Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

( 12 )

Overview

The sacred history and profane present of a substance long seen as the essence of health and civilization.
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...

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Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

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Overview

The sacred history and profane present of a substance long seen as the essence of health and civilization.
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 become deeply corrupt? Starting with an explosive article in The New Yorker, Tom Mueller has become the world's expert on olive oil and olive oil fraud-a story of globalization, deception, and crime in the food industry from ancient times to the present, and a powerful indictment of today's lax protections against fake and even toxic food products in the United States. A rich and deliciously readable narrative, Extra Virginity is also an inspiring account of the artisanal producers, chemical analysts, chefs, and food activists who are defending the extraordinary oils that truly deserve the name "extra-virgin."

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Editorial Reviews

Dwight Garner - New York Times
“Mueller reveals the brazen fraud in the olive oil industry and teaches readers how to sniff out the good stuff.”
New York Times - Dwight Garner
“Mueller reveals the brazen fraud in the olive oil industry and teaches readers how to sniff out the good stuff.”
Time Magazines Literary Supplement
“Tom Mueller is, in turn, chemist, explorer, scholar and bard, infusing the narrative with a sense of wonder.”
Columbus Dispatch
“The New Yorker writer does for his subject what Susan Orlean did for orchids.”
Hollywood Reporter
“... [Extra-Virginity] does for olive oil what Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation did for hamburgers. Mueller traces the history of this valuable product from antiquity to the present, but the really disturbing part is his expose of the inferior quality control and outright fraud among today’s’ oil producers.”
New York Times
“Mueller reveals the brazen fraud in the olive oil industry and teaches readers how to sniff out the good stuff.”— Dwight Garner
USA Today
“Mueller builds a convincing case for olive oil as one of the most miraculous and versatile substances in all of nature. . . . Passionately written yet clear-headed.”
Times Literary Supplement
“Tom Mueller is, in turn, chemist, explorer, scholar and bard, infusing the narrative with a sense of wonder.”
Wall Street Journal
“Extra Virginity may make you reconsider the extra you’re paying for ‘extra.’”
Hollywood Reporter
“... [Extra-Virginity] does for olive oil what Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation did for hamburgers.Mueller traces the history of this valuable product from antiquity to the present, but the really disturbing part is his expose of the inferior quality control and outright fraud among today’s’ oil producers.”
Wall Street Journal
“Extra Virginity may make you reconsider the extra you’re paying for ‘extra.’”
Columbus Dispatch
“The New Yorker writer does for his subject what Susan Orlean did for orchids.”
Publishers Weekly
Italy resident Mueller, who wrote a piece on olive oil for the New Yorker, is well-situated to interpose olive oil against the Byzantine ways of its present-day production in this intriguing and sumptuously researched book. He begins in southern Puglia at a small, family-run olive oil business, then examines the vastness of Italian farming and olive production and the ongoing struggle for quality oil making. His history takes readers through Europe and eventually around to California and Australia. The book’s organizing conflict centers on current imbalances between trade quality and quantity, and the problematic roles of politics, government, and regulation. Mueller includes specialists in his book from a variety of disciplines, including archeology, classics, and epidemiology. Interspersed historical material follows the oil’s thread out of Mediterranean antiquity through subsequent civilizations and imperiums, into the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Mechanization during the Industrial Revolution, Mueller points out in this engaging story, accelerated production and consumption, but now the industry is plagued by questionable developments that are fortunately offset by the growing artisanal trade. (Dec.)
Bill Buford
“How long have readers been waiting for a book like this? A century? A millennium? Finally, the earth's most poetic food has found its storyteller. Essential, smart, and ridiculously overdue.”
From the Publisher
A Best History, Current Events, Contemporary Issues Audiobook of 2012. "[Narrator] Peter Ganim narrates with appropriate surprise, occasional outrage, and always energy and excitement. His excellent Italian and his deep base voice suit the text. His voicing of the many personalities Mueller interviews and even his reading of the glossary at the end are most entertaining...a must listen..." - SoundCommentary
"[Ganim's] voice lavishes the descriptions of beautiful landscapes of olive groves and delicious olive-oil-infused cuisine with audible love. He gives studied accents to the global range of olive oil producers, farmers, professors, and wholesalers, according to their country of origin." - AudioFile Magazine
Starred review. "Engrossing history, vivid contemporary reporting, and a cogent call to action, expertly blended in an illuminating text." - Kirkus Reviews
3 out of 4 stars. "Mueller builds a convincing case...gives readers the tools to find honestly and lovingly produced product." - USA Today
"...engaging story..." - Publishers Weekly
"Extra Virginity promises a journey into the 'sublime and scandalous world of olive oil' and delivers on that promise. Readers of this book will never again look at olive oil in the same way." - New York Journal of Books
"a sparkling, stylish, sharply observed narrative that entertains and educates." - The Dallas Morning News
"Extra-virgin olive oil is glorious, complex and slippery...that's bountifully clear in Tom Mueller's expansive, fascinating exploration...Mueller manages to fuse the poetry and business of olives into a riveting tale that also sheds light on food politics more broadly. The growing legion of olive oil aficionados are destined to adore it, especially the useful index telling them how and where to buy." - Macleans
"How long have readers been waiting for a book like this? A century? A millennium? Finally, the earth's most poetic food has found its storyteller. Essential, smart, and ridiculously overdue." - Bill Buford, author of Heat
Library Journal
Mueller, a freelance writer based in Italy, expands on his 2007 New Yorker article, "Slippery Business: The Trade in Adulterated Olive Oil," with this in-depth look at the world of olive oil production. Skillfully blending international courtroom drama with the rich history of one of the first commodities, Mueller explains that despite its almost universal status as a symbol of peace and prosperity, olive oil has been a magnet for fraud and corruption since antiquity. While the earliest record of oil tampering dates back to 5000-year-old cuneiform tablets, the Romans devised a system that helped curtail such behavior; bottles known as amphorae were stamped or inscribed with notes at each stop on their way to the consumer. Mueller would say that such a system would be a good starting point in today's olive oil trade, where the words "Made in Italy" carry almost no assurance that anything other than the label is from that country. VERDICT Fans of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Peter Singer and Jim Mason's The Way We Eat will find Mueller's indictment of a slippery trade enlightening and entertaining.—Rosemarie Lewis, Georgetown Cty. Lib., SC
Kirkus Reviews
Expanding on his New Yorker article exposing fraud in the olive oil industry, Mueller considers the trade's past, present, and future. The author opens with an olive oil tasting, where experts identify the flavors and fragrances that distinguish high-quality oil from lampante, which can legally be sold only for fuel--except that lax enforcement by the EU has led to an epidemic of oil labeled extra virgin and/or "100 percent Italian" when in fact it is a blend of cheaper oils from other countries. In addition to the slippery (but often surprisingly engaging) rascals whose shenanigans Mueller investigated in the original article, the author visits conscientious cultivators striving to elevate standards with a combination of time-honored techniques and cutting-edge technology. Among them are the De Carlos in Puglia, historic center of Italian olive oil production; the Vaño family in Jaén, trying to improve the generally low quality of Spanish oil; and Gordon Smyth of the New Norcia monastery near Perth, innovative preserver of a tradition established by the Spanish monks who brought olive trees to Australia in 1846. Mueller consults with chemists and government officials on two continents to examine why extra virgin olive oil is so healthful and why attempts to control its adulteration have been so ineffectual. (Short answer: corruption in Italy; indifferent FDA in America.) He intersperses aromatic vignettes from the history of olive oil, which in centuries past adorned the bodies of Greek athletes, burned in lamps in Christian churches, served as a folk remedy for a plethora of ailments and set the civilized Romans apart from those barbarians who favored meat, beer and animal fat over bread, wine and oil. So, "[a]re we witnessing a renaissance in oil, or the death of an industry?" The answer is still uncertain, but lovers of fine food and fine prose will relish Mueller's exploration of the storied byways and modern sanctuaries of the olive, related with supple elegance. Engrossing history, vivid contemporary reporting and a cogent call to action, expertly blended in an illuminating text.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393343618
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/8/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 188,234
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Table of Contents

Prologue Essences 1

1 Olives and Lives 15

2 Oil Bosses 41

3 Olives Sacred and Profane 67

4 The Lovely Burn 89

5 Industrial Oil 111

6 Food Revolutions 131

7 New Worlds of Oil 159

Epilogue Mythologies 203

Glossary 207

Appendix Choosing Good Oil 221

Acknowledgments 231

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 30, 2011

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    Captivating and Provocative

    Extra Virginity reveals a glimpse into the hidden world of olive oil, which has been widely unseen until now. Tom's hard-hitting report presents vivid narratives of both honor and fraud within the olive oil industry and brings the explicit truth to much-needed light.

    This corruption, unexamined for far too long, is very real. Working in the corporate olive oil industry, we perpetually come up against the lack of understanding and concern for truly how much adulterated olive oil is on the market today. It's disturbing how many well known food companies and olive oil suppliers are not being held responsible for their deliberate label misrepresentations, and as a result, consumers are being taken advantage of.

    Tom Mueller's insightful history finally brings this prolific issue of adulteration into view for all to see. My hope is that Extra Virginity makes a lasting impression on everyday consumers who have been unable to fully understand the hidden truth until now. Echoing the comments by Bill Buford, this book is "ridiculously overdue" and is regarded with the utmost respect and value.

    Nathan J. Ver Burg, Centra Foods

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An epic battle between first-class quality and commodity pricing

    There is no other fruit with a deeper history than the olive. With the publication of Extra Virginity, Tom Mueller has taken it to its bitter end and brings it back again. A book filled with twists and turns that would shame the best mystery writer, Mueller tells a riveting tale about an age-old staple. He explores both ends of the spectrum ¿ the dark, devious world of adulterated oil that has plagued the industry for centuries and a new host of characters from chemists to chefs who are trying to take extra virgin olive oil to a higher level.

    It is a story of two opposites: first-class quality doing battle with worldwide commodity pricing and big-money subsidies. Mueller, best known for his 2007 exposé on the world of adulterated olive oil in The New Yorker magazine, spent the last four years delving deep into the subject. When the stakes are as large as a rapidly growing, $1.5 billion business in the U.S. alone, it¿s understandable that Mueller would uncover an undercurrent of shady dealings.

    He introduces readers to a cast of characters from around the world. From ¿hero¿ archetypes like Paolo Pasquali of Villa Campestri in Tuscany, a former philosophy professor, who spearheads a new system to protect oil from tree to table to villainous players like Domenico Ribatti, whose illegal activity eventually led to a plea bargain in Italian court. Even Mark Twain gets a mention.

    Kudos to the well-deserved acknowledgement of Mike Madison¿s long years of diligence as a small-scale producer of first class oil. I was only disappointed that there was so little mention of many other ardent, honest and ethical growers in California who are toiling to see extra virgin olive oil gain its rightful place on the shelf. I hope Mueller gets to meet some of them before he completes a sequel.

    Caroline J. Beck, The Olive Oil Source

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2012

    I found this to be an absolutely fascinating book. It moved fro

    I found this to be an absolutely fascinating book. It moved from the technical to the historical very well. I was caught up and found the trivia to be interesting to mind-boggling. I thoroughly recommend that anyone who considers them self a "foodie" to read this book. The realization that you had a better chance at unadulturated olive oil in the Roman empire then now should pop your eyes open! I am now permanently spoiled for supermarket olive oil and will give "Made in Italy" tags a good long, disbelieving look.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 14, 2012

    Great, well-researched read!

    If you are an olive oil SNOB, or even if you just enjoy using GOOD, extra-virgin olive oil, this is a must-read! Learn how it gets to your table.

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