One of my favorite magazines is Real Simple Magazine. When I got back from out west there were stacks of magazines and mail piled behind my front door. I tidied them up and a week later landed in the hospital. While I recuperate I have been enjoying the guilty pleasure of laying around all day reading magazines. It makes me feel like a Park Avenue dowager, propped up on fluffy pillows sheathed in pastel, high-thread count cases, and dressed in a pink robe. Perhaps I should ask Mr. Olive Crazy to bring me a box of bon bons and a tiny dog to complete the scene.
While paging through the September issue of Real Simple, glancing at home projects which did indeed look easy to accomplish (but not by me), I came to page 247 and the latest “road test” – olive oil. All Right! I thought to myself, a good old taste test and on the next page an olive oil buying guide – Hot Dog!
First here are the olive oil buying suggestions from Nicholas Coleman, the chief olive oil specialist at Eataly in New York City.
“What to Look For:
A dark-tinted glass bottle or a tin. Exposure to light and heat will destroy an oil’s flavor, which is why you should avoid anything sold in a clear container, especially a plastic one. At home, stow your oil in a cabinet away from the stove.
“Extra virgin” on the label. Purified and refined oils, labeled simply “olive oil” or “pure olive oil,” are often made with lower-quality, processed oils that have little taste. Extra-virgin oils undergo minimal processing, so their flavor and aroma molecules remain intact.
A harvest or best-by date on the label. Oil does not improve with age. Look for a date stamp to make sure you are not buying anything more than two years old.
An estate name on the label. Small producers who grow and press their own olives often include the name of their estate on the bottle. Chances are, you won’t recognize the name, but that doesn’t matter. Having any name on the label is a sign of quality, says Coleman. Almost as good: an official mark or seal showing that the oil comes from a designated region that specializes in producing oils, such as PDO (the European Union’s official Protected Designation of Origin seal) or DOP (a similar seal from Italy).
USDA organic seal. This certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture means that at least 95 percent of the oil—either imported or domestic—is made from olives grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. The seal is typically an indicator of a good product, but don’t be alarmed if it’s missing. Many of the finest small olive-oil producers cannot afford to pay for USDA certification.
What to Disregard:
Oil color. Forget the old saw that the greener the oil, the better the quality, says Coleman. Color can vary widely, depending on, among other things, the type of olives used and at what point they were pressed.
“First cold pressed” on the label. This term relates to old-fashioned and rarely used methods of oil production. What’s more, the phrase is not regulated by the USDA or the Food and Drug Administration.
“Product of” on the label. If an oil is labeled “product of Italy,” that signifies only that the oil was packed and shipped in Italy. The olives could have been grown, harvested, and pressed in, say, Tunisia, Greece, or Spain. To find out where an oil really comes from, look at the estate name.”
Second, Nicholas and Real Simple testers sampled about 100 extra virgin olive oils for the “road test” and his recommendations are divided into two groups: for cooking and for drizzling. Both of those groups are further sub-divided into best budget, best mid price, and best splurge (used only in the drizzling group). Here they are and with his comments included:
“For cooking – Mild and versatile, these won’t overwhelm your ingredients.
Best budget – California Olive Ranch Fresh California Extra Virgin. This all-American pick wowed testers with its smooth, subtle taste – think gentle apple notes with a hint of spice.
Best mid price – Academia Barilla 100 Percent Organic Extra Virgin. Creamy and balanced, it’s as close as you can get to eating a bowl of fat juicy green olives.
For drizzling – Rich and nuanced, these add flavor to salads and finished dishes.
Best budget – Partanna Sicilian Extra Virgin. This buttery, unfiltered selection is sold in a large, budget-friendly tin. Use it over grilled vegetables and fish.
Best mid price – Nunez de Prado Extra Virgin. A knockout. Prepare for bright, clear notes of mint and citrus with mild toasted-walnut undertones. Perfect on pasta.
Best splurge – Lungarotti DOP Umbria. This winner starts with a tart burst, slides into a grassy sweetness, and finishes with a refreshing, peppery bite.”
I was pleased to see the California Olive Ranch Fresh California Extra Virgin on the list. It is the olive oil I used for cooking while we were in California. It is a personal favorite and a family hit.
May the sun shine through your branches.