buying guide

Which extra virgin Olive oil to buy? Read this and find out!

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The real deal:
California Olive Ranch, Cobram Estate, Lucini. Kirkland Organic, Lucero (Ascolano), McEvoy Ranch Organic are also noted by Eat Grown Local.

The brands that failed to meet the extra virgin olive oil standards, according to a UC Davis 2012 study: Bertolli, Carapelli, Colavita, Star, Pompeian. Eat Grown Local also reports: Filippo Berio, Mazzola, Mezzetta, Newman’s Own, Safeway in this list; the data may be from the earlier 2010 study when more brands were evaluated.

We lived in the largest olive oil region in Italy for a year and learned much about the corruption in the industry.  Read the book Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller if you want to know more.

Now that we live in the States I buy Kirkland’s Italian organic extra virgin olive oil from Costco- it’s 13 dollars for a 2 liter bottle.  I transfer it to glass as soon as I get home and keep it away from light to protect it.

This paper on EVOO is from my friend and mentor Diane Seed who has been in Rome for 40+ years and one of the first to have a cooking school there.  She was also head of the extra virgin olive oil association for some years.

Italian cooking with olive oil- by Diane Seed

Italy as a nation consumes more olive oil than any other country, and it would be difficult to imagine Italian cooking without this vital ingredient.  Although some northern Italian regions traditionally use butter in their cooking, they still rely on olive oil to give the final “tocca” to several dishes, and olive oil is gradually replacing butter in many northern homes and restaurants.  In the same way, in the past, when most country families kept a pig, lard was used for many rustic dishes, but as Italy moved into the 20th century, olive oil replaced lard so completely that many Italians

Italian cooking with olive oil- by Diane Seed

Italy as a nation consumes more olive oil than any other country, and it would be difficult to imagine Italian cooking without this vital ingredient.  Although some northern Italian regions traditionally use butter in their cooking, they still rely on olive oil to give the final “tocca” to several dishes, and olive oil is gradually replacing butter in many northern homes and restaurants.  In the same way, in the past, when most country families kept a pig, lard was used for many rustic dishes, but as Italy moved into the 20th century, olive oil replaced lard so completely that many Italians believed it was the original, traditional cooking fat. In the south olive oil has always ruled the kitchen and many families have survived, and at the same time dined splendidly on bread and home grown vegetables anointed with lucent olive oil, or a sumptuous plate of pasta, dressed simply with “aglio, olio e peperoncino”.

Olive oil is used in baking, preserving, and marinading as well as frying and deep frying. It is used to dress salads, cooked vegetables, fish and meat, and to add a crowning touch to soups and cooked purées. Most pasta sauces would be nothing without olive oil, but it is a great mistake and false economy to use the cheapest olive oil to be found. Every olive oil has its own individual taste and an oil that will give a gentle benison to a fish dish might not contribute much to a hearty bean soup. In Italy it is usual to have several bottles of olive oil in the larder, and they are chosen with as much care as the bottles in the wine racks. For general cooking a modest extra virgin olive oil will do the job, but a more special oil is kept for drizzling over a finished dish, or anointing fish and vegetables, and the better the oil the better the taste. Even in Italy the olive oil used is often most expensive ingredient in the recipe.

Once you have invested in your extra virgin olive oil us generously, since olive oil should be consumed within 12 to 18 months of production, depending on the variety of olive oil, and it should be stored in a cool, dark place to avoid deterioration.

“olive oil” has been chemically refined and although it is healthier than other cooking fats, it has little to offer as far as taste goes, and it does not possess the same anti-oxidants as extra virgin olive oil. However it is perfectly adequate as an economic fat for deep frying. In Italy, where oil is less expensive, I deep fry in a commercially- blended extra virgin olive oil.   I do not deep fry in estate bottled extra virgin olive oil because I feel it would be a waste and extravagance. In Italy every region, town, village and family firmly believe that their olive oil is the best. So experiment with the different olive oil you find, so that you gradually develop your own olive oil palate. You can have great fun deciding with whom you agree. 

Extra virgin olive oil vs. virgin olive oil vs. olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil by law must contain less than 1% acidity. It is obtained from fruit of the olive tree by mechanical and physical methods under controlled temperature conditions which preserve the fruity flavor, color and natural properties of the oil.

“Estate bottled” oils come from a specific geographical area and the name of the producer is usually stated. Often the particular variety of olive is named. Thes oils are usually the top of the range and the flavor may change from year to year according to the weather conditions. In these oils it is possible to see how soils, climate, and variety of olive produce a wide range of flavors.   Industrial blended Extra virgin olive oil has a consistent taste and texture. The oils used may come from many different countries but all the oil has less than 1% acidity. This oil is generally less expensive than the estate – bottled oil.

Virgin Olive oil

This is obtained in the same way as extra virgin olive oil but it has more than 1% and less than 3% acidity. It is usually less expensive than EVOO.

Olive Oil

This classification was previously known as “pure olive oil”. The free oleic acidity is below 1.5% but this result has been achieved by refining oils with a higher degree of acidity. It is suitable for deep frying. “extra light” olive oil belongs to this category. It does not exist in traditional Mediterranean cooking and it is only light in flavor, not in calories. It contains the same number of calories as other oils. The oil is suitable for deep frying sweet things.

Deep Frying

In Mediterranean   countries there is a long established tradition of deep frying. Humble ingredients are deep fried in olive oil to transform them into crisp , golden morsels of temptation. There is even an old proverb from Liguria that says: “fritta e’ buona persino una scarpa” even an old shoe tastes good when it’s fried.

When food is fried in olive oil 60% of the moisture content of the food has to evaporate before the olive oil begins to penetrate, while other fats penetrate more quickly. Heat the olive oil slowly until it reaches the desired temperature.

It is very important to control the temperature of the oil during frying. A moderate heat of 150 degrees celcius (300 F) should be used for dense, uncooked food such as chicken joints, large fish or raw vegetable like artichokes. This ensures that the food is cooked right through before turning to brown.

A higher heat of 170 C (338) should be used for already cooked food or light food dipped in batter or egg or bread crumbs. A very high heat of 356 should be used for very small portions of food or tiny fishes.

Olive oil begins to smoke at 220 C (420F) and the oil should be allowed to reach this heat.

Olive oil should be carefully filtered after each use, and according to experts it is safe to re-use 10 times before its nutritional properties are impaired. I prefer to use the oil only 3 times to get a better flavor.

The food to be fried should be slid gently into the oil, a few at a time to avoid cooling down the oil.

“If the oil needs to be topped up add the new oil when a batch is finished” .. then you can wait for the oil.

When the food is ready lift it out with a slotted spoon, place on kitchen paper

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