that the olive oil industry is incredibly corrupt. Many of the olive oil farms and distributors are controlled by mafia-type organizations. This book ended up being a very different book from the one he set out to write. Most of the olive oil that you buy in the supermarket and particularly at Cos ...more
Maureen Kennedy
Apr 20, 2012 Maureen Kennedy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Olive oil lovers, Mediterranean Diet followers, Chefs
Recommended to Maureen by: Amazon
About 6 months ago I read The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine by Benjamin Wallace, a great 5* book on the criminal nature of the “haute” wine world. Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller was one of those “Customers Who Bought This Book Also Bought…” recommendations.

First, some background: About a year ago, I would have said that I knew how to pick a good olive oil in my local grocery store:
• Extra-Virgin? O
Peter Salomon
I think I learned more in reading this book about the 'alleged' Extra Virgin Olive Oil I've been using for the entirety of my life (which, it's apparent, I have never actually tasted 'real' EVOO despite what the bottles say) than I ever knew I didn't know.

I adored this book and there were countless items I wanted to share with the world so, suffice it to say, you should read all of it. Loved the fact that there are actual recommendations at the back of the book of how to actually buy quality EVO
After years of hearing me talk about it, the husband and I listened to this one as a CD audiobook. It was still enjoyable on re-listen and the husband really enjoyed both the science and the storytelling. We kept pumping our fists in the air and chanting “Support small producers!” and “The Olive Oil revolution is coming!”. We are both rather foodie and this was a fun bonding experience about the importance of quality ingredients!

2012 Review – Five Stars: This was one of the most interesting book
Ken Kugler
I have to start by saying that I almost gave up on this book. The reason is that the author, Tom Mueller, was trying to use lyrical language that was driving me nuts. It was only when he got past the first 30 pages or so that he started telling his story of olive oil and the problems with lax controls on what is called Virgin and also where the oils are actually from. He also spoke of the problems with adulterated oils and centrifuging impurities out. He also used examples of trials what involve ...more
Tom Mueller has written an astonishing book about the not so nice side of olive oil. Much of what is on supermarket shelves is not extra virgin but adulterated oil (many not even made with olives but some kind of seed oil). The fraud is worldwide and much of it is sold in the United States. Fortunately, there are still artisans producing magnificent oil and they are the ones to purchase the oil from.
The taste should be peppery, fruity and bitter and should have a pleasant, clean feeling in the
Daryl Thompson
Hey I knew nothing about Extra Virgin Olive oil before reading this book. I will now watch better at the store or maybe buy from a Olive oil store Enjoyed reading about somehting I knew nothing.
Mary Ronan Drew
Years ago I was in the library when a copy of James Thurber's My Years with Ross fell on my head. Someone in the next row had pushed a big book too far and knocked the Thurber off the shelf. Such an appropriate way to meet Thurber, who is one of America's great eccentrics. The book was my introduction to the Algonquin Round Table and the New Yorker in its early years. Wonderful accident. Serendipity at it's happiest. . . .

Read the rest of my review in my blog at:
This is a wonderfully informative, engaging study of the history of olive oil and the current state of the olive oil industry. From hereon in I will always look closely at the labels (even tho, according to the research, they can be utterly misleading)& am trying different oils from different countries (previously I would only buy "Italian"--a term which I learned means very little). Not just a book for "foodies", this truely is a story about a sublime food and some scandalous business pract ...more
Suzie Langdon
I must confess that I read this book primarily to get the scoop on how and where to find good olive oil. OK, it's sort of superficial of me but just to let you know you won't get the answer in this book.It was informative,shocking in it's detailed history of slippery dealings in the oil trade. I even tried to test some new olive oil as demonstrated in the accounts of experienced testers...and yes, I felt the peppery sensation in the back of my throat although my slurping was not up to par. And ...more
Rob Joanisse
"floreat mercator"
Michael Kerr
A survey of the world of olive oil. Mueller discusses the widespread fraud in the industry, in which poor quality oils are deodorized (with chemical processes), blended with seed oils, nut oils or soybean oils (highly dangerous for people with allergies), then labelled "extra virgin" and sold at such a low cost that honest producers are driven out of business.

The current cultural obsession with minimizing regulation (to promote business) means that inspections and punishments for "mislabeling"
David Glad
Obviously did not know much about and was quite cynical of olive oil before this book. (Correctly as it turns out.)

Guess the quick notes are that most "extra virgin"s are anything but and that it was even created more as a marketing term (with lax enforcement of the standards and laws that put the burden of proof on the accuser, with a risk-reward scenario that guarantees the status quo), while there is a group pushing for a "super premium" designation for the best quality olive oils. Lot of the
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Gwinnett County P...: Oil of the Ages 1 3 Apr 16, 2012 11:50AM  
  • In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food
  • Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit
  • The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World's Fiercest Food Fight
  • Beans: A History
  • Taste What You're Missing: The Passionate Eater's Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good
  • Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food
  • Food in History
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adria's Elbulli
  • Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent
  • Fresh: A Perishable History
  • The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Obsession, Commerce, and Adventure
  • Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World
  • White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf
  • Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages
  • Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee—The Dark History of the Food Cheats
  • Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore
  • Food: The History of Taste
  • Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris
Tom Mueller writes for The New Yorker and other publications. He lives in a medieval stone farmhouse surrounded by olive groves in the Ligurian countryside outside of Genoa, Italy.

see also
More about Tom Mueller...
Extra Vergine: Die erhabene und skandalöse Welt des Olivenöls The Wisconsin 3,800: Our Men and Women Buried or MIA in the Lands They Liberated in World War II The Last Link: Dakota Territory, Logan County, 1887: Old North Dakota Memories: The Weispfennings and Muellers: Our Early American Experiences in Dakota Territory Heart of the Century: 1949 to 1951, Korea, the shadow of a Third World War...and everyday life in the daily newspaper Duty, Honor, Country and Wisconsin

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“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. But there has to be a first time. Somehow we have to get those first drops of real extra virgin oil into their mouths, to break them free from the habituation to bad oil, and from the brainwashing of advertising. There has to be some good oil left in the world for people to taste.” 3 likes
“It says what every olive oil says: 100 percent Italian, cold-pressed, stone ground, extra virgin..."

He shook his head, as if unable to believe his eyes. "Extra virgin? What's this oil got to do with virginity? This is a whore.”
More quotes…