My mother had a fanatical reverence for fancy, foreign olive oils and would only rarely venture into the Forbidden Pantry of Italian Ingredients to bring it to the dinner table. It was usually reserved for my parent’s meals as our young, immature palates were not yet refined enough to appreciate the complex nuances of that golden, green liquid of the gods.
Following right in her footsteps, I purchased my first “grown up” bottle of extra virgin olive oil in Athens last June. It is strictly reserved for scarce drizzling on light dishes where the flavor can shine. Lets be real though. Does this expensive, organic, hand-picked, foot pressed olive oil taste that much different then your average supermarket version? Is it worth the adoration and restraint that my mother and I bestow upon our bottles?
In my quest to discover the answer, I came across the blog Truth in Olive Oil. This website is like a college course on olive oil.
-Bitterness and pungency are usually indicators of an oil’s healthfulness. Sweetness and butteriness are often not.
-Unlike many wines, which improve with age, extra virgin olive oil is perishable: like all natural fruit juices, its flavor and aroma begin to deteriorate within a few months of milling, a decline that accelerate when the oil is bottled, and really speeds up when the bottle is opened.
-…be sure your oil is labeled “extra virgin,” since other categories – “pure” or “light” oil, “olive oil,” not to mention “pomace olive oil” – have undergone chemical refinement which strips away olive flavors and many of the oil’s health benefits.
– When choosing bottled oil, prefer dark glass or other containers that protect against light, buy a quantity that you’ll use up quickly, and keep it well sealed in a cool, dark place.
– Good oils come in all shades, from vivid green to gold to pale straw…
– Phrases like “packed in Italy” or “bottled in Italy,” do not mean that the oil was made in Italy, much less that it was made from Italian olives. Italy is one of the world’s major importers of olive oil, much of which originates in Spain, Greece, Tunisia and elsewhere, so don’t be taken in by Italian flags and scenes from the Tuscan countryside on the packaging.
-Once you’ve bought your oil, store it in a place where it is protected from light, heat and oxygen, the three enemies of good oil, which speed spoilage.
To see how your favorite Trader Joe’s oil stands up to the expert see here and other supermarket versions here.
For a list of the author’s favorite oils from around the world ( complete with tasting notes) look here.
For up to the minute olive oil news check out his blog here.
And for extra credit, read Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil and write a 1-2 page book report for me by next week.
Now you are ready to start classes at The International Olive Oil School!