If you’re like me, you love butter. And why wouldn’t you? It’s tasty, convenient, and probably sitting on your kitchen counter right now. But today, I’m going to tell you why you should drop the butter, and make the switch to olive oil.
Andrea Consoli, professional chef and owner of Cooking Classes in Rome, uses olive oil in almost all of the dishes he serves.
“We call it here the Green Gold. Green because of its color, and gold because of its importance to the Italian cooking”
The tile outside Andrea Consoli’s kitchen represents the business he has created with his wife. To the right, his kitchen is bustling with guests cutting fresh bread for bruschetta and rolling handmade gnocchi.
Today, he told me, there are nearly 500 different types of olive trees. And if that doesn’t shock you, each type, he says, has an undeniably distinct taste according to the region and technique used to harvest them. Whether you are looking for a rich, fruity Kalamata or a crisp and fantastically buttery Cerignola, there is always an olive for you, according to Serious Eats.
“If you were to ask me which type is the best, it would not be possible to answer. It depends entirely on the dish you mean to cook and the taste you mean to create.”
Italy, according to delallo.com, is the world’s second largest producer of high-quality olive oil. One of the reasons for this quality, delallo, suggests, has to do with the lack of machines doing all the work. Apparently, the “more gently the olives are treated the better the resulting oil.” Generally, that mouth-watering taste is obtained by hand picking the olives directly into a basket.
It’s no wonder Italians are so proud of it.
“It is the art of our country, and so it is the art of my food,” Chef Andrea said.
So why use butter? The answer is that you don’t. He does not use butter in any of the dishes he creates, and neither should you.
“Butter is a habit you need to break.”
But why? Well, for starters, butter is high in saturated fat content. And saturated fat, according to the American Heart Association, has been proven to raise cholesterol and heighten your risk of heart disease. In fact, just one tablespoon of butter can wipe out nearly half of an average person’s recommended daily saturated fat intake. Don’t believe me? Go visit the AHA’s website and study up.
Olive oil, on the other hand, is composed primarily of monounsaturated fats. And, unlike butter, has been shown to actually improve your blood cholesterol while fighting a number of life-threatening diseases.
To Federica Bianchi, an Italian instructor at the University of Washington Rome Center, olive oil just makes more sense. “In my family, we like the taste of olive oil. It is natural, produced here, and tastes good without anything added.”
Just like Chef Andrea, Federica does not use butter in any dish she makes. Well, besides mashed potatoes. And honestly, what would mashed potatoes be without melted butter? We’ll let that one slide.
But if you are going to make the switch from butter to olive oil, make sure you do it right.
According to Chef Andrea, choosing any bottle of olive oil off the shelf of a supermarket just won’t cut it. Buying the right type of oil is incredibly important. In his mind, the only way to go is to get yourself a bottle of extra-virgin.
Extra-virgin, he explained, is the oil that comes from the first pressing of the olives. It is clear and light, making it ideal for cooking.
“When you see heavy, cloudy oil, that is for the bread only. If you put this on your food, it is no good… you have ruined the consistency of your dish.”
Adding to an already impressive rap sheet, extra-virgin also happens to be the healthier and cheaper option. “With the heavy, you find a bottle at 15 euro… but the clear, only five euro.”
Right now, you’re probably thinking ‘yeah okay, five euros for one bottle? I can get a pound (four sticks) of butter for 2 bucks at Safeway.’
But how long will that last you?
“Here, you do not see big containers of butter to be sold. That is an American thing in my mind. And you go through the bigs ones in a week and buy, buy, buy. For me, one big bottle lasts a month,” said Federica. And when you have a two-year-old daughter like Federica, saving money is the name of the game.
Obviously, choosing whether to buy olive oil or butter comes down to more than just a bang for your buck.
But hopefully, the next time you get the urge to throw in a slab of butter to your dish, you’ll instead drizzle on a light layer of some extra-virgin green gold and call it good.
All photos taken by me