If you are anything like me, selecting a good olive oil can become quite confusing. There are a variety of grades available today with a number of distinctions that separate olive oil from virgin olive oil, and extra virgin olive oil.
What Is the Difference Between Virgin Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
To qualify for the title of virgin or extra virgin olive oil, the olives must be first cold-processed through a mechanical process extracting the oil from the olives. There must be no chemical solvents or other techniques of extraction to produce the oil.
There are varying degrees of “virginity” and it’s measured by the percentage of oleic acid that the oil contains. The highest grade in the extra virgin olive oil category contains 1% or less of the oleic acid. To qualify as an extra virgin olive oil, the oil must be between 1% and 4% oleic acid. If the percentage is above 4%, the oil must be corrected or adjusted to retain the label “virgin olive oil” or become a lower grade olive oil.
Types of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Within the category of extra virgin olive oils there are a number of nuances to consider. Some people select their oils by region, by the type of olives used or combination of olives to produce a certain texture, taste, or color. Some regions like the northern regions of Italy produce some of the finest olive oils. They are considered a little more fragrant, sweeter tasting, nutty, and a lighter more gossamer touch on the palate.
The Liguria region olive oils have a little less-flavor but are thicker with a more viscous feel. The central Tuscan and Umbria oils have a more pronounced fruity, peppery or spicy flavor. Further south along the Mediterranean the oils develop a scent of herbs, like rosemary, oregano, thyme, maybe even a sweet fruity flavor.
How to Select an Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
In actuality, since every palate is different, there is only one true method for selecting an appropriate extra virgin olive oil that is right for you. That is the taste test. Here are the main characteristics you should consider when purchasing olive oil, regardless of anything else that has been said. Taste the oil for liveliness, its freshness, and its lightness making sure that it’s not sticky, fatty or flat tasting. This process is very much the same as that used to select a good bottle of wine or balsamic vinegar.
Since most of us aren’t able to have a variety of olive oils for sampling nor do we have the time to go through the selection process when shopping, we have come to rely on the experts. You’ll read many fine opinions regarding the different varieties of extra virgin olive oils on the market today.
Have an idea of what you would like the olive oil to feel like as it passes over your palate. Do you prefer a heavier more robust olive oil or something a little smoother and lighter feeling? Do you prefer a more peppery after finish on the back of the palate or something sweeter, nuttier, fruitier, grassier, or one with a lighter flowery taste up front.
Once you decide on the overall taste you want in an extra virgin olive oil see what the experts suggest. Usually there is an interesting story to go with each extra virgin olive oil, like what country and region it came from, the types of olives used, something about the artisans that produced the oil, and any recognition, praise or awards that have been won.
Price Is Not the Determining Factor
Don’t be swayed by price. A high quality extra virgin olive oil runs in the neighborhood of $28 to $35 for a 500ml bottle. Again it’s not the price that makes the difference in the oil but the taste. Until you’ve tried a few extra virgin olive oils you may not recognize some of the nuances but just like a fine tasting bottle of wine you’ll quickly tell the most pleasing to your palate.
How to Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil
These imported Italian extra virgin olive oils are best used for pasta sauces, finishing sauces, soups and for drizzling over meats, grilled fish, vegetables, salads, vinaigrettes, or used as a delicious bread dipping oil. Extra virgin olive oil is not a frying olive oil but is added during the cooking process or drizzled to finish your favorite recipes.
Please be sure to try our fabulous recipes using our extra virgin olive oils. We carry four different extra virgin olive oils from four different regions of Italy. All express the flavorful nuances and characteristics such as flowery, peppery, fruity with lighter and heavier notes that come from the different olives used, the process, and artisans that make them.
This article was written by Jules Silver, webmaster of ClubSauce.com.