Olive Oil Is Magic... This Little Rant Will Clue You In!
Everything you need to know about buying… Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the fresh juice of olives. Some of the great estates have trees that are 200 years old and geographic aspects that give their EVOO specific terroir. In order to produce great olive oil the producer/grower must have a sense of urgency much like that of great wine makers. Oxidation begins the second the fruit is harvested and so any wasted time between the actual harvesting of the olives and the time it reaches the mill diminishes the quality. Modern milling technology has supplanted the olive press making producers much more efficient, In the end the most important factors for consumers to evaluate in any purchase of EVOO is terroir and freshness!
The Very Best EVOO
Today Olive Oil falls into 4 categories. The best of all sources are the Estate Bottled EVOOs which include the 100 or so best grower/producers in the world according to the Flos Olei Guide which is the bible for many EVOO aficionados. These “Super Premium” EVOOs which are very hard to find are vibrant and totally alive with flavor ranging from nuts and fruit to an herbaceous flavors like tomato leaves, artichoke even chicory. Oils described as delicate and light fruit have plenty of flavor and spice but are lighter on the palate. Those described as medium to intense fruit are more of a mouth full and have more weight.
Why We Like The Estate Producers
I sampled and consumed at least 25 bottles on the guide each of the last 3 years. There is a big difference in the EVOO from the best estates and what most people consume or that you find in Olive Oil specialty stores. The best producers are more concerned with quality than quantity. A pretty label doesn’t necessarily mean you are buying a good bottle of EVOO. There are lots of pretty bottles on the market today that are filled with poor to mediocre oils and many don’t even have a harvest date on the label.
The biggest reason the oils from the top producers are so much better is the age of the trees and where the estates are located. Like grape vines, olive trees seem to prosper when they struggle in poor soil and somewhat rocky terrain which provides a minerality you just can’t get out of rich soils and the trees get better with age.
Before I move on, a good bottle of EVOO costs at least $20-25+ purchased one at a time in your regular retail outlets. Our 3 bottle offer is impossible to beat. It’s the best best deal in N. America.
How Best To Use EVOO
The lighter oils are good for salads, dressings, drizzle on seafood, grilled vegetables and even vanilla ice cream with a little sea salt. They are also great to cook with. Saute at lower temperatures less than 375 degrees. The bigger olive oils are finishing sauces for meats, soups and stews, If you are searing stakes or seafood on a hot grill or skillet use the oil as a finishing sauce rather than cook with it. The spice and pepper flavors in the oils enhance the flavor of foods. So even if some of these olive oils taste a bit strong to you on their own when you combine it with food it is sensational. A good example are these dry packed U-10 scallops, seasoned w/ a little coarse sea salt, sautéed in a light fruit EVOO and finished with a light drizzle of Oro Bailen Reserva and a few drops of lemon juice.
EVOO Is Essential… It’s Good For Your Long Term Health
Unless otherwise directed by a physician you should consume about 3-4 Tbs. a day because EVOO is really good for your health. Be aware that any articles you have read to the contrary are total nonsense. Yes Olive Oil has fat in it but they are the good fats that combine with the foods you eat to put them to better use in your body. When you taste EVOO on its own the bitter taste is the polyphenol content. The lower the bitterness, the lower the health benefits are. The polyphenols in olive oil help your body process the polyphenols in the other healthy foods you eat like salad greens other vegetables meats and seafood. It is a synergistic effect that cannot be replicated by other oils. There are beneficial polyphenols in EVOO that are found in few other places in the food chain.
Olive Oil Shops
Second on the list retail sources are olive oil shops which have popped up everywhere. There have been a few I thought were OK. Most are better resources than typical grocers but I find they generally offer low to medium grade bulk oils that are totally overpriced. I am always amazed when I taste through their selections at how unremarkable the oils are.
From my perspective if their olive oil was so precious they would not adulterate the majority of it with flavors. Real EVOO is literally liquid gold. It is kind of a game. Ironically the bitter and spicy attributes of EVOO which provide the health benefits are what get in the way of the truth. It is harder to sell to Americans on something that tastes bitter when they sample it. As a culture we don’t do well with bitter flavors. Notably Americans and the Swiss prefer sweet and creamy flavors. This is why 90% of the oils and vinegars in these shops are flavored. Americans just can’t deal with the truth!
So an olive oil shop couldn’t make a living without selling flavored oils. I suspect the oils they use could be older or just lower grades of flavorless EVOO. I mean really, if you need to cook with something that tastes like butter without the milk fats do yourself a favor and use Ghee. The “all natural flavor of butter” claim really gets me. They probably use something like diacetyl which may come from a plant but it’s likely the same byproduct used in butter flavored micro wave popcorn that I believe is considered a carcinogen when heated up.
Super premium extra virgin olive oils are not meant be infused. You may not have a taste for it on its own but when you add really good EVOO to other foods something magical takes place and it makes those foods taste better. You should try it on ice cream with sea salt.
Oh and keep sure you know what the bottle size is. A lot of these shops don’t tell you what size bottle you are buying especially online. Next thing you will know is that you spent $25 on a 375 Ml bottle.
EVOO From The USA
Next on the list are the American grower/producers. There are all sorts of good producers in the USA and not just in California. Olive oil is being produced in states like Georgia, Texas, Arizona and Oregon. The best I have tasted is from screen writer (Karate Kid, 5th Element, Taken…) Robert Kamen’s magnificent organic vineyard estate on the peak of Mt Sonoma. This guy has a green thumb. He is one of our favorite California wine makers and I highly recommend visiting his tasting room on your next tour of wine country where you can also pick up a bottle of his EVOO.
Lucero one of California’s bigger grower producers always offers beautiful oils. Unfortunately the drought in California has wreaked havoc on availability. Last year a bottle of Lucero’s larger productions of light and fruity oils were $15. Now they are $25. They have always had a high price to quality ratio but at $25 it is a better deal to shop Italy and Spain.
The biggest favor you can do yourself is to pay attention to the “harvest dates”. Most bottles don’t have them. In the northern hemisphere the year you should most desire is the previous fall. Today you should be searching for EVOO harvested in 2014. “Best BY Dates” are the single most manipulated lie on any bottle labeled EVOO. The “Best By Date” means nothing unless it is accompanied by an actual “Harvest Date”.
If it has a “harvest date” it will generally be good for about 18 months after that date. 2014 “harvest dates” will start to turn rancid at best summer 2016. Any label that tells you their oil is good for 24 to 30 months from harvest just assume it is a scam and don’t buy it out of principle.
California Olive Oil Producers Redefine The Harvest Date.
I recently read that the California Olive Council is allowing producers to use the “harvest date” from the end of the season which runs into the following year i.e. 2014/15 harvest reads 2015 Harvest. So if you see a bottle from California labeled 2014 in the grocery form California and the date you are shopping is past June of 2015 don’t buy it because it’s real harvest date was 2013. This is really disappointing news and it reflects poorly on the biggest producers.
People have grown so used to the taste of rancid EVOO they think it is what olive oil is supposed to taste like. One Doctor I know has family in the Middle East that produces olive oil on their farm. I was catering a Single Malt Scotch dinner at her house and she asked if I would like to try her family’s olive oil that she had brought back from her last visit. Well it was rancid to the nose and I told her so. She proceeded to open 3 more bottles and they were all rancid. I handed her a fresh bottle of Lucero’s Arbequina to sample and she thought it would be too rich and spicy for her yogurt. To this day she insists that her family’s rancid olive oil is how olive oil should smell and taste. By the way the bottle did not have a date on it.
Shopping In Grocery Stores…It Looks Italian
Now their oils, that often appear to be Italian are actually made up of the lowest quality oils from all over Europe, North Africa and even S. America and then bottled in Italy. Year in and year out they are found to have been combined with seed oils. These oils could be treated with heat, chemicals, artificial flavors and coloring then bottled in Italy with one of those beautiful labels that clearly states EVOO. Yes most of these oils are not 100% Olive Oil to begin with. Even if they are not rancid from age they don’t even come close to the standards of EVOO.
Olive Pomace Oil is not fit for consumption and I am always surprised to see it in stores as if it is something special. It is what they extract from the left over pulp then process with heat, add chemical and other ingredients….yuk.
Basically there is no government agency in the USA that inspects the product to see that it is what it says it is on the label. They are developing better tests to determine genetic content so perhaps the FDA will actually hold producers accountable. Furthermore tasting panels which are an essential part of the process will tell you that chemical tests can’t tell you if an olive oil has defects in taste. That evaluation can only be done by a human being.
If You Have A Great Specialty Store Or A Grocer Who Cares…
There are some really great specialty retailers and small chains of grocers that do give a damn about what they serve. Try to shop at stores that have tasting bars and let you taste before you buy. If you are lucky enough to have one in your town we recommend you support them with your business.