A Virgin without Provenance is Hard Cheese

This column has always maintained a healthy interest in and appetite for real food. Two of the most cherished of such victuals for me are extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and parmesan cheese, which I consider vital to nutritional well being, whose cost should not be excessive, nor whose quality debased.

Since last covering the subject of EVOO in this column, where I hoped to mark your card as to what was both authentic and good value, while deploring the appearance of what’s called olive pomace, which in various guises masquerades a real olive oil at grossly inflated prices, there have been developments which I reckon you should know.

First of all, prices here have continued their steady upward climb, somewhere of the order of 40%. You will be hard pressed to find a litre of a blended EVOO for under Rp.180,000 in the shops these days. The second development I find sinister, is that most EVOO importers have taken the opportunity to use the government’s BPOM labeling requirements to eliminate most, if not all, the basic information required to make an informed purchase decision. At best, all they provide is a ‘use by date’, which actually tells you nothing, plus the assertion that it is EVOO and the country where the liquid was put in the bottle.

In the EU, in Australia and the US some or all of the following are required: most basic, where do the olives come from? Is it cold pressed (real EVOOs usually are) and, if you’re lucky, the date the olives were harvested. EVOO is best consumed within two years of harvesting, so just giving us a ‘best consumed by date’ is meaningless.

A year ago most major brands on sale here would tell you where the olives originated, in EU countries or failing that in ‘Mediterranean’ countries. That usually meant Spain for the EU but might include Portugal and Italy, or less likely Greece. ‘Mediterranean’ is shorthand for Turkey in the main, but could be Tunis, Algeria or even Israel. We’re dealing here with the blended EVOOs like Bertoli, Berio and Coricelli, who in the past used to tell us something. Now they’re not required to they don’t tell us anything – why is that? Given widespread fraud in the past olive oil majors, why should we trust them? Give them a miss until they put themselves back on the record, I say.

On the subject of cold pressing: If it is not stated, assume the oil is obtained under high heat, which destroys substantial nutritional value in the process.

Alas, Cirio EVOO, a brand which I recommended in the past as best value for a blended EVOO, has vanished from the shelves. Nowadays my tip for a blended EVOO must be either Santagata (olives from EU countries), or Borges (Spain), each retailing at around Rp170,000 and Rp180,000 respectively.

If you want something better you will need to pay quite a bit more and I suggest you go for Colavita (Italy) or find one of the US or Australian EVOOS that can be found in Bali if you look for them.

And hard cheese? I don’t know about you, but I am shocked by how expensive even the most ordinary of cheeses have become. This seems especially true for hard, aged cheeses. As for Parmigiano-Reggiano, the pain is acute. In desperation I once tried an Australian attempt, which wasn’t cheap. Never again. At first bite there was a whiff of the real thing, rapidly overtook by a weird chemical taste, reminding me of nothing so much as my wife’s nail varnish remover.

Happily all is not lost. Here’s my hot tip. You can buy a really delicious 750 mL bottle of EVOO from Puglie at Massimo’s restaurant in Sanur for c. Rp.140,000. Not only that, you can buy the Parmigiano-Reggiano he imports at Rp.33,000 for 100 gm. Try also the aged ricotta he makes himself, which is great with pasta and salads too, and to top it off – go for the buffalo mozzarella he’s just added to his repertoire.

Not food, but still in the kitchen, and for those who are irked by the low quality of what passes for Glad Wrap in Indonesia, try Bagus Cling Wrap. It’s easy to handle, with a box that dispenses easily and doesn’t disintegrate, incorporating an effective serrated metal strip to cut the plastic. Glad Wrap uses serrated cardboard that just isn’t up to the job. And don’t get me started on the quality of stationary. Scotch tape for example….



I’m the King of the Commonwealth…!

I couldn’t help but be amused by The Guardian’s recent report on the meeting in London for Commonwealth leaders and their novel suggestion as to who should succeed the Queen of England, as and when she quits or dies. Prince Charles and British PM Theresa May were in no doubt that it had to King Charles loll. After all, even if it hadn’t actually been called the British Commonwealth since 1949, his mum has been in the job for nigh on 66 years and, even so, it was still sort of well – British wasn’t it? And – dash it all – he always wanted the job. Labor leader Jeremy Corbin, no monarchist he, was quick to suggest that perhaps it was time to rotate the position among the leaders from one of the other 93 member nations.

Anyway, now the subject has been raised, with the Prince Charles’ cap firmly in the ring, Commonwealth leaders will withdraw to Windsor in secret conclave to discuss the issue.

For those of you who are not from the UK, the former Dominions or colonies of the British Empire you may wonder why any of this matters? After all, what does the organisation do other than stage something to be called the Commonwealth Games midway between Olympics?

What may be missed is that for the last 60 years, ever since British influence ceased to dominate, the Commonwealth has been a superb arena for the exercise of soft power among the 35% of the world’s countries who speak English, with the added benefit that it does not include the Americans. The rules are pretty relaxed: all you have to do is broadly behave yourself when it comes to human rights and generally be pro democracy. A sort of cosy Davos for world leaders in which to smooze, and cut an unfamiliar dash on the world stage without Uncle Sam there to throw his weight around. Add in a touch of pageantry, what’s not to like? After all, unless you really break the rules, like Idi Amin or Mugabe say, you can usually get away with most things. If you are expelled, you can always get back in by letting a few of your opponents out of jail once they no longer present a threat.

While Corbyn’s suggestion to rotate among member nations appears an obvious option, it does have drawbacks. Australians may recall how ex-Liberal PM John Howard, a far more astute monarchist than the bizarre Tony Abbott, was able to game the referendum his way by insisting that Australia’s President or head of state should not be elected by popular vote but chosen by parliament. Given the choice a majority of Australians, who almost certainly would have voted for a republic otherwise, thought an absent Elizabeth Windsor would be a much safer bet than a succession of self-serving pols and party hacks.

The Guardian came up with what I thought was the best suggestion by far. One that would give the organisation added clout and avoid any inter-member squabbling. Since member nations can choose anyone they like, and nowhere is it said that it must be one of their own number, why not choose Barack Obama?


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