EVOO expert, Elizabeth Berger, explains about quality
Many of us have an imbedded instinct to save the best for last, to savour rare ingredients and keep them for special occasions. My girlfriend, Elizabeth Berger from FRANTOI.org in Italy explains why this isn’t the way to get the best from your Olive Oil.
“If there’s one thing I can tell you about Extra Virgin Olive Oil, it’s that seasonality is key”, says Elizabeth. The Olive harvest in Europe begins during October and the oils are typically ready to be enjoyed from the beginning of December. If you have ever tasted Olive Oil when it has just been pressed, you will be familiar with the vivid colour, bright aromas and the peppery kick it gives you at the back of your throat – these are positive attributes, indicative of high antioxidant content and should be celebrated! If you are based in the Southern hemisphere, the harvest begins around April and I highly recommend you seek out the new season releases for both health and flavour benefits.
There are a number of key factors to keep in mind when buying Extra Virgin Olive Oil to ensure you get the best quality and highest antioxidant content.
Key factors to keep in mind:
This will be written on the front or back label.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is freshly pressed juice and therefore spoils with time. Try to consume your EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) as close to the harvest date as possible and keep in mind that it has a shelf life of 18 months from harvest. The polyphenol content in your oil is highest when it has just been pressed, so it is far better for you in first 3-4 months after harvest. We opt for oils that derive from green olives as they are better for you – late season oils from black olives are less spicy, more viscous and lower in antioxidants.
The Quality Level.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the only cooking oil made without the use of chemicals or industrial refining. It is the highest quality olive oil class and must be cold-pressed, (less than 27°C) because higher temperatures could lower the quality of the oil. It must contain no more than 0.8% acidity and to be called EVOO, it must have a superior aroma and flavour.
The flavour of your oil is indicative of its quality. You should be able to identify bright, clean aromas, a fruity character, perhaps some vegetable flavours (artichoke, green bean and tomato leaf are commonly used as descriptors for EVOO for example) and to detect a decisive pepperiness in the back of your throat.
You care where your fruit and vegetables come from and in what season you enjoy them, you know your butcher and your fishmonger, you seek out the highest quality pulses, fresh herbs and local cheeses yet when it comes to Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the chances are you are not entirely sure of its provenance. It’s a misty market place – it’s not your fault! However, if you care about your ingredients, then it’s worth knowing from where your EVOO originates. The origin and therefore the cultivars grown there influence the flavour, so it makes a difference.
Who has made it.
If you really want to keep an eye on the quality of your EVOO, it’s worth finding out who has made it, whether they own their own groves and how they farm them, whether they own their own mill and are totally in control of the pressing process, hygiene and environmental impact. Family owned businesses that focus their entire work efforts on the production of Olive Oil tend to offer the greatest attention to their craft.
Dark glass and small bottles.
Many people love the idea of buying good EVOO in a tin can and then decanting it as needed at home in to a clear glass bottle so you can see the lovely green gold hues…. I hate to break it to you, but that’s one of the worst things you could do. Once open, a bottle or can begins a journey of oxidation, reducing the quality of the oil. The best way to preserve the quality is to buy in 50cl dark glass bottles that are non-refillable.
You get what you pay.
Without wishing to put down other olive oil producers in comparison – there is a place for everyone in this market – it is an incredible shame that mass produced olive oil, masquerading as Extra Virgin Olive Oil, has driven the market for true, high quality extra virgin olive oil to the point that the artisans can barely make a living. There are significant costs involved to work your olive groves manually, to farm organically, to press your olives carefully with great attention to detail and quality, to bottle in dark glass, under inert gas with non-refillable caps (all details that preserve the quality) – it comes down to the taste, you genuinely recognise the difference and the best evoo really does enhance your cooking, benefit your health and match the quality of the other ingredients on your table. This comes at a price however. It is highly unlikely that you would find true EVOO for under €15 a bottle (50cl).
The olive cultivars.
Rather like grape varieties for wine, olive cultivars impact the flavour profile of your oil significantly and therefore different oils have greater suitability to certain other ingredients. Cooler climate cultivars such as Casaliva (grown around Lake Garda in Northern Italy) are delicate in flavour and in this case suited well to lettuce based salads and fresh water fish. From Central Italy, the Frantoio and Moraiolo cultivars have a more decisive peppery flavour and therefore work well with grains, pulses and red meat. The aromatic oils of Southern Italy and Sicily are great with seafood and with raw food and the luxuriant oils of Puglia are a wonderful butter substitute and therefore great over cooked vegetables.
How to store it.
EVOO is sensitive to light and heat, rather like wine, so should not be stored next to your stove. It’s best to keep it where the temperature is fairly constant, so in a pantry or cupboard works well or in a cooler corner of the kitchen.
Frantoi.org ships new season Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the top press houses in Italy once a year, directly after the harvest.
For further information about the health benefits of EVOO or for information about using it as a cooking or raw ingredient, visit frantoi.org
To sign up for notification of the new season release from Italy that is dispatched ahead of Christmas, please click here