We love olive oil. It's so versatile. It's so simple. It's the quiet ingredient in almost everything...marinades, dressings, stir fry, sauté, bread dipping. And who doesn't have a bottle of olive oil in their kitchen? It's universal.
We think of it as slow food. You always slow down to pour it. You know when you go to drizzle EVOO over your meal? It's like the room hushes, you take a deep breath and you slowly pour just the right amount of oil on your pasta, salad or veggies. Pouring olive oil actually forces you to slow down for a minute. How amazing is that?
Plus there's the history. There are olive groves in the Mid East from the time of Christ that are still producing olives! That ancient connection humbles our own little hectic and important world.
We feature several of our favorite oils including Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. They are simple tasting but each very distinctively complex. Each has a wonderful history. And each is an artisan, handmade product—it feels good to know where your food is coming from.
What in the world is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Extra virgin is the ol' standby phrase to indicate that an olive oil is pretty good. It's really a grade that usually indicates a high quality oil distinguished by naturally low levels of free oleic acid. To qualify as Extra Virgin, an olive oil is supposed to have a free acid count of less than 1%.
In today's high tech and mass-appeal world, it is definitely possible for large companies to take poor quality olive oil and achieve low levels of acid with the use of chemicals and such—only to call it EVOO!! So Extra Virgin, while very useful in a technical sense, needs to be used in tandem with several other factors in order to determine whether your oil is outstanding.
Look for cold pressed: Cold pressing olives usually yields superior flavor. But careful here too: if the olives they are pressing via cold stone presses or stainless ones are of poor quality then you are out of luck.
Look for hand picked olives: Careful picking of olives is another sign of great oil. It usually involves picking them at their peak of flavor and ensures the olive remains in good condition.
Look for the variety of olive: If the producer is proud enough to put the variety of olive on the label it's often a good bet that it's a good oil too. Blends or single varietals, there are many varieties of olives that will all affect the flavor of the final product. And where the trees are located will obviously affect flavor. It's like wine…different varieties of grapes, different flavors.
Look for unfiltered: Most oils are filtered which is fine—some of my favorites are. But if you find one unfiltered—meaning the oil is left to its natural state after pressing, often cloudier and more opaque then its filtered counterparts—grab it for a taste. It will often be artisan produced and truly a better olive oil.
So choose wisely before you buy extra virgin olive oil and use this information to guide you through the myriad of oils…remember taste is the ultimate guide! So taste as many as you can before you purchase!
*A 2009 Saveur Top 100 Food!