Tasting an exquisite olive oil, which is produced by pressing whole olives, is akin to drizzling liquid gold on your bread, pasta, or veggies. But choosing a solid olive oil can be overwhelming, considering how many bottles you have to choose from.
If you’re into cooking, it’s worth showing your ingredients some respect by buying the best olive oil you can afford. We asked Greg Bernarducci, owner of the boutique olive oil shop O Live Brooklyn, for his savviest tips on how to choose an extra-virgin olive oil. (Note that “extra-virgin” means that the olives are pressed and the juice is extracted using only mechanical methods, not heat of any kind.)
There’s a dizzying array of olive oils out there, and it’s worth experimenting until you find one you love. Start with one of these six solid options, all of which are extra-virgin olive oils that have been vetted based on factors like quality, freshness and flavor.
This olive oil has a mild, fruity taste and is perfect for dipping, grilling, and roasting.
Pros: Estate bottled, the O-Live & Co. olive oils are a fresh mixture of Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki olive varieties. They’re great for everyday use, and pair nicely with everything from veggies to seafood.
Cons: If you want something more peppery and robust, pick another varietal.
Venta del Barón is consistently rated one of the best olive oils in the world, and has won a slew of awards to prove it.
Pros: Hailing from Spain, the Venta del Barón is cold-pressed less than 15 hours after picking the olives. It has an intense aroma full of green herbs, peppermint, almond, banana and apple. It’s somewhat bitter and a tad spicy.
Cons: As with other olive oils, it’s all a matter of taste, and this is too watery and bitter for some.
The U.S.-based company calls this grassy, fruit-forward oil balanced and versatile, and although it's ideal for cooking, it would also hold its own nicely in a homemade vinaigrette.
Pros: At slightly more than $1 per ounce, it’s quite affordable. The company’s customer service also gets rave reviews from shoppers, and each bottle has a harvest date so you know exactly how fresh it is.
Cons: Some Amazon shoppers reported receiving bottles with older harvest dates, others were not happy that the company has now started making some blends with imported oils.
Loyal fans love this organic oil's clean, full flavor that works well on a mix of dishes. It's produced as a partnership between the well-known restaurant group behind Brooklyn's Frankies Spuntino and a highly regarded vineyard in Partanna, Sicily.
Pros: The oil has a harvest date as well as Italy’s strict DOP (“Protected Designation of Origin”) certification, which ensures that it comes from the region specified and produced according to traditional methods. And given the classy packaging, we wouldn’t blame you if you felt like displaying the tin even after the oil was long gone.
Cons: Some customers felt the bottle was difficult to pour from, and, in some cases, the tins arrived dented from Amazon.
Giada de Laurentiis swears by this brand's small-batch oils; this one has a flavor profile that's peppery and floral and works for both cooking and finishing.
Pros: Fans loved the pleasant flavor and low acidity of this olive oil, which translates to a less bitter oil.
Cons: There’s no harvest date listed, and some found the peppery notes too overpowering.
This unfiltered ultra-smooth olive oil is deal for cooking, to use as a salad dressing, or for baking.
Pros: We like this olive oil because it cold pressed, unfiltered and sourced from small organic farmers in Greece. It’s perfect for drizzling on pizza or other breads.
Cons: It’s got a very light flavor, which some folks don’t love.
This is a powerful single-source Greek olive oil harvested and bottled at the Kolymvari region in Crete.
Pros: This olive oil PDO-certified, meaning it’s got the European Union’s quality certification so you know exactly what you’re getting and where it comes from. Each bottle is sourced directly from Ellora in Crete, Greece. It’s not particularly intense in flavor, so it’s a better fit for those who like lighter-flavored oils.
Cons: Some naysayers don’t love the flavor, calling it boring and bland.
This tangy olive oil comes from family groves in Italy and is cold-extracted within 24 hours of harvest.
Pros: Foodies love this olive oil’s rich, full-bodied flavor and buttery consistency.
Cons: It’s a got an interesting, bitter aftertaste, so if you prefer something smoother, opt for another oil.
5 Tips for Olive Oil Shopping
Check the harvest date. According to Bernarducci, an olive oil should be used within 12 to 14 months of its harvest date (sometimes called a crush date). “This date can be really hard to find, and many brands won’t have it, although you’ll have more luck in a store like Whole Foods,” he says. If you’re ordering online, ask the seller to confirm the harvest date before you complete your purchase.
Note the country (or countries) of origin. The harvest season for northern hemisphere growing regions (such as Europe) tends to be in November, while it’s May for southern hemisphere spots like Australia and South America. Bernarducci says that sometimes companies will blend olives from different countries together, which isn’t a huge deal unless they’re from different hemispheres. “Think about it, if it contains oils from, say, Spain and Chile, those are two different hemispheres, so obviously some oil was sitting around for a long time before it was blended—that should be a flashing light,” he says.
Avoid refined oils. Sometimes companies blend extra-virgin olive oil with refined olive oil, which has been heavily processed. (You can spot it because instead of just “extra-virgin olive oil” the label may say “light” or “pure” olive oil, two terms that are just marketing jargon.) “The process of refining uses very high heat, even higher than cooking, as well as chemical solvents that can strip out flavor and health benefits,” he says.
Remember HALT. That stands for heat, air, light and temperature, all of which will shorten your olive oil’s life. Don’t choose a product in a clear bottle (it should be tinted glass or a tin) and don’t store your oil near the stove. Keep it tightly closed in a cool, dark spot like a pantry, and it should last about four to six months after you open it. “I advise customers to not buy too much, because if you go through it fast, a larger bottle is a better value, but if it will sit around, I recommend a smaller one,” he says.
Taste it. It might sound odd to slurp it straight from a spoon, but that’s the best way to get a sense for your chosen oil’s freshness and flavor. “Good olive oil should have an herbal, almost grassy taste, and it should be kind of pungent so it makes you cough. You might also taste hints of pepper, green banana, tomato or artichoke,” Bernarducci says.
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