Today we’re looking at olive oil, the one Mediterranean ingredient that any table of fine mezze would be lost without. Although it’s flavour and importance is understood, the finer complexities of olive oil is often overlooked. So here’s our five step guide to what to look out for:
1) The test lies in the taste, luckily quality suppliers of olive oil are all over the world, so even is you’re far from the Mediterranean, hunt down your local connoisseur. You’ll be able to pick their brains and taste the oils yourself. In London the brilliant Olive Oil Co. is based in Borough Market, founder Danilo Manco hails from Puglia, Italy really knows his stuff.
2) Not all great olive oils come from Spain, Italy and Greece. Next time you’re looking for one try further afield. New York’s International Olive Oil competition awarded Extra Virgin Olive Oils from no less than 18 countries, including Chile, Puru, Australia and Slovenia.
3) If you can’t try before you buy, let’s look at that label. You’ll find Virgin, Refined and Extra Virgin -although they’re all made from crushing olives, the processes are different. ‘Refined” refers to the industrial process using heat and chemicals to extract the oil. The virgin oils are cold-pressed in a chemical-free process only involving cold pressure or cold centrifugation, producing a natural level of low acidity.
4) What’s the difference between Extra Virgin and Virgin? We’re glad you asked -Extra Virgin oils must have an acidity of less than 1 percent whereas Virgin olive oils may are between 1 and 2 percent. They’re also examined on organoleptic values, which is a sensory scale factoring in taste, sight, smell, and touch, dryness and moisture. For Extra Virgin these properties must rate 6.5 on the 10-point scale whereas Virgin olive oils need to score above 5.5.
5) Now you’ve got the basics sorted and you’ve found an oil you like -don’t be shy with it, because it won’t stay that way for very long. The tricky thing is, even if the label says “Extra Virgin” it might not be as maintaining its quality is extremely difficult even before it’s been opened. By the time your oil reaches your meal, its “Extra Virgin” status may have been long lost. Once opened oxidation starts it’s really got just 1-2 months of optimum taste. Now, if that’s not a reason for extra lashings over your salad, we don’t know what is…