Through much of Italy you’re not likely to see a bowl of olive oil placed on a restaurant table as that practically guarantees the waste of premium quality oil as Italians don’t typically eat bread before they start their meal. Most Italians also aren’t likely to eat much of anything out of a communal bowl. Right after the harvest when fresh olives have been cold pressed into that season’s olive oil you may find Italians sampling the newest olive oil offerings in a restaurant but they are only tasting the pure olive oil (this ritual is much more like a wine tasting). Bread may be used during this taste testing but not always.
There is some debate in this country as to where the practice of dipping bread in an olive oil and balsamic vinegar mix or an olive oil and bread dipping seasoning really started to take hold. Some mistakenly say New York, but the majority of serious food lovers believe it started in some of the nicer Italian restaurants in San Francisco.
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