Along the eastern side of Italy and Sicily are a series of olive groves where trees are lovingly tended following old traditions. These groves were “organic” before the rest of the world knew what the term meant, producing pure, natural, high-quality olive oil. No pesticides. No preservatives. No artificial anything. The resulting olive oil is nothing less than sublime. It’s packed into tins to preserve freshness, protect it from sunlight and reduce shipping weight.
When grocery store shelves are brimming with olive oils, what makes these so special?
It starts with the growing process that honors small, local farmers who are preserving both the earth and healthy farming methods. But it’s more than that. It continues with oils that are produced to the highest standards, without relying on marketing gimmicks or confusing terminology.
What does that mean?
When it comes to choosing olive oil, color is not the best indicator of quality. Look for the terms “extra virgin” and “first cold press” to get the absolute best oil. Extra virgin oils have the lowest acidity and the highest level of antioxidants as well as the best flavor. The first cold press means the fruits were pressed without the application of heat, or chemicals, resulting in a purer, more flavorful, higher quality oil. Olive oil labeled “virgin” is slightly higher acidity and may still be OK to use for some applications. Completely skip anything labeled plain “olive oil” or “pure olive oil”.
A few surprising facts about olive oil:
- When olives are crushed, or pressed, the entire fruit – including the stone – is used. Oils made from fruit only tend to lack the full, rich flavor you expect from quality oil.
- Black olives are just mature green olives. All olives start out green.
- Olive oil is not like wine. It does not improve with age, so use that stuff!
- Contrary to what we’ve been told, yes, you should use good quality olive oil for cooking. Yes, you’ll lose some of the more delicate flavors, but good quality oil lends an amazing flavor to any dish. Besides, cooking with it fills your kitchen with amazing aromas!
Though it’s not traditional in Italy, Americans have learned to appreciate good olive oil by starting their meals with fresh bread dipped in good oils. Who are we to quibble? We’re all for combining the fine Italian tradition of delectable, decadent olive oil with our American culinary tastes. Pour an amazing flavored oil into a beautiful dipping dish and enjoy!