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Dipping bread in olive oil

My mom is in Italy right now and she emailed me with a question for all of you. (Of course, if she has internet access she could do it herself, but that wouldn't occur to her.) She'd like to know where and when the practice of dipping bread in olive oil started. It's very common in California but she hasn't seen it at all in Italy. (She's in the North.) She gets bread before a meal and also little bottles of olive oil and vinegar with the salad, but that's it. Does anyone know?

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  1. I did not see this practice in Italy either (Rome/Tuscany) but was surprised when I went to Spain this past summer that Catalans sometimes do it (Barcelona). On a few occasions, we were given warm, fresh bread, a little dish of Catalan olive oil to dip in and some sea salt to sprinkle over the bread. Divine!

    1. This is very American, not at all common practice in Italy. If you happen to take in an olive oil festival you can sample and dip all you want.

      1. I believe this started in America, and in particular California.

        I think the thinking behind it was driven partly by the large olive, and olive oil, industry in CA, coupled with the popularity of olive oil as being a "good fat". And dipping bread in nice flavorful olive oil was a quick and simple way to get these heart healthy good fats without actually having to cook up a full meal, or to toss a salad.

        But who knows, I could be completely wrong and this practice could date as far back as Caesar himself.

        5 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          Whoever it was that started it has my eternal gratitude. A good olive oil is a great accompaniment to a good bread, healthier than butter (assuming equal amounts are used - I think people tend to go overboard on the oil), and never frozen into a stiff block of bread-crumbling matter.

          Still like butter, of course - I just can't get myself to pour olive oil on a stack of pancakes. :)

          1. re: Striver

            Absolutely agree especially with a good extra virgin olive oil where an ordinary bread is just a good vehicle for the delicious olive oil!

            1. re: Striver

              Actually, if equal amounts of butter or oil are used, you consume 20% more calories with oil than butter (oil has 120 cals per Tbs, butter 100). If you have an issue with cholesterol, then oil may be healthier for you, but that's a minority of people. And people do tend to use more oil than butter in my experience.

              1. re: Karl S

                I think the important issue here is in cholesterol and saturated vs unsaturated fat (the latter posing less of a health risk, though overconsumption is always an issue).

                Not being derived from animal sources, olive oil doesn't have any appreciable amounts of cholesterol, and it also contains much less saturated fat than butter.

                1. re: Bryson

                  There has been a lot of debate regarding the real health impact of cholesterol and saturated vs unsaturated fat which is off-topic but the prevailing "wisdom" of the 80s and 90s is still in question.

          2. My family had restaurants with Marcella Hazan and she wouldn't allow a dipping oil at the table - only butter. Nor would she allow a twist of lemon with espresso.

            8 Replies
              1. re: MMRuth

                She owned less than the publicist made it seem, but yes, she was a partner in two. And her son was the chef at one for a while, which was funny, cause he so obviously was not a restaurant chef.

                1. re: almansa

                  Interesting - where were the restaurants?

                    1. re: almansa

                      MiPiaci used to ROCK back in those days!

              2. re: almansa

                Yeah, lots of purists won't allow a twist of lemon with an espresso. The lemon is supposed to help with bitterness issues, therefore any place that offers a twist of lemon is, in effect, admitting that their espresso might be bitter, which it should never be. Kind of along the lines of a place I worked at in New York that instructed us NOT to ask how the meals are because that would be admitting that something might be wrong with the food.

                1. re: hilltowner

                  I ordered an espresso (doble) after dinner last week for the first time in years. It came with a twist on the side and two sugar cubes. I ate the twist by itself, don't think it belongs with good strong espresso, and toward the end I put a cube in there, which was tasty but I felt guilty about doing it. I love a good strong arse-kicking espresso, and all those things that are meant to mellow it don't do it justice. Except the sugar cube, but like I said, I felt like a sellout. may have to try that at home.

                  1. re: hilltowner

                    i just thought the lemon rind twist was a regional thing (like the amalfi coast or sicilian).

                2. That's funny because I went on two tours this past spring in Tuscany, one a cooking tour and one a bike tour, both stopped at small wineries where they produced their own wines and olive oil and we tasted wine and locally made olive oil and the tour guides had bought bread to dip and taste the olive oil with.

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: bakerboyz

                      They don't expect you to drink a glass of olive oil, so they provided a more suitable vehicle for tasting it.