TOM Mueller has ppenned this cracking read about the organised crime in the seedy underbelly of an ancient trade.
But this book is not a high-octane thriller about the Mafia.
- Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, by Tom Mueller. Allen & Unwin, rrp $29.99
Rather, it is a true account of how widespread fraud in the olive oil industry is slowly destroying the livelihood of many makers, including in Australia.
Mueller is a freelance writer who has lived in the Mediterranean, mainly in Italy, for the past 20 years.
Each year he helps his neighbour, wise 85-year-old Gino Olivieri, harvest wine grapes and olives. It would seem the latter ritual has made an indelible mark on Mueller, as he writes about the oil world lyrically and passionately.
But since writing an expose about oil fraud in the New Yorker, Mueller is now regarded as an authority on the industry's darker side.
In the glory days of Ancient Greece, olive oil was used, variously, as food, fuel, skin lotion, medicine and even as a contraceptive.
Today, it remains a highly sought-after commodity. But in the olive-oil world, much is not what it seems.
For example, light is a byword for refined with bitterness and pepperiness considered virtues found in only the best oils.
Many consumers prefer to buy flavourless, odourless and often adulterated refined oils at a fraction of the price.
Fraudsters are only too happy to grant their wish.
Mueller masterfully captures the pain of producers assailed by cheap imports, undercut by unscrupulous oil processors and vendors after a quick buck.
The writing will surely resonate with Australian farmers reading his book.
They will understand all too well that some middlemen and consumers simply do not care about the quality of a finished product.
One of the best features of the book is tucked away at the back: a guide to help choose a good olive oil.
Readers with a casual interest in olive oil will find the comprehensive glossary an essential reference from beginning to end. Even oil aficionados might learn a thing or two.