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Is Manni Olive Oil the World’s Best?

Armando Manni’s whirlwind visit to Toronto in late September began, appropriately, with a short lecture at George Brown College, where he walked a select group of culinary students through the process of how to taste olive oil properly.

And not just any olive oil – his. Liquid gold that is widely considered to be the world’s best, is the go-to brand for an impressive list of the world’s best chefs and retails for an impressive $350 a litre. “Maybe you don’t like this oil,” he said, with what for a moment seemed like modesty. “That’s okay. Some people don’t like Picasso…”

Now that’s confidence. But a dazzling roster of chefs agree. Jean-Georges Vongerichten deploys Manni oil – sparingly – at his flagship Michelin Three Star, Jean-Georges. Same for Daniel Boulud at Daniel, Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck and Thomas Keller at Per Se and The French Laundry. But why trust them when you can tuck in and taste for yourself?

We were given two vintages: the latest, harvested in 2016 with a best before date of November 2018; and a 2015 harvest, two months shy of its official fade from prime time. As instructed we warmed our paper cups between our hands, swirled the stuff about to increase its temperature, then nosed it, took a small sip, and waited to see what unfolded on the palate.

And in the olive oil scheme of things, this would be most fairly described as fireworks. First, an assertively herbaceous nose, with accents of fruit and spice. Then after a sip, luscious viscosity, followed an onslaught of peppery bitterness so strong it makes you want to cough, with then fades to sweetness, and finally leaves your mouth unexpectedly dry.“You will never taste a bigger oil,” Manni asserted.

This seemed likely, but the purpose of the tasting was really to establish something else: just how much bigger the younger oil was as compared to the older one. And that this was not a reflection of quality at harvest – but the unstoppable ravages of time. UV light, improper storage temperature and oxygen deprive olive oil of both its flavour and healthfulness (mainly oleic acid and antioxidants like polyphenols) fast. So quickly that close to 90% of the “extra virgin” oils on the supermarket shelf are mislabelled – for they have already decayed to the status of mere virgin oil.

So this leaves us health nuts with some very stark choices. First, buy your virgins as young as possible. Second – whenever you can buy Manni (scientifically proven to age more slowly than other extra virgins) and eat at the restaurants catalogued above that use it. Lastly, if you have any money left over at all, be sure to try the latest Manni olive oil venture – this time, a co-production with Thomas Keller and his chocolatier Chi Bui:  K+M Collection.  After years of research, they have finally arrived at a method and recipe to emulsify the purest cacao with Manni olive oil in place of the customary cacao butter – and in the process, deliver the most exquisite tasting anti-oxidant booster on the planet.

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