Navigate the diverse world of olive oils



If you’ve been in the olive oil section of the grocery store recently, you’ve probably been faced with a lot of choices. Maybe even a wall of olive oils, with different symbols on the bottles and a lot of brands to choose from.

For most of us, the world of olive oil is a bit of a mystery, and you may find yourself with the same kind of uncertainty that you feel in a wine store as you contemplate the plethora of bottles lined up. .

My friend Ted called me some time ago and asked me, “Should I buy extra virgin olive oil or should I go for something more experienced?” Yes, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) jokes are easy, but the fact remains: there is a lot of confusion about which olive oils to buy and how to use them.

So let’s go. What types of olive oils should you keep on hand and which ones should you use when?

First, let’s dive into the meaning of extra virgin, virgin and pure olive oil.

The term extra virgin, which can also be labeled cold pressed, refers to the oil produced from the first pressing or grinding of fresh, young and green olives.

According to Vincent Ricchiuti, a fourth generation farmer in Fresno, Calif., Who founded Enzo Olive Oil, “One of the most important things for quality and freshness is how quickly you get the olives from the tree. at the mill. ” Its organic olives go from tree to bottle in 24 hours.

The flavor of extra virgin olive oils can vary widely. The grapes, the regions, the weather… everything affects taste and quality, just like wine. Good quality extra virgin olive oils usually have pleasant bitterness notes, and different oils will have more specific flavor undertones: you may hear yourself using words like peppery, herbaceous, vegetable, sweet, or almond. The intensity of the flavor ranges from delicate to assertive, although a good extra virgin olive oil should always taste fresh and clean. The color can range from a rich brilliant green to golden yellow.

Pure olive oil is made from the paste or pomace that remains after the first pressing. There are usually chemicals involved in this process, and this oil is best used for cooking and frying, as its flavor tends to be milder and less nuanced than extra virgin olive oils.

Virgin olive oil is generally a blend of extra virgin and pure olive oils.

It is better to use a very good extra virgin olive oil in cold preparations rather than cooked to make the most of its unique flavor. Think about salad dressings and drizzle over any finished dish, from soups to fish to crostini. If there is a harvest date on the bottle, verify that it is the harvest from the previous fall.

Some cooks are reluctant to use good olive oil because of its lower smoke point, the temperature at which it begins to burn. Francesca van Soest, technical sales and marketing manager for Australian company Cobram Estate, studied olive oil at university and said: “There was this unfounded rumor that you can’t cook. with EVOO due to its smoke point for too long. If you go to Europe, everyone has been cooking with extra virgin olive oil for millennia, so why do we think we can’t here? “

Rolando Beramendi, founder of California-based Italian food importer Manicaretti, adds: “You just have to be really good friends with your flames” when cooking with olive oil and making sure that the temperature does not rise too high.

You may have noticed a big discrepancy in the prices of olive oil. Where to splurge and where to save?

Buy olive oil from high-volume stores so it doesn’t sit on the shelves for months. Besides the local grocery stores, there are of course online and specialty stores that sell a wide variety of artisanal extra virgin olive oils in small batches which can be pricey but worth the money.

“As for the money you spend, think we quickly buy a $ 35 bottle of wine and drink it with one meal. But a $ 35 bottle of olive oil (stored properly) can last for months, so you get more than your money’s worth, ”Beramendi says.

If you use a lot of olive oil (and dear reader, that would be me), proper storage is less of a problem because you’ll be using it before its quality really drops. The best way to store olive oil is sealed, in a cool, dark place (if you store your olive oil near the stove, don’t!).

Some manufacturers bottle their olive oil in dark or even opaque bottles to prevent light from accelerating the oxidation of the oil. Light, heat and air are the enemies of stored olive oil. Stored well, a good extra virgin olive oil will last for months, and a more commercial oil should last at least a year. If it smells or tastes rancid, throw it out.

Quality olive oils come from everywhere. Italy is one of the best-known producers, as are Greece, Spain and, in recent decades, California. Good olive oil is also produced in countries as diverse as Australia, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco and Croatia. In Italy alone, Sardinia, Sicily, Umbria, Tuscany, Puglia and Liguria are among the regions revered for their distinctive oils.

Most olive oil producing regions have third-party verification and accreditation, and Van Soest urges buyers to look for these seals on the bottle. She says there is an “unfortunately high level of tampering and mislabelling” around the world.

The world of flavored olive oils is also robust. Enzo manufactures two lines of flavored olive oils. The infused ones are made on a larger scale from a combination of extra virgin olive oil mixed with organic essential oils such as garlic, basil and Meyer lemon. Then there’s the more expensive “crush” series, where the raw ingredients, such as locally grown clementines and Fresno peppers, are crushed along with the olives.

Of course, like wine, like cheese, like chocolate, to start learning about olive oil is to scratch the surface of a deep and ancient food tradition. But just by experimenting a little, and maybe spending a few extra bucks, you will immediately see the delicious results.


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