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Book Review: Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller

How olive oil seduced the world, and why it’s not nearly as pure as we think

Extra Virginity:
The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

By Tom Mueller
W.W. Norton; 238 pages; $26

 

We Americans are latecomers to the romance of olive oil. Only in recent decades have we embraced it as an aspirational foodstuff, something with which we might dress our microgreens or anoint our grilled branzino. Back in the culinary dark ages of 1939, Life magazine, in an article about Joe DiMaggio, slurred the product as intolerably ethnic, commending the Yankee Clipper for not being too unpalatably Italian American. “He never reeks of garlic,” the magazine said, and “instead of olive oil … he keeps his hair slick with water.”