BY KATIE WORKMAN
If you’ve been to the grocery store’s olive oil section lately, you’ve likely been presented with plenty of choices. Maybe even a wall of olive oil with different symbols on the bottles and a whole range of brands to choose from.
The world of olive oil is a mystery to most of us, and you may have the same insecurity that you feel in a wine shop when you think about the abundance of bottles lined up.
My friend Ted called me a while ago and asked, “Should I buy the extra virgin olive oil or should I bring something more experienced?” Yes, the jokes about extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) are simple, but the fact remains: there is a lot of confusion about which olive oils to buy and how to use them.
So let’s get started. What type of olive oil should you have and which one should you use when?
First, let’s examine the meanings of virgin, virgin, and extra virgin olive oils.
The term extra virgin, which can also be referred to as cold-pressed, refers to oil made the first time fresh, young, green olives are pressed or ground.
According to Vincent Ricchiuti, a fourth generation farmer in Fresno, California who founded Enzo Olive Oil, “One of the most important things about quality and freshness is how quickly you get olives from the tree to the grinder.” Its organic olives go from the tree to the bottle within 24 hours.
The taste of extra virgin olive oil can vary widely. Olives, regions, weather … all affect taste and quality, just like wine. Good quality extra virgin olive oil usually has pleasant bitterness notes, and different oils have more specific flavor nuances: you can hear yourself using words like pepper, grass, vegetable, sweet, or almond. The intensity of the taste varies from delicate to assertive, although good extra virgin olive oil should always taste fresh and clean. The color can range from rich green to golden yellow.
Pure olive oil, which can also be simply referred to as olive oil, is a blend of refined olive oil as it does not meet the qualifications of virgin olive oil and some virgin or extra virgin olive oil that is added for taste and color. This oil is best for cooking and frying because its taste is milder and less nuanced than extra virgin olive oils.
Joseph R. Profaci, executive director of the North American Olive Oil Association’s trading group, says, “While extra virgin olive oil is the most valued variety for good reason, we need to keep the door open so consumers can use lower grades of olive oil if there is suits your taste preferences and budget.
“Home cooks who are used to highly refined, neutral-flavored seed oils but are curious about the potential health benefits of olive oil may want to start with regular olive oil or even light-tasting olive oils. Think of these as the gateway to the oil category.”
Very good extra virgin olive oil is best used in cold preparations rather than boiled to get the most out of its unique flavor. Think of salad dressings and drizzle over any prepared dish, from soups to fish to crostini. If there is a harvest date on the bottle, check to see if it was from the previous fall’s harvest.
Some cooks are reluctant to use good quality olive oil as it has a reputation for having a lower smoke point, the temperature at which it starts to burn. Francesca van Soest, technical sales and marketing manager for Cobram Estate in Australia, says: “There was this unfounded rumor that you can’t cook with EVOO for too long because of your smoke point. If you go to Europe, it was all.” Cooking with extra virgin olive oil for millennia. So why do we think we can’t get here? ”
Rolando Beramendi, founder of California-based Italian food importer Manicaretti, adds, “You just have to be very good friends with your flames” when cooking with olive oil and making sure the temperature doesn’t get too high.
Where can you enjoy expensive olive oil and where can you save?
Buy olive oil from high-volume stores so it hasn’t been on the shelf for months. In addition to local grocery stores, there are of course online and specialty stores that sell a wide variety of artisanal, extra virgin olive oils in small quantities that can be expensive but unique.
“As for the money you’re spending, remember that we can quickly buy a $ 35 bottle of wine and drink it with the same meal. But a $ 35 bottle of olive oil (properly stored) can last for months. You get it so more than a good bang for your buck, “says Beramendi.
If you use a lot of olive oil (and dear reader, I would be), storing it properly is less of a problem as you will consume it before the quality really starts to deteriorate. The best way to store olive oil is to seal it in a cool, dark place (if you keep your olive oil on the stove, don’t!).
Some manufacturers bottle their olive oil in dark or even opaque bottles to prevent light from accelerating the oil’s oxidation. Light, heat and air are the enemies of stored olive oil. When properly stored, good extra virgin olive oil will last for months, and a commercially produced olive oil should last at least a year, although it wears off faster once opened. If it smells or tastes rancid, toss it.
High quality olive oils come from everywhere. Italy is one of the most famous producers, but also Greece, Spain and, in the last few decades, California. Good olive oil is also made in countries as diverse as Australia, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, and Croatia. In Italy alone, Sardinia, Sicily, Umbria, Tuscany, Apulia and Liguria are among the regions that are revered for their distinctive oils.
Most of the olive oil producing regions are third party verified and accredited and Van Soest urges buyers to look for these seals on the bottle to avoid adulteration or mislabeling of the oil.
The world of flavored olive oils is robust too. Enzo makes two lines: Infused are made on a larger scale from a combination of extra virgin olive oil with organic essential oils such as garlic, basil and Meyer lemon. Then there is the more expensive “Crush” series, in which raw materials such as locally grown clementines and Fresno chilies are crushed with the olives.
Of course, as with wine, cheese, or chocolate, learning olive oil means scratching the surface of a deep and ancient food tradition. But if you just experiment a little, and maybe spend a few extra bucks, you’ll see the delicious results right away.