Ingredient Discovery: Olive Oil 101

Produced in all but two of Italy’s regions and central to its cuisine, find out what makes a good olive oil and why Italy produces the very best.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What is olive oil?
Surprise, surprise! Olives are actually fruit and olive oil is considered “fruit juice.” There are hundreds of varieties of olives – from pale green to black – each with its own flavour and characteristics; olives can be pressed when green or young, or dark and ripe.

Why choose Italian olive oil?
It’s the Mediterranean climate of Italy that’s ideal for olive trees; coupled with centuries of craftsmanship and knowhow, it’s a recipe for the best olive oils in the world. So much so that producers from other countries package their olive oils to look Italian. Watch out for bottles that say they are “packed in Italy” – they can contain olive oil from various countries in the EU. Look instead for a bottle that says “product of Italy.”

What are the different grades?
Olive oils are graded for their purity, with Extra Virgin Olive Oil being the highest-quality grade of oil. It is essentially raw, has been single cold-pressed and is the juice of the olive in its most natural form. Other grades, including Virgin and Pure, have been through additional processing and heating and are often blended. They have a less pronounced flavour and are lighter in colour.

What about blended oils vs. single estate?
Blended oils are much the same as blended wines; juices (oils) from various estates and groves are gathered, blended and bottled. These oils tend to be smooth, round, buttery, and milder. Single estate and single variety oils – bottles filled with the oil of only one varietal grown on one property – have a real depth of character and an incredibly fresh, green taste, often with a peppery bite! Use blends for cooking and baking, and save the super-special bottles for vinaigrettes, raw foods, bread dipping, finishing drizzles, and even sipping. And just as you would with a fine wine, bring the bottle to the table!

What are the best olive oil regions in Italy?
Ah, but that’s like asking us to pick our favourite child: impossible! What it ultimately comes down to is the microclimate of a particular region – the soil, rain, and proximity to the seas – and your own personal taste. If you like bold flavours, pick a southern (Sicily, Sardinia, Calabria, Abruzzo, Apulia) single-estate, single-variety producer, and if you like softer flavours, go for a blend from central Italy (Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, The Marches). In particular, the city of Brisighella in the northern region of Emilia Romagna produces Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva DOP “Brisighella”, which is an especially delicious Extra Virgin Olive Oil with fruity and herbal notes. The best Extra Virgin Olive Oil is granted the Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin), so, look for D.O.P. on the label. It’s a further guarantee of quality and that you’re buying an authentic Italian product.

Buon appetito!


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