Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

Tom Mueller. Norton, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-393-07021-7
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.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/2011
Release date: 12/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
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