Jan 152017

January Salads


I am really pleased to share this guest blog post which Judy Ridgway has written for my readers. Judy is an independent olive oil expert and here she shares her knowledge about Early Harvest extra virgin olive oil including suggestions for which ones to look out for. She also includes two delicious salad recipes, ‘Greek Village Salad’ and ‘Tomato, Cheese and Mackerel Salad’. Judy Ridgway is co-author of ‘The Olive Oil Diet’ and blogger at www.judyridgway.co.uk. She can also be followed on Twitter @judyoliveoil.


If you want to check out my guest post for Judy (which includes the two salad recipes pictured above, ‘Sicilian Winter Salad’ and ‘Grilled Endive and Blue Cheese Salad’), go to http://www.judyridgway.co.uk/great-winter-salads-from-blogger-total-salads/.



Early harvest oils


I have just seen the first “early harvest” extra virgin olive oil of 2016 on sale on the internet, and the shops should see their first oils soon. The olive harvest in the northern hemisphere begins in October or November, depending on the region, and goes on until all the olives have been picked. Some producers make a special feature of the oils from the very first olives to be picked and label them “Early Harvest”. At this stage the olives are relatively unripe and when pressed produce an oil which can be stronger in flavour than later oils from the same olive grove. Even an oil which is usually very sweet and delicate will have a greener style, perhaps with some bitterness or pepper, if it is made from early harvest olives. Oils that are naturally more aggressive will be very bitter and peppery.


As the harvest progresses the phenolic and aromatic substances in the oil which give it much of its flavour and health benefits peak and then begin to fall off but the oil content of the olive continues to increase as it ripens. This explains why early harvest oils are particularly flavourful. Because of their higher phenolic content they are also likely to offer more health benefits so they are well worth looking out for.


Late harvest oils


In the past some producers also highlighted oils pressed from olives picked towards the end of the harvest. However, oils labelled “Late harvest” are now rare. This is probably because the softer flavours of these oils is no longer very popular. This is something of a culinary loss. Despite their lower levels of polyphenols these oils did add to the wonderful range of special tastes that can be found among extra virgin olive oils. A particularly unusual example of “Late Harvest oil” is Biancardo oil from Liguria which may be pressed as late as April or May. These oils have a very light creamy, buttery flavour. Some “late harvest” oils pressed from California and Australian Mission olives have a similar taste.


Early harvest oils in salads


The combination of early harvest extra virgin olive oil and fresh raw salad ingredients is hard to beat and at this time of the year when fruit and vegetables are not always as plentiful early harvest olive oil brings an extra dollop of beneficial nutrients to the table. Teaming up early harvest oils with salad leaves and tomatoes, which are not at their full complement of antioxidants at this time of the year, will boost these salads back to their usual beneficial levels. Here are a couple of salads which use early harvest oils from Greece and Spain.



Greek Salad from Terra Creta 


This traditional Greek Salad is rustic and chunky and uses Terra Creta Early Harvest EVOO from the island of Crete. This deeply herbaceous oil is pressed from specially selected groves in late October, a few weeks before the main harvest starts.


Terra Creta olive oil: Based in Crete, this excellent company has again produced an early harvest oil pressed from Koronieki olives from specially selected groves in October. It is green, fresh and spicy with really herbaceous tones. For more information see http://www.terracreta.gr/pages.aspx?lang=en&id=295#.WHZRRlOLTIU


Salad Ingredients:

3 medium organic tomatoes

1/3 organic English cucumber, washed, quartered, chopped in 1/2 inch chunks

1 each yellow and green pepper, cut into 1 inch chunks

1small thinly sliced red onion

10 Kalamata olives

1 tsp Cretan oregano

1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans or white cannellini beans

Pinch of dried red pepper flakes

2/3 cup sheep or goat cheese Feta, cut into 1 inch chunks

Dressing Ingredients:

50ml Terra Creta early harvest extra virgin olive oil

2 tbs lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper



  1. Cut two of the tomatoes into quarters and then cut in half again. Peel, seed and finely chop the third tomato and keep on one side for dressing the dish.
  2. Combine all the remaining ingredients, except the feta cheese in bowl.
  3. Toss with all the dressing ingredients.
  4. Plate up in rustic wooden bowl and top with the Feta chunks, finely chopped tomato and another sprinkle of oregano.





Tomato, Cheese and Mackerel Salad


This rather unusual salad comes from the chef of Restaurante Casa Piolas in Algarinejo – hometown of Orodeal. It is quick and easy to make and tastes really good.


Orodeal Early Harvest olive oil: This very well flavoured and really fruity Spanish oil is unfiltered and will be available from mid-January after it has been allowed to settle properly. It is pressed from Picudo and Hojiblanca olives grown in Granada province in southern Spain. See http://1916gourmet.com/english/products html www.freshfoodexpress.co.uk



Mix of seasonal salad leaves


Soft Goats Cheese


Fresh or tinned mackerel


Guindillas (Basque chilli peppers) in vinegar

Orodeal Premium olive oil



  1. Peel and thinly slice the cucumber, chop the tomato’s into chunks
  2. Wash and dry the salad leaves. Mix the salad leaves, olives and Guindillas in a bowl. Season with salt & pepper.
  3. Thinly slice the goat’s cheese.
  4. Place a small amount of salad leaves on plate. Surround with the thinly sliced cucumber. Place the sliced goat’s cheese onto the first layer of salad leaves.
  5. Add another layer of salad leaves, olives & guindillas. Top with the Mackerel.
  6. Sprinkle with a pinch of Maldon Salt and a good drizzle of Orodeal Premium olive oil.



Here are some more Early Harvest oils to look out for


Gonnelli Santa Tea EVOO: This Italian producer has always offered an early and a late harvest. They are now known as Raccolta di Olive Verdi pressed from unripe green olives and Raccolta di Olive Nere pressed from olives that are just fully ripened. The two offer a lovely contrast of lighter and more robust flavours to use in the kitchen. See http://www.gonnelli1585.it/en/prodotti


Seggiano Seggianese EVOO: This oil is labelled New Harvest but it is pressed from olives picked early in the season in the Monte Amiato region of southern Tuscany. Here the Olivastra olive thrives and it gives an oil which is much more delicate than the more usual Tuscan oil pressed from varieties such as Frantoio, Moraiollo and Leccino. See http://www.seggiano.com/Shop/Seggiano-Olivastra


Disisa Early Harvest EVOO: This oil from Sicily is pressed from Cerasuolo olives which are picked in October when they are still small and green. Quite strong herbaceous tones with tomatoes are the flavour tones here. See https://www.thegiftofoil.co.uk/olive-oils/premium-olive-oil/early-harvest-sicilian-olive-oil.html


Belazu Early Harvest Arbequina EVOO: Catalonia in northern Spain is the home of this well-flavoured early harvest oil. An oil which is pressed from olives which are picked even earlier is Verdemanda. More about this oil shortly at www.judyridgway.co.uk


Eleones Early Havest: This Greek oil is from Halkidi in the north. The groves, planted with Hondrolia olives, are situated around Mount Athos. It is expected to be ready for sale by mid-January. This is quite a peppery style of oil and is used locally to make a robust salad dressing with mustard, balsamic vinegar, yogurt, mayonnaise and a dash of honey. Try it on the Greek Village Salad above/below. See http://www.eleones.com/frontend/index.php


Olive Branch Early Harvest: This is another Greek early harvest oil, this time from the Lasithi province of Crete. Koroneiki olives are picked a little earlier than the main harvest and bottled specially for this UK importer. See http://myolivebranch.co.uk/


Ardoino Biancardo: This Ligurian oil is particularly unusual in it is pressed from taggiasca olives picked in May. When the sap starts to rise for the flowers at this time of the year it starts to take the chlorophyll from those olives which are left on the tree.  It is traditionally very pale in colour and very sweet in flavour, almost like butter. This type of oil only comes from the tops of the mountains and it is not produced every year. It is not yet known if there will be a Biancardo oil this year. See http://www.olioardoino.it/


Terra Creta: Based in Crete, this excellent company has again produced an early harvest oil pressed from Koronieki olives from specially selected groves in October. It is green, fresh and spicy with really herbaceous tones. See http://www.terracreta.gr/pages.aspx?lang=en&id=295#.WHZRRlOLTIU


Orodeal Early Harvest: This very well flavoured and really fruity Spanish oil is unfiltered and will be available from mid-January after it has been allowed to settle properly. It is pressed from Picudo and Hojiblanca olives grown in Granada province in southern Spain. See http://1916gourmet.com/english/products html www.freshfoodexpress.co.uk

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Oct 212016

The Olive Oil Diet



If you follow my blog, I am almost certain that you have a bottle of extra virgin olive oil sitting in your kitchen right now. But how much do you really know about the olive oil you have bought?


Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest foods you can eat, but not all extra virgin olive oils are created equal. Anyone who wants to get a better understanding of why it is important to buy olive oil which contains the optimal level of health benefits should read ‘The Olive Oil Diet‘ (available as a paperback or e-book on Amazon). Knowledge is power, and that is definitely the case when it comes to olive oil.


The Olive Oil Diet‘ is written by two experts who have a lot of experience with healthy eating. Dr Simon Poole is a General Practitioner who regularly writes and speaks about primary care in medicine and nutrition. Judy Ridgway is an international olive oil expert who frequently travels to olive oil producing regions to meet the growers and taste oils (she was the first non-Italian judge to sit on the judging panel of the prestigious Leone d’Oro international awards for olive oil). Judy also gives incredibly interesting olive oil tasting workshops, which I attended in London (we tasted 16 oils!).


The Olive Oil Diet‘ describes a diet for life which focuses on including a wide variety of foods in your day. In an age where people follow restrictive diets for a little while and then drop them for the next diet trend, the Olive Oil Diet describes a way of eating which is enjoyable, adaptable and can become a long-term sustainable part of your lifestyle. The authors stress that while a traditional Mediterranean diet naturally follows the principles of the Olive Oil Diet, the tenets of the diet can in fact be applied to cuisines from all over the world (yes, even curries, salsas and noodles).


The book assumes that the reader has limited prior knowledge about olive oil, so it is a wonderfully comprehensive introduction to the world of oils. Even for those who know quite a bit about olive oil, it’s a great refresher and handy reference book. The book is divided into four well-organised parts which are easy to understand and full of useful information. Most importantly, you will immediately be able to apply what you learn in the book the next time you buy olive oil.


Part 1 focuses on the health and nutrition aspects of olive oil based on research information published in peer-reviewed journals and scientific articles. A lot of people know that eating olive oil is not just delicious but also very healthy. Good quality olive oil is beneficial for inflammation, heart disease, insulin levels, cholesterol levels, weight and a host of other issues. The benefit of antioxidants in olive oil is explained in-depth as well as the role different fats plays in the Omega 6:Omega 3 balance. It is enlightening to read about the reasons behind the relatively new introduction of polyunsaturated seed oils (including canola/rapeseed, sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils to name a few) versus monounsaturated olive oil which has been used for thousands of years. Once you understand the science behind the health claims, it is much easier to make an educated decision about what type of oil you want to put in your body every day.


Part 2 is all about what to look for when you buy olive oil. It is important to pay attention to the type of container the oil is kept in as well as being able to decipher the real meaning of what is written on the label. Once you understand what clues to look for, you will know very quickly which olive oils to buy and which ones to walk away from for the sake of your health. A label of ‘extra virgin olive oil’ is not always a reliable indicator of the quality of the oil inside. Some companies have been found to mix their oil with other things so buyer beware!


Part 3 discusses the principles of the Olive Oil Diet. It is based on the inclusion of seven types of food (the Seven Pillars) which you should aim to eat every day. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Olive Oil Diet is not simply limited to a traditional Mediterranean diet but can be applied to any type of cuisine in the world. The authors also address the commonly asked question of whether or not it is healthy to cook with extra virgin olive oil (you may be surprised at the answer and the reasons for it).


Part 4 is where you can experiment with your meals. It is filled with a wonderful collection of diverse recipes which use olive oil. For a sneak peak into what sort of recipes you can expect, I have listed a few below to show how varied they are:

  • Mango chutney
  • Aubergine Bruschetta
  • Herring and Beetroot Salad
  • Soupe au Pistou
  • Cavatelli with Broad Beans and Peas
  • Spicy Seafood Stir-Fry with Noodles
  • Moorish Chicken with Orange and Lime and Coriander Bulgur
  • Banana Pancakes
  • Plums with Almond Crumble Topping
  • Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Icing



I recommend ‘The Olive Oil Diet‘ to anyone who is looking for a long-term solution to optimise their health by following a delicious nutrient-rich and inclusive diet with olive oil at its heart. There is a lot about olive oil that the average consumer is not aware of and simply taking the time to educate yourself about olive oil is an easy investment you can make for the sake of your health. Knowledge is power and this book is an invaluable guide to help you make good decisions regarding what food you choose to put in your body.



Full Disclosure: I was given a copy of the book ‘The Olive Oil Diet’. All words and opinions are my own.


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Apr 122016

Berryfect Bilberry Powder



Unless you live in an extremely northern country, chances are you haven’t encountered bilberries yet.


Bilberries are small dark berries which grow on wild shrubs in forests close to the Arctic Circle. It is the unique combination of the cold climate along with the Northern Lights of the winter and the Midnight Sun of the summer which contributes to developing this nutritional powerhouse of a berry.


Although bilberries look similar to blueberries, they are upto four times more nutrient-dense. They contain a potent antioxidant called anthocyanin which shows itself as red and blue pigments. If you compare the colour of a blueberry and a bilberry, you will see that the skin of a bilberry is much darker – almost black. The difference in colour is even more evident when you break the berries open. The inside of a blueberry is yellowish-green while the inside of a bilberry is deep red.


Anthocyanin is beneficial to the body in so many ways. It is notable for supporting the health of your eyes by increasing circulation to your retina. It has also been shown to protect collagen which is the protein responsible for keeping your skin elastic and young-looking. Other positive effects include maintenance of your blood pressure, circulation and good HDL cholesterol levels.


Luckily, those of us who live outside of the sub-Arctic region don’t have to be denied the nutritional benefits of bilberries. Finland’s Berryfect Bilberry Powder is made from nothing but 100% whole bilberries – no additives or preservatives. Berryfect takes wild bilberries harvested at their peak, dehydrates them at no higher than 40°C (to preserve the nutritional value of the berries), and then carefully processes the berries into a powder. The powder is packaged in small individual servings, which makes them very easy to take with you when you’re on the go.


Bilberry powder has a sweet and tangy flavour which adapts to both sweet and savoury dishes to add an extra nutritional boost. You can easily add it to sweet dishes including smoothies, oatmeal, overnight bircher muesli, yogurt with honey, and buttercream icing. Alternatively, it works well in savoury dishes including salad dressings, salsa, guacamole, hummus, pasta sauce, and mashed avocado on toast. You can even pour some directly into your mouth like you would a handful of berries.


With so many options, the possibilities are only limited by your own imagination!


If you live in the UAE or MENA region, you can order Berryfect Bilberry Powder online from Bilberry.ae and have it delivered directly to you. It is also available to order from Ripeme.com (listed under ‘superfoods’).




Full Disclosure: I am always happy to work with products that I love and would personally recommend. This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Bilberry.ae, but all words and opinions are my own. I will also be developing healthy recipes for Bilberry.ae, so make sure to follow their website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts to keep updated on healthy bilberry recipes!


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Feb 182016

Product-French Cheeses


One of the easiest ways to quickly turn a simple salad into a delicious and complete meal is by adding some cheese to it. While cheese is produced in many countries, the largest variety by far comes from France where they produce over 400 different types of cheese. By how do you know which French cheeses are good to add to a salad and which ones aren’t?


To help navigate the wondrous world of French cheeses, I was invited to attend a workshop at Top Chef Cooking Studio in Dubai given by award-winning cheesemonger Francois Robin (he was voted Best Cheesemonger in France in 2011 which allows him to wear the coveted tricolore collar on his chef coat).


Product-French Cheeses

French Cheesemonger Francois Robin


As Francois explained early on in our workshop, there is no bad type of cheese, there are just many varieties and you have to find YOUR cheese – that is, learn which types you prefer and which you don’t. Each variety has something different to offer, and even the same type of cheese can taste totally different depending on how long it has been aged.


A case in point are the two Brillat-Savarins which we tried in our workshop. First, we tasted a 6-week old Brillat-Savarin which had a butter-like texture and was very salty and slightly bitter on the sides of the tongue. About half an hour later, we tasted a 1-week old Brillat-Savarin which was totally different from its older brother – fresh and creamy with some sweetness which made it almost like a dessert.


Product-French Cheeses

Francois chose four very different French cheeses for us to try: a well-aged Comté (hard cheese), a 6-week old Brillat-Savarin (soft cheese), Goat’s cheese, and Roquefort (blue cheese)


Tasting cheese is all about using your senses (touch, smell, taste and sight) to ascertain its various qualities. Once you have looked at the cheese, just closing your eyes before you taste it can help you focus more intensely on the aromas, flavours and texture. As a general rule, hard and tangy cheeses should be tasted with the tip of the tongue while soft and blue cheese should pressed to the roof of the mouth.


We also experimented with pairing the cheeses with different ingredients to see how they enhanced or muted the flavour. We experimented with pomegranate syrup, honey, spice powders (zaatar, cumin and clove), sesame seeds and a variety of dried fruit and nuts. Experimenting with flavours will help you make great combinations of ingredients when pulling together a salad. Each of us came up with our own creations in the workshop. This was mine:


Product-French Cheeses

Le masterpiece!


So which French cheeses are the best to add into salads. Well, the answer really is whichever ones you like. Depending on the texture of the cheese, it can be cubed, grated, shaved or crumbled directly onto your salad. A gooey runny cheese can simply be cut into a wedge and placed on top or to the side of your salad to dip into once in a while. Cheese can also be incorporated into a salad dressing – have a go at making my easy and delicious Blue Cheese Dressing (warning: you will never buy bottled again).


A good cheese counter is a great place to taste different cheeses before deciding which ones to buy. According to Francois, some of the best places in Dubai to buy good French cheeses are Galeries Lafayette and Carrefour. Remember that good artisanal cheese can be expensive as it’s hand-made and often uses a lot of milk. You may be surprised to know that it takes 10 litres of milk to make 1 kilo of French Camembert de Normandie.


Also try and look out for the acronym AOC which stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. It means that the quality of these specific cheeses are a direct result of the geography, climate, flora and fauna of the specific area they were produced in. There are currently just over 40 cheeses which have been assigned AOC status. However, even if a cheese is not designated AOC it can still be very good.


Product-French Cheeses


My personal favourite French cheeses to add to salads include Beaufort, Brie de Meaux, Brillat-Savarin, Bûcheron, Chèvre (unripened), Comté and Roquefort.


To learn more about the different varieties of French cheeses available, the following book comes highly recommended on Amazon: French Cheeses – The Visual Guide to More Than 350 Cheeses from Every Region of France.


UK customers


US customers


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Feb 052016

Planeta EVOO



The Planeta olive grove is set in the south-western Sicilian district of Capparrina. The location was carefully selected both aesthetically and ethically in order to protect the beautiful landscape of the area from over-development and to create employment for the local inhabitants.


Planeta currently produces three types of extra virgin olive oil, all of which are made from manually harvested olives are are DOP Val di Mazara (Designation of Protected Origin). The olive oil I am looking at in this post is their traditionally pressed oil (which includes the stones in the pressing). It uses a balance of three olive varietals traditionally cultivated in Capparrina:

  • Nocellara del Belice (50%) – notes of artichoke, tomatoes and almonds, with light spiciness and bitterness
  • Biancolilla (30%) – notes of grass, almond and fruitiness, with light spiciness and bitterness
  • Cerasuola (20%) – notes of freshly cut herbs, artichokes and tomatoes, with bitterness and medium spiciness (due to the high level of antioxidant polyphenols)


On their website, Planeta has a lot of information about their olive oils’ flavour/scent characteristics and even offers suggestions as to what to pair each oil with. This oil is recommended as being particularly good when drizzled over grilled foods and soups.


Planeta Extra Virgin Olive Oil has got wonderfully complex flavours which work very well together. The first note that hits the nose is a collection of fragrant herbs, in particular I can detect mint, sage and oregano. There is also an underlying fruity olive scent and slight citrus. On tasting the oil, I could sense artichoke followed by a little bit of seaweed (it took a few slurps, but I got it!) and a lingering woodiness which stays on the tongue. It is mildly bitter on the tongue with medium spiciness at the back of the throat.


Organoleptic Profile:

Colour (not an indicator of quality): Deep bright green colour with hints of pistachio.

Aroma: an elegant and harmonious bouquet on the nose, with fresh mint and basil combined with an aromatic touch of sage, thyme, oregano and juniper, together with citrus flowers, wood scents, artichoke, green tomato and seaweed.

Taste: The initial sensation of the palate is full, and in the mouth it is generous, fresh and pleasantly bitter at the beginning with a long and persistently spicy finish.

Bitterness: Pleasant bitterness on the tongue which gets progressively stronger and then ebbs out again.

Peppery: Medium spiciness at the back of the throat.


Other information:

Company: Planeta

Region: Capparrina, Sicily (Italy)

Olive Varietal: Nocellara del Belice (50%), Biancolilla (30%), and Cerasuola (20%)

Bottle: Dark glass

Production Date: On the label

Expiry Date: On the label

Acidity level: 0.27% (from website)

Peroxide level: Not on label


Buy Now! (US)



Share your thoughts: If you have you tried Planeta Extra Virgin Olive Oil, share your thoughts in the comment section below.



Full Disclosure:

  • I purchased a 500ml bottle of Planeta (Nocellara del Belice, Biancolilla, Cerasuola) Extra Virgin Olive Oil. All opinions are honest and my own.



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Nov 042015

Taris EVOO


Tariş is a Turkish olive oil producing company that was originally founded by local farmers in 1915. In 2001, it became ‘Tariş Olive and Olive Oil Agriculture Sales Cooperatives Union’, a group of 32 cooperatives made up of 28,000 Turkish producer-partners who collectively own and operate Tariş’ production facilities. The 32 cooperatives are from towns near the Aegean coast, such as Aydın, Balıkesir, Çanakkale, İzmir, Manisa and Muğla.


Tariş divides it’s olive oils between North Aegean and South Aegean because of the distinctive taste which is imparted from the soil and microclimate of each region. On their website, they describe the oils from the two regions as:


  • NORTH AEGEAN OLIVE OILS – This is a highly fluid olive oil specific to the Gulf of Edremit region. As a result of the climatic effect, this oil has a fresh-fruity and grassy aroma accompanied by an exquisite flavour. A mild and momentary taste of bitterness in the palate and on the tip of tongue is the characteristic of this oil.
  • SOUTH AEGEAN OLIVE OILS – Derived from the Southern Aegean olives comprising İzmir, Aydın and Muğla region, this olive oil is characterised by its darker colour, more dominant fruit flavour and less fluidity.


The olive oil I tried is Tariş’ 100% Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It is mild and fruity and is moves a little more fluidly than other olive oils I have tried so far. While the bottle doesn’t specify whether the oil is North Aegean or South Aegean, my guess is that it’s North due to its mildness and high fluidity. Here are my thoughts after trying it:


[If you want to learn how to taste olive oil, go to my tutorial ‘How To Choose An Extra Virgin Olive Oil’]


Organoleptic Profile:

Aroma: Fruit (olive), fresh corn, tomato, nuts, lemon peel, slight fresh green grass at the end

Taste: Mild tasting olive oil

Bitterness: Light bitterness on the tongue

Peppery: Spiciness comes in slowly and then increases towards the end


Other information:

Company: Tariş Olive and Olive Oil Agriculture Sales Cooperatives Union

Region: Aegean Coast, Turkey

Olive Varietal: Not specified on the bottle

Bottle: Dark glass to protect the oil inside

Production Date: Printed on the bottle

Expiry Date: Printed on the bottle

Acidity level: Max 0.8%

Peroxide level: Not specified on the bottle

Price: EUR12 for a 500mL bottle


Share your thoughts: If you have you tried Tariş 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil, share your thoughts in the comment section below.


Full Disclosure:

  • I purchased a 500ml bottle of Tariş 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil. All opinions are honest and my own.


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Sep 112015

Dominus Cosecha Temprana


Dominus Cosecha Temprana (Early Harvest) Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes from the southern Spanish region of Jaén, which is the world’s biggest producer of olive oil. It is made from the picual olive varietal which is used in many Spanish olive oils and is known for having a very high polyphenol content.


Dominus Cosecha Temprana is produced by a company called Montabes Vañó, S.L. (MONVA). MONVA produces all of their olive oils on their estate Virgen de los Milagros, which lies on the slopes of Sierra Magina (DOP – Protected Designation of Origin). The olives are picked by hand so that they don’t touch the ground, therefore there is less bruising and damage to the olive fruit which results in a superior oil. In fact, the entire production cycle of their olive oil, from olive cultivation to milling to bottling, takes place on their estate which means that they are able to produce very fresh oils which incur very little transport time from tree to mill.


What differentiates Dominus Cosecha Temprana (Early Harvest) from other oils in MONVA’s line is that the picual olives are harvested early in the season in mid-October just as the olives are at the initial ripening stage rather than late winter when the olives are fully ripe. Early harvest oils have higher levels of polyphenol (oleocanthal) and antioxidants than olives which are fully ripe, and also tend to be more peppery and bitter with more green grassy flavors.


I really enjoyed Dominus Cosecha Temprana Extra Virgin Olive Oil because of the vibrant green flavours which came through. My bottle came with a handy little guide which described the aromas which could be detected in the oil, and I was happy to find that I could sense each one of them (although the banana slightly escaped me).


Organoleptic Profile:

Colour (not an indicator of quality): Clean, intense green.

Aroma: Fragrant fruity aroma of green olives, with notes of freshly cut green grass,tomato plant, artichoke, green almonds and banana.

Taste: Smooth on the tongue, bitter, vibrant and spicy.

Bitterness: Light bitterness which gets progressively stronger and then ebbs out again.

Peppery: Yes, at the back of the throat.


Other information:

Company: Montabes Vañó, S.L. (MONVA)

Region: Jaén, Spain

Olive Varietal: Picual

Bottle: Dark glass (protects the oil from light exposure)

Production Date: Not on the label

Expiry Date: On the label

Acidity level: 0.11%

Peroxide level: 5.6%

Price: EUR 15 for 500mL (June 2015)


Share your thoughts: If you have you tried Dominus Cosecha Temprana (Early Harvest) Extra Virgin Olive Oil, share your thoughts in the comment section below.



Full Disclosure:

  • I purchased a 500ml bottle of Dominus Cosecha Temprana Extra Virgin Olive Oil. All opinions are honest and my own.


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Jun 192015

Iliada EVOO



Iliada Organic Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a delicious award-winning Greek olive oil which is widely available in the UAE as well as many other countries.


Iliada was the first extra virgin olive oil I bought when I moved to Dubai. I was new in town and one of the first places I learned to drive to was our closest organic store. They stocked several brands of organic EVOO, but I was swayed to try Iliada simply because of the charming little piece of twine tied around its neck.


It is produced by a company called AGRO.VIM run by the Gyftea family. They work with local farmers to make traditional Greek agricultural products including several types of olive oils, table olives, salad dressings, and antipasti.


Named as a tribute to the epic Greek poem the ‘Iliad’ by Homer, Iliada EVOO is made from Koroneiki olives grown by local farmers from the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) certified region of Kalamata in the Southern Peloponnese. Koroneiki olives have been grown in Greece for over 3,000 years. Although Koroneiki is a small olive, it has one of the highest oil contents of all the olive varietals. Oil produced from Koroneiki olives is of very high quality, with a high level of oleic acid and polyphenol antioxidants, two of the naturally occurring chemicals which make EVOO so healthy.


When I buy a bottle of EVOO, some of the things which I like to know are the date of harvest, the free fatty acid level, and the peroxide level (which are all indications of the quality of the oil in the bottle). This bottle included the production date but not the harvest date, and unfortunately I couldn’t find any information about the free acidity or peroxide levels. Despite this lack of information, I really enjoy the palatable and versatile flavour of Iliada Organic Kalamata EVOO.


To taste the EVOO, I poured about a tablespoon of the oil into a small cup and warmed it between my hands for about a minute to help release the flavours and aromas. The colour of the oil was yellow with a tinge of green (note: color is not an indication of quality). The aroma was fruity and smelled like olives. The first flavor I could taste was fresh and grassy, before becoming a bit warmer and herbaceous. As I exhaled, I could faintly sense fresh bananas before the back of my throat became aware of peppery spiciness. For more details on how to taste olive oil, see my Tutorial: How To Buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil.


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Share your thoughts: If you have you tried Iliada Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil, share your thoughts in the comment section below.



Full Disclosure:

  • I purchased a 750ml bottle of Iliada Kalamata Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Spinneys (Dubai, UAE) for AED 48. In the past, I have also purchased it from The Change Initiative and Organic Foods and Cafe (Dubai, UAE).
  • All opinions are honest and my own.
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Jun 022015

The Farm House, Dubai


The Farm House in Dubai likes to be known as “your friendly neighbourhood shop” for fresh local organic produce. It sources most of its products from local UAE farmers, and supplements with some produce from other regions (ie. produce which does not grow in the UAE) for a bit more variety.


The Farm House is an extension of the Farmer’s Market in Dubai which has been running every Friday morning from November-April since 2010. While the Farmer’s Market is a great place to go on a Friday morning, the big challenge for local farmers was where to sell their products outside of this timeframe. Based on the popularity of the Farmer’s Market, the demand was clearly there and the farmers were becoming increasingly capable of growing their produce through the summer months by using greenhouses. The Farm House was created to meet this challenge.


The Farm House, Dubai


The Farm House wants people to realise that buying organic food does not have to be expensive if you choose local farmers. Focusing on local produce which has not been packaged and shipped from a long distance means that the organic produce which The Farm House sells is sometimes less expensive than the non-organic imported food which is sold in grocery stores across Dubai. Even when the local organic produce is more expensive, you may be surprised to see that the difference in price is not very great for a healthier product.


Organic food is free from pesticides and chemicals which cumulatively build up in our bodies. The local farms which supply The Farm House go through checks and have certificates from the Ministry of Health’s Organic Department. Some of the farms also have international certificates from certifying bodies in Italy and Britain.


Whether buying local organic produce is cost-effective or not is a personal decision and will depend on what you usually pay at your local supermarket. I made a table below where I have listed the price of some of the products currently available at The Farm House. I have also left one column blank so that you can print out the table and fill it in next time you go to the supermarket. Prices are AED per kilogram, so when you look at the prices in your own supermarket make sure you are noting down the price for a kilo of that item.


NB: These prices and products are correct at the time of writing. Organic produce is denoted with an asterisk (*).

Food Item The Farm House

(AED per kilo)

Your Supermarket

(AED per kilo)

Apple  AED 15
Aubergine/Eggplant  AED 18*
Avocado  AED 30*
Cabbage  AED 25*
Capsicum  AED 30*
Carrots AED 20*
Chicken (breast)  AED 45* for 2 pieces
Chicken (whole)  AED 45-65* for 800g-1.5kg
Cucumber AED 18*
Eggs  AED2* per egg
Ginger  AED 18
Herbs  AED 30*
Kale  AED 35*
Kiwi  AED 15
Lemon  AED 10
Lettuce  AED 30*
Melon  AED 18*
Onions  AED 15-18*
Oranges  AED 12
Pomegranate (whole)  AED 20
Potatoes AED  18*
Pumpkin/Butternut Squash  AED 25*
Spring Onions/Scallions AED 30*
Sweet Potatoes  AED 25*
Tomatoes  AED 15-17*
Watermelon  AED 14*
Zucchini/Courgette  AED 18*



If you want to read more about the cost of buying organic food in Dubai, you might find it interesting to read “Is local organic food expensive in Dubai?” by MyHealthyDxb.



The Farm House


Souk al Manzil

Downtown Dubai


(Open from 8:30am-10pm every day)


The Change Initiative

Al Barsha 1


(Open from 8am-9pm every day)


The Farm House also does deliveries in case you can’t make it out to one of their shops.


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Mar 262015

Rio Largo EVOO


The Western Cape of South Africa is an ideal location for growing olives due to its Mediterranean-style climate. In fact, about 90% of South Africa’s olive producers are located in this region. The Western Cape is where you will find Rio Largo, a sustainably-run olive estate on the banks of the Breede River which produces high quality extra virgin olive oil that has been consistently winning awards since 2007.


Rio Largo is owned and managed by Nick and Brenda Wilkinson, who took over the estate in 2010 from previous owner Carlos Raposo. Nick and Brenda have an interesting background. Nick spent 20 years in the corporate world “fixing” failed large scale farming enterprises on behalf of blue chip international investors. Brenda created several businesses including a hotel guide in Zambia, a school, and a furniture business. Although they didn’t start their careers in the olive oil industry, they certainly have the hard-working ethos, dedication, passion, and attention to detail which is required to produce excellent olive oil year after year.


The Wilkinsons run their olive estate sustainably and responsibly, making sure to support their local community whenever they can:

– the olives are hand-picked, which not only minimizes bruising and damage to the olive fruits but also provides much needed employment to the people who live in the area

– the estate employes biological farming methods to maintain healthy soils and crops by ensuring they “put more back in that they take out”

– the company is committed to protecting the environment for future generations

– they recently chose the South African artist Frans Groenwald to design the artwork for their new 2-litre foil-lined i-Tube. The i-Tube is an innovative way to store olive oil which keeps the product very fresh by eliminating any contact with air or light. The i-Tube comes with a handy tap which makes it easy to use. With Groenwald’s vibrant artwork on the i-Tube, it is a beautiful addition to your kitchen or table top.


March to July is olive harvesting time in the southern hemisphere, so Rio Largo’s new harvest for 2015 has just started being picked at the time of writing. Although South Africa does have a native olive cultivar (Olea africana), it is considered inedible. Instead, the locally grown olive cultivars (olive types) which are used for making olive oil in South Africa have been imported largely from Italy.


Rio Largo grows the Italian olive cultivars Frantoio (fruity), Coratina (pungent, peppery), Leccino (mild), and FS-17/Favolosa (herbaceous), and their oils are a blend of these varieties. After being hand-picked, the fruit is crushed on the same day and stored by cultivar in stainless steel tanks. It is bottled on order, keeping it as fresh as possible from tree to table.


The olive oil I tried was the Rio Largo Premium Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It has a free acidity level of less than 0.5% and a peroxide level of less than 15 (extra virgin olive oil should have a free acidity level of less than 0.8% and a peroxide level of less than 20).


I poured about a tablespoon of the oil into a small cup and warmed it between my hands to help release the flavors and aromas. It was a beautiful yellow color (note: color is not an indication of quality). The aroma was green and herbaceous. The first flavor I could taste was something green like artichoke or asparagus. After that, I could taste a moment of tomato on my tongue before being taken over by a slight bitterness and a lingering pepperiness at the back of my throat (strong but not enough to make me cough). For more details on how to taste olive oil, see my Tutorial: How To Buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil.


I bought my 250ml bottle of Rio Largo from Spinneys in Dubai for AED29. For more information about Rio Largo and where to purchase their extra virgin olive oil, visit Rio Largo’s website.


Share your thoughts: If you have you tried Rio Largo’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil, share your thoughts in the comment section below.



Full disclosure:

  • I purchased a 250ml bottle of Rio Largo Premium Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Spinney’s in Dubai (UAE) for AED29. All opinions are my own.


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Mar 152015

Nabali Extra Virgin Olive Oil



I have lived in Dubai (UAE) for several years and most of the extra virgin olive oil I have bought here has been from Italy or Greece. Once in a while, a bottle of Tunisian oil makes its way into my kitchen, but by and large I have not been very experimental with olive oils from different regions.


About a month ago, I made a conscious decision to seek out good quality extra virgin olive oils from different countries. There are lots of regions in the world which have excellent climates for producing olive oil and many of them are not very far from the UAE.


But where to start? I had heard about a place in Dubai called The Change Initiative. It is more than simply a shop which sells things, it is an entire concept. The Change Initiative promotes environmentally and socially responsible living in all aspects of our life whether it is the furniture or clothes that we use, the toys our children play with, or the food we give to our families. All the items on their shelves have been carefully selected after passing a stringent set of requirements which ensures they fit with The Change Initiative’s overall ethos of sustainability and responsibility.


When a brand like The Change Initiative takes so much care to hand-pick the items it sells, each item has a special story to tell. The one which captured my attention was the Nabali Tree Olive Oil, an organic extra virgin olive oil made from fair trade Nabali olive tree orchards in the West Bank in Palestine.


Nabali Tree Olive Oil is produced by a Palestinian company called Canaan Fair Trade which brings together smallholder agricultural groups (over 1700 farm families and 43 cooperatives) to produce a range of products.


When you buy one of Canaan Fair Trade’s products, such as the Nabali Tree Olive Oil, a portion of the profits goes towards projects and programs which support the rural Palestinian community. These include:

  • ‘Trees for Life’ which plants olive trees for farmers just starting out or those who have lost their trees
  • ‘The Canaan Scholarship Fund’ which funds students to study for 4 years at a Palestinian university
  • ‘Green Track Palestine’ which converts tractors so that they can run on used vegetable oil, making running the tractors more environmentally responsible but also freeing farmers from relying on expensive fuel.
  • Micro-loans for small producers, with a particular focus on women


Nabali Tree Olive Oil certainly seems to embody the concepts of social and environmental responsibility, but how does it taste?


Canaan Fair Trade’s website describes their Nabali Tree Olive Oil as ‘fruity with medium body and fresh tones’ with an acidity level of less than 0.7% and a peroxide level of less than 10 meq/kg (extra virgin olive oil should have acidity of less than 0.8% and peroxide of less than 20 meq/kg).


I poured about a tablespoon of the oil into a small cup and warmed it between my hands to help release the flavors and aromas. It was a rich gold color with a slight tinge of green (please note that color is not an indicator of quality). The aroma was very fruity with the distinct smell of olives. Taking a sip of the oil, it was buttery on my tongue with a clean, green, fresh hay flavor. There was some bitterness on my tongue right at the end as well as some pepperiness at the back of my throat. I think it would be delicious drizzled on lightly roasted green vegetables like courgettes/zucchini, asparagus or green beans. For more details on how to taste olive oil, see my Tutorial: How To Buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil.


The Change Initiative sells Nabali extra virgin olive oil in several sizes to suit various needs.

  • 330mL bottle for AED30
  • 660mL bottle for AED60
  • 1L tin for AED73
  • 5L tin for AED332


Share your thoughts: If you have tried Nabali Tree Olive Oil, share your thoughts in the comment section below.


Nabali Extra Virgin Olive Oil


In Dubai, Nabali Tree Olive Oil is available at The Change Initiative. It is also sold internationally in Europe, North American, Australia, Asia and the Middle East.


You can get more information at The Change Initiative or Canaan Fair Trade.




Full Disclosure:

  • The Change Initiative gave me a 330mL bottle of Nabali Tree Olive Oil to try at home. All opinions are honest and my own.
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Sep 212014

Olive Oil at Eataly


Eataly, the Italian chain which opened its doors in Dubai in December 2013, is a ‘restaurant – cafe – grocery store – kitchen supply – emporium of all things Italian’. Sounds like a lot? It is. But don’t worry, there’s an information desk inside to help you find your way around if you get overwhelmed and find yourself wanting to go everywhere at once.


I have enjoyed visiting Eataly many times, just wandering around and tasting my way through. Last week, though, I went with an agenda. I was meeting Eataly’s regional food and beverage buyer, Stephanie Lerouge, for a lesson in olive oil tasting.


Olive Oil at Eataly


Stephanie, who used to live and work in Italy in the food industry, told me that she had always been very impressed by how passionate the olive oil suppliers she dealt with were. It made her want to learn more about olive oil and share her knowledge with the general public. The approximately 40 extra virgin olive oils available in Eataly are carefully selected to showcase the different regions in Italy and include descriptions of what you can expect when you open a bottle. Eataly goes one step further, and if you are unsure about which bottle to buy you can ask a member of staff in the olive oil section if you can do a tasting. Personally, I have never tried asking a member of Eataly’s staff to taste the olive oil before buying it because I never realized it was something which they offered. Now that I know it’s possible, I will take them up on it some time.


For the tasting, Stephanie brought out two bottles of extra virgin olive oil which she chose because she felt they were both good for salads but also had very different characteristics. One was a bottle of ROI (AED 75 for 500ml) from Liguria in Northern Italy, the other was a bottle of Planeta (AED 121 for 500ml) from Sicilia in Southern Italy.


Olive Oil at Eataly


There are five important steps to tasting an olive oil.


1. Pour a small amount of olive oil (around 1 tablespoon) into a small tapered glass. Often tastings are done in small blue tapered glasses which mask the color of the olive oil because, despite what you might have heard, the color of an olive oil has no bearing on the quality of the product. However for this tasting, we used small clear tapered cups.


Olive Oil at Eataly


2. Hold the glass in one hand and use your other hand to cover the glass while while swirling the oil for 30-60 seconds. This warms up the oil and allows it to release its aroma. Smell is an important component of taste.


Olive Oil at Eataly


3. Lift your hand slightly to uncover the glass and breathe in the aroma. Think about whether the aroma is delicate, strong, fruity, herbaceous.


4. Slurp the oil. This is done by sipping a small amount of oil into your mouth and then slightly parting your lips to ‘sip’ some air as well. Don’t be shy, when done correctly you will make a slurping noise. Slurping emulsifies the oil with the air and helps to spread it throughout your mouth.


5. Allow the oil to coat the inside of your mouth and tongue before swallowing it. Pay attention to whether it leaves a stinging peppery sensation at the back of your throat (this is a desirable trait because it is a sign that the oil contains polyphenol antioxodants). Some olive oil aficianados refer to a one, two or three cough oil.  It is customary to drink some water or eat a piece of bread between oils.


Anything which reminds you of fruits, vegetables or spices is generally a good sign in an olive oil. Signs of a bad olive oil include tastes which are metallic, earthy, muddy, woody, moldy, winey, vinegary, fermented or rancid.


I tried this with the ROI (Northern Italy) and the Planeta (Southern Italy). The ROI was mild and soft and reminded me of green grass with a hint of spice at the end. Stephanie mentioned the flavor of artichoke, which I think I kind of tasted. It was a very friendly oil, the type of you could give someone as a gift and be pretty sure they would like it too. In stark contrast, the Planeta was robust, fruity, very velvety on the tongue, and much spicier at the end (for me, it was a four-cough olive oil). It was bold and would definitely make itself known when poured onto a salad.


When I asked Stephanie which of the two oils was considered better, she said that it depends entirely on personal taste. Eataly chooses very good olive oils which all have different characteristics and it’s upto the individual which qualities they prefer. Some prefer robust and peppery while others prefer delicate and grassy. Like wine, different qualities will appeal to different people.


Olive Oil at Eataly


After the tasting, I hung around trying to decide which olive oil I wanted to buy to bring home with me. I went with a Southern Italian oil, Lorenzo No 3 (AED 125). I couldn’t wait to get it home to do a taste test. Bitter, fruity, robust, spicy. And it only made me cough 3 times.


Olive Oil at Eataly



The Dubai Mall

Lower Ground Floor

(Tel) 800-328259

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