What makes olive oils taste different from each other? Like is the Italian oil so different from the Greek? And why?

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19 Comments

Asha L. August 24, 2016
Everyone has made really good points on this thread.

Pierino made a good point about olive oil fraud, and that is a huge problem now, but my advice for buying olive oil that is real extra virgin olive oil is to find a trusted source.

There are amazing California olive oils (that are California Olive Oil Council certified extra virgin) like Sèka Hills, Pacific Sun and Bondolio. But there are also great extra virgin olive oils that are indeed still extra virgin coming from Spain and Italy - try to buy them from stores that have actual relationships with the producers and have olive oil programs like Market Hall Foods (www.markethallfoods.com). Great Italian picks: Tenuta di Capezzana, Tondo DOP and Crudo. As far as Spain, I second As Pontis and would add Castillo de Canena Picual to the list.
 
paseo August 24, 2016
Perhaps a true American expert on olive oil (yes, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, I mean you) should weigh in on this burning question. I, for one, love Seka Hills oil from California and Tunisian oil from Moulin Majoub. I don't expect everyone else to like it But there are so very many variables in oil and unlike some here, a matter of individual taste, that I refuse to be didactic about it.
 
Sean R. August 24, 2016
For the exact reasons you've described, paseo, I think it's important to hear from many different people on this hugely diverse topic!
I learn a lot from those who share their detailed knowledge and personal preferences. If my preferences (taste, cost, availability, etc.) line up with theirs, I favor their answers.

Don't like the writer's tone? Don't take them seriously. No need to quietly shame anybody, it's hard to interpret tone through text alone.

That's the second vote I've heard for Les Mouilns Mahjoub. My ears are pricked and I thank you.
 
roko_77 August 24, 2016
PICUAL, ABERQUINA, HOJIBLANCA, son distintas variedades, de aceitunas que se producen en España . Lugar que mas aceite exporta a Italia y Grecia. Cada una tiene una acidez y sabor diferente, característico, tanto por la varead, como por el clima, como por las lluvias, las temperaturas de la zona, etc..
Pero algo hay indiscutible el mejo aceite es el español. Aceite virgen extra de oliva. Olé.
 
cookbookchick August 17, 2016
Trader Joe's offers a very affordable and well-rated Greek extra virgin olive oil that I use daily. Here's a reference: http://www.truthinoliveoil.com/2013/08/trader-joes-extravirgins-and-floozies
 
pierino August 17, 2016
Excellent article. Obviously the author has read the lit, and for what it's worth arbequina olives are being successfully grown in California. The growers I know sometimes use just arbequina but often they'll blend mission and one other cultivar. This still qualifies as extra virgin under it's actual definition.
 
kristy August 16, 2016
why is Trader Joes's bad?
 
sexyLAMBCHOPx August 16, 2016
It's not Kristy. The TJ Spanish EVOO is a great value and delicious.
 
pierino August 16, 2016
The Trader Joe's stuff is inferior quality Spanish oil but it is inexpensive. Nothing like what you should expect from truly good olive oil. BTW the term EVOO was coined by Rachael Ray who knows nothing about Extra Virgin Olive Oil. When asked she said, "that just means it's unfiltered." Not even remotely close.
 
sexyLAMBCHOPx August 16, 2016
Pierno you been saying the same shit for years...move on brotha...
 
pierino August 17, 2016
And Lambchop you've had your head in the sand for as long. All you have to do is look at the studies. Yes, Spain is the world's largest producer of olive oils but up to 80% of what they are selling as extra virgin is adulterated with seed oils and even pomace oil which UC Davis describes "lamp oil" and unfit for human consumption. Italy has been just as bad. And according to a recent Forbes article Greek oil should be included as well. Part of the reason this is happening is competitive pressure from Tunisia. It's economics 101.
You can love TJ's for whatever reason but at least read the lit on the subject. US produced oils are simply more reliable and subject to penalties if they are not what they say they are.
 
GIOVANNI50 August 14, 2016
Are there any particular brands of Italian,Spanish or Greek olive oil that you would recommend?
 
pierino August 14, 2016
Actually I would recommend California oils over Italian or Greek these days. California olive oils are about where California wines were back in the seventies. They have their personalities and qualities which vary from year to year. Although unlike wines olive oil doesn't age well. I can say this because I live in an olive producing region and I know some of the growers and bottlers.

Another important reason to choose California over most imports is that a couple of years back UC Davis---home to the experts on the topic---discovered that many Italian and Spanish oils were not in fact extra virgin but in fact had lesser grades blended in. There's nothing wrong with blending oil if you label it as such. For imports I would consider French oils first. For California I recommend California Olive Ranch. They are a large scale producer so their oils are easier to find. But the smaller producers in the Napa/Sonoma and Paso Robles regions of California are outstanding if you can source them. We Olive carries some. And if you want good oil stay away from Trader Joes or any bottle that has Rachel Ray's name on it.
 
Jan W. August 17, 2016
Fear not - there are still many reputable brands of olive oils from Europe that are well-priced BUT you mustn't expect to pay bargain basement Wal-Mart prices for them. It's just that simple. My guides have been reputable retailers (OliveOilLovers comes to mind immediately), industry journalists like OliveOilTimes, and awards organizations like the New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC). Oils of excellent quality can be had online for a good price too, especially from specialty food retailers and even directly from producers.

Personally for general cooking use that doesn't require high heat, I use a 2.5 or 3 L tin of Zoe Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Spain because it's by far the best price at about $30-35 per tin, but the Costco in-house brand Kirkland Organic also sources excellent extra virgin oil. In the past I've also used Saloio and Vitor Guedes 3L tins when I could pick them up from Newark grocers.

For finishing oils - I absolutely love Estepa Virgen from Oleoestepa, a co-op in the town of Estepa in the Sevilla region - this is a blend of four olive varietals, two of which are somewhat unique to the the SW corner of Andalucia's olive triangle.

As Pontis Vieiru is another excellent oil made with 100% Manzanilla Cacereña olives, native to the community of Extremadura, one of the best delicate oils with the elusive banana and cucumber-ish top notes that only exist in the freshest pressings. As Pontis also powers their mill with biogas from waste olive kernels.

I also recommend any of the oils from Agraria Riva del Garda in Trentino, Italy. These are the highest latitude olive groves in the world - they use 100% Casaliva olives, a variety native to the Lake Garda Region and Lombardia. Absolutely fantastic pairing with beef and venison. Mine likes to go in aioli and on sandwiches too.
 
Sean R. August 23, 2016
I'll put in another vote for the brand of California Olive Ranch! When shopping for quality EVOO, here are a few packaging cues to look for:

Darkened or opaque container
Harvest date (not Best By, which can be at least two years from packaging)
Labels with "varietal" olives or flavor profiles (hinting that they didn't randomly dump the cheapest olives in the press)

The easiest way to taste for freshness of the oil is to sip directly and wait a few moments for a peppery burn in the back of your throat (caused by the phenol "Oleocanthal", if you're curious).

Personally, I find the hype over different olive oils to be over-the-top, but I worked in the EVOO/balsamic vinegar business for short time. I'd memorize the different flavor profiles of various olive varietals and found this list handy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_olive_cultivars

Olives are an agricultural product with variations not incomparable to different kinds of apples. It can be fun to taste around those cute shops and see the different tasting notes. Fancy schmancy stuff. :)
 
boulangere August 25, 2011
Pierino hit the nail on the terroir.
 
Chef K. August 24, 2011
If you are going for the oil with the best quality, always get cold pressed extra virgin in a small dark container (no more than what you could use in a month or two). Opaque glass jars or metal containers are best. Heat, oxygen, and light will make your oil lose it's flavor over time. This is true with spices also.
 
latoscana August 23, 2011
As pierino explains, oils from small producers can have distinct personalities. You might want to use one of the national brands' blends for use in cooking, but when the oil needs to stand alone, such as for dipping, choose one that has a rich and memorable flavor. I think Spain is actually the biggest producer of olive oil.
 
pierino August 23, 2011
Olives, as the French would say are "terroir"; as in where did they grow? what variety? etc. But good olive oils are often a blend of different olives, some are blended to be light, others to be fruity, others to be sharp. Large producers want consistancy from year to year, whereas with small producers it can vary wildly.
 
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