I had the pleasure of being a presenter at the Pacific NW Cool Climate Extra Virgin Olive Oil Conference this past weekend in Oregon wine country. I left the weekend with a full belly and happy heart and seriously convinced that extra virgin olive oil is one heck of a super food. Yet, what was very apparent at the conference is that not all oil is created equal. It takes commitment to really create an olive oil that is alive, flavorful, and health promoting. I reviewed all the why's of olive oil in a previous blog post and today wanted to focus on what tools you can take with you to the grocery store when faced with a shelf full of oils:
Look for a harvest date: Extra virgin olive oil is susceptible to heat and light and will begin to degrade the moment it is picked. Good producers will display a harvest date letting you know how much time has passed since the olives have been harvested. Try to choose a harvest date within the last year for maximum benefit.
Choose a dark glass bottle or tin: Light is one of the leading factors leading to oxidation in olive oil. Avoid oils in clear bottles or in plastic.
California Olive Oil Council Seal: When in doubt, look for the seal. A sensory panel does a blind taste test each year and oils must pass rigorous laboratory tests to assure you are getting a 100% extra virgin olive oil.
Source from a trusted producer/retailer: Don't be afraid to ask questions. Is the retailer familiar with the line of production and can attest to the oil being extra virgin?
Train your taste buds: Real extra virgin olive oil has no rancidity and tastes bright, fresh, fruity and may have varying notes of bitter or spicy. Visit an olive mill or ask for samples at specialty retailers. Good producers will want you to taste their oil and will take pride in the freshness of the oil they sell. The more you taste, the more you will be able to snuff out a bad oil.
One last note. Don't be afraid to use good olive oil liberally. My favorite fact from the weekend: The Mediterranean diet (and olive oil) is associated with reduced mortality overall....up to 50%! So, eat olive oil like an Italian, Spaniard, or Greek.