Continuing from yesterday’s New York Times “coup de grace” on the Mediterranean Diet, I thought I’d shuffle through my notebooks to see what bits I’ve jotted down on Olive Oil.
* Yes, I am that much of a nerd that I write down neat tidbits from reading stacks of food rags, books, wine magazines, and best yet, from talking with the incredible Chefs, Food Writers, and Scientists we are lucky to meet here cooking and farming at Annadel. If you must know, my ‘master’ notebook has a vibrant fuscia chrysanthemum on it’s cover. It’s quite pretty. And I might have a matching pen… But I digress. *ahem* OLIVE OIL
We now grow more than 200 olive trees here at Annadel and started making our own oil a few years ago. Before baby, Dean and I stretched and scratched ourselves dreadfully sore picking olives from our few fruiting trees. Confession: I may have coordinated my lip gloss with my t-shirt in some attempt at romanticism…! We were quite proud of ourselves to carry in that single 5 gallon bucket to the Community Olive Press that next afternoon — only to be shown up (quite rightly) by a flat bed truck BEEP BEEP BEEPing up with many half ton flats of olives. We felt pretty silly but then we got that little bottle back of pressed olive oil for our hours and hours of effort. And the Oil! Oh the Oil… Sonnets and poems and swooning birds should be created about this fresh, high quality olive oil. Dean knew what to expect but I didn’t. What a glorious surprise! And I was hooked.
Since then, I don’t bat an eye about spending $15-$25 on high grade olive oils. This is not my cooking olive oil mind you, but rather the oils for dressing, garnish, and drizzling. Its the stuff you want to “pop” with flavor and compliment the veggies, fruits, pastas, and cheeses you are about to serve and savor. It must sing for you!
Cooking Illustrated held a blind tasting of Olive Oil some time back and found that Spanish Olive Oils were their absolute hands-down favorites. Second was Greek and Third was Italian. All winning oils were blends — none of them were varietal specific. However, do not worry about sounding wonky at the grocers next. Most Olive Oils, even the finest sold in America are “Field Blends” meaning that different types of olives are picked, sorted and pressed together. But rest assured that when it comes to Olive Oils? High Prices buy much more than pretty labels.
The Best Three Olive Oils (according to Cook’s Illustrated) were:
- Columela Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Spain)
- Nunez de Prado Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Spain)
- Terra Medi Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Greece)
When we run out of our own stuff, my absolute favorite store-bought-label is McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil from down the highway here in Petaluma but it didn’t even place…even though Bon Appetit magazine listed it as the finest sold in the nation. But Cook’s Illustrated found this blend of Tuscan olives too pungent. Who cares? I love it. And have been known to fill Christmas stockings with it…
Other Olive Oils that are divine you may have never heard of: Beltane Ranch Olive Oil and BR Cohn Olive Oils from here within Sonoma Valley. We plan to release our first oil here at Annadel Estate Winerytoo shortly! You will die with glee.
The “Best Quality” olive oils come from olives picked at their peak of ripeness, when they are still quasi-firm and silky. Olive oil is really just olive juice. And only the quickest, gentlest way to extract maximum flavor (without heat or chemicals!!) is by pressing the fruits to release their juices.
So here’s the skinny on how to use olive oils:
Use “Virgin” Olive Oils (in larger bottles usually) for cooking. These oils, like the California Brand or Da Vinci, have milder flavors and higher acids. They don’t have the elegant, more costly flavors of the “Extra Virgin” olive oils.
Use “Extra Virgin” Olive Oils for dipping, drizzling, and dressings. This is the highest grade of olive oils even though these oils are produced in the same way as “Virgin” oils. But their lovely flavors and lower acids will be compromised by the heat in cooking. Heat muddles or alters flavors.
To go even dorkier here, if the bottle says Early Harvest, the oil inside will be more bitter and pungent, more “green”. If the label explains that said olives were picked Later in the harvest, expect more mild, buttery and smooth oils within.