Up until recently, nobody – not even the most passionate foodies – would have considered to have myriad olive oils at their disposal: it was enough to have one oil for frying, and, maybe, one full-bodied to dress salads.
Commercial EVOO is similar to “table wine”: the large brand names buy oil in bulk and blend it to standard specifications. The result is consistent, inexpensive oil, useful for cooking, but boring compared to the good artisan oils.
How to find the real gem?
• Favour dark bottles or metal containers that protect oil against light, avoid buying oil that has been standing under bright supermarket lights in clear glass bottles, no matter how tempting the offer is.
• Only buy a quantity that you will use up quickly, once opened olive oil will begin slowly deteriorate.
• Make sure that your oil is labelled Extra Virgin, since other categories – Pure, Light, etc – have undergone chemical refinement and have less nutrition, vitamins and antioxidants left.
• Try to buy only New oil, look for bottles with a date of harvest or at the “Best by” date which should be 18 to 24 month after oil was bottled.
• Oil comes in different shades from pale green to golden-yellow – so, colour is not an indicator of quality.
• Avoid flavours such as rancid, fusty, mouldy, greasy, meaty, metallic, muddy sediment and vinegary; these are oil defects caused by wrong harvesting method, olive handling or storage, poor pressing technique or fermentation with oxygen.
• Although not 100% guarantee of quality, Protected Designation of Origin, Protected Geographical Indication and Organic status should inspire some confidence. The high price generally reflects the fact its made in limited quantities, and taken care from picking to pressing.
• To maintain its properties it must be kept away from excess heat, air and light: in a cool dark place away from direct sunlight, but not in the fridge.
• Top quality artisan product isn’t cheap, but compared to a bottle of wine, which lasts just one meal, a bottle of good olive oil – which has taken just as much effort and care to produce – will last far longer.