How To Pick The Best Olive Oil For Cooking, Eating, and Dipping
When I first started dating my now husband of many years, I was often fascinated by the differences in his mother’s Italian cooking based on her heritage and experience. Her father was a first generation Italian immigrant who owned and cooked in his own restaurant in New York City. The food was not fancy. But it was always delicious and often accompanied by a story or explanation. Tossed salad was always served with dinner and eaten after the main course. On the table were two glass decanters with stoppers, one with ruby red liquid, the other a distinct green-gold. Yes, red wine vinegar and olive oil.
“Extra virgin olive oil is best for salads,” she explained, “because you are going to eat it and really taste it. Cooking oil (also olive oil) doesn’t have to be the same.”
On the floor of her pantry was a large, rectangular, 3 liter container of extra virgin olive oil – used to fill the salad dressing decanter and whenever the olive oil should take center stage for its flavor. Long before a now famous television food personality first spoke the catch phrase, “EVOO,” Rita was well ahead of the trend.
Olive Oil Ages Like Fine Wine
Before we get into the different types of olive oil and their pairings, it’s important to note that olive oils range in flavors in the same manner as wines. The variety of olive, where it is grown, how it is treated in the production process and even how it is packaged may all play a part in the final taste. Also, like wines, olive oils may have additional certifications on their labels from various agencies who conduct various tests to ensure the claims match the quality of the product.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is created by grind the olives into a paste, then pressing them with a cold press process that does not include heat or any chemicals. Thinking about the phrase, “extra virgin,” it is not a far leap to equate this with purity. For these reasons, EVOO is perfect when the olive oil is playing an important flavor role such as in salads and dipping oils.
Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil is also produced with cold pressing. The main difference is in the quality or grading of the olives. A further distinction between virgin and EVOO by the United States Department of Agriculture is around the levels of free fatty acid content. EVOO is not more than .8% while virgin olive oil can be as much as 2%.
Refined Olive Oil
Refined olive oil can be made with the use of heat, and filtering techniques to produce a product that is lighter in color, has a longer shelf life and higher smoke point than other olive oils. This makes it a great choice for cooking since the flavor of the oil is not the focal point of the dish. Refined olive oil may have a percentage of virgin olive oil included for flavor. The price point of this product is likely far less than EVOO.
Quick Olive Oil Recipes
Quick EVOO Italian Bread Dip: Simply pour about ¼ cup of EVOO in a small bowl, mix in a pinch of salt, pepper, red pepper flakes (to taste), garlic powder, and parmesan cheese. Whisk and use a hearty, crusty Italian bread for dipping.
Grilled Crostini with Olive Oil: Pair this grilled crostini recipe with your favorite olive oil! Switch up the toppings to fresh chopped tomatoes with basil for a seasonal and classic bruschetta.
Mangia and enjoy!