By Bill Dante
Can you name a gold liquid that we or you probably have been familiar with and have taken for granted for a long time? I’ll give you a hint. It’s more popular than wine but similar to wine when it comes to price, quality, age, taste, popularity, and worldwide awareness. At the same time, it can be confusing to many.
Did you guess it?
It’s olive oil, yes, olive oil and for thousands of years it has been used by mankind. The Romans and the Greeks used olive oil in their cuisine way before other European and Mediterranean countries.
Long, long ago, it was sometimes used as a simple oil in a lamp to light up a room or castle. But today, olive oil is consumed and used worldwide by millions. Think about when you dine out, many restaurants serve you a plate of olive oil and herbs with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and warm, delicious bread for dipping.
Buyer Beware, Not All Olive Oil Is The Same
Let’s talk about purchasing olive oil. You go to the store and there it is on the shelf. Not a few bottles but sometimes the entire length of the grocery store aisle.
Which one is the best? What should you buy? Does it really matter? Oh, then you see prices that can start at $5.00 a bottle and can go to $75 or more. My research tells me that price is NOT an indicator of quality!
It’s similar to buying wine. But by now you know what kind of wine you like or want to afford. But olive oil is like wine in a sense, meaning just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean you’ll like it.
So I’m going to help you with the basics of olive oil because it can get very confusing and you’ll thank me.
What To Look For
Look for the words COLD PRESSED or COLD EXTRACTED.
It’s the first action that is taken, next to shaken off the trees, to removing the best oil from the olives. No heat is used and cold pressed is all about quality and it’s the best tasting. This allows the taste, the fabulous smell and all the antioxidants and nutrients to be maintained at a very high level.
NEXT…look for EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil, or EVOO. This is excellent to drizzle and for dipping, sautéing and cooking.
After Extra Virgin Olive Oil there is just Virgin and then so many more choices. Don’t do it.
Did you know that 70% of all olive oil in the world comes from Spain. But that doesn’t make it the best olive oil, according to professional chefs. It can also be sourced from all over the world, for example, from Italy, Greece, the USA, (including Texas) and so many more places and countries.
And guess what? Just because the front of the bottle says Tuscany doesn’t mean the olives came from Italy.
Nope, turn the the bottle around and look. It might say a blend from Greece or not from Italy at all. A large portion of Italian olive oil companies buy their olives from Tunisia, which by the way has great tasting olives.
Another important thing to look for to ensure authenticity and quality is to look at the batch or harvest date on the bottle, the month it was put into the bottle or tin. It should be on the bottle and if not, I would pass.
This is much more important than the expiration date. Because you will finish your new found olive oil way before the expiration date. Buy smaller quantities. Some quality stores will let you sample before purchasing.
The olive oil should be smooth and not have a greasy lingering taste or feel. Italy has many different varieties stretching from the Florence area to Sicily.
I prefer the olive oil from the Puglia region, which is in the heel of the Italian boot. 40 % of all Italian olive oil comes from Puglia, which is right across the Adriatic from Greece, another great country for olive oil.
Italian olive oil is known to be robust, yet some can be milder. Whereas Greek is smoother and has a fruity aftertaste.
Assuming you’ve selected your olive oil, let’s talk about where to place it for storage. Would you leave a favorite bottle of wine close to your stove or burners for weeks? I don’t think so.
The same is true for olive oil. A lot of people have it right next to their stove. Also no sunlight, put it in a dark bottle or at least don’t put it on a window sill. Same with wine. Why? It will deteriorate and turn rancid. Also as I mentioned, buy a small bottle and replace it at least every six months.
Now you know the basics. Give olive oil a try, some of my favorite brands are Olio De Carlo from Italy, Atlas is another and Garza. California Olive Ranch is great for everyday cooking and if you use a lot on a daily basis Kirkland is good in bulk. Olio Nuevo, with the yellow horse on the label can be picked up at Trader Joe’s.
Finally, I want to mention Texas Hill Country Olive Company. Located in Dripping Springs, close to Austin, you will find an actual expansive olive grove, manufacturing facility, bistro, and gourmet shop. You will learn about harvesting, milling, and the bottling process. Tastings and tours operate seven days a week. Cost is $25 per person. You will need a reservation. I highly recommend taking the tour. It’s absolutely fascinating and a great way to spend a day or two in the Hill Country. Their olive oil is exquisite and truly fabulous. You will find lots to choose from, all available for purchase.
We enjoyed a personalized tour including a pleasant stroll through their olive groves, a wonderful lunch and then a complete learning introduction on the benefits, history and just enough olive oil knowledge to make you dangerous on your next trip to your local grocer.
Happy Drizzling and Dipping,