Olive Oil 101
- What is extra virgin olive oil?
There is a big difference between olive oil grades. Extra Virgin is the highest quality and most flavorful oil available. It is produced from olives that are mechanically cold –pressed within 24 hours of being picked. Extra virgin is always oil from the first pressing. It is high in antioxidants and low in mono-saturated fat (oleic acid, under .8 grams/100 grams for international oils and .5 grams/100 grams for domestic oils).
The first step in making Extra Virgin Olive Oil is selecting the right olives. There are many different kinds of olives and each one has a different taste and needs to be harvested at a different time; there are old trees and new trees; bushy trees and dwarf skinny trees. The old Sevillano olive tree below needs to be hand-picked because a machine can't fit around it. These particular trees are handpicked to ensure freshness of the olives. They never used bruised olives that have fallen from the tree because this effects the quality of the oil.
Now days many olives trees are planted in rows that can be maintained by machine that picks high density olives. It is efficient, fast and very gentle. Many Arbequina olives are harvested this way.
Olives were traditionally pressed with stone wheels like in this picture from our visit to a small mill in California. Very few places still mill this way so we were thrilled to see the process. This mill actually integrates the stone press with the more modern mechanically pressing further along in the process:
Most olives, especially in the USA are crushed mechanically because it is more efficient for getting the most oil out quickly. Quality olive oil is very time sensitive so it is important that mills stay on top of this process.
- What is Cold – pressed olive oil?
The olives are not exposed to heat above 86F while the oil is being pressed out of the paste. The producers do not get as much of a yield cold-pressing but the quality is worth it.
- What does good olive oil taste like?
Amongst other tasting notes depending on the varietal you should always taste fruity, bitter and pungent. Sometimes it even makes you cough!
- Filtered olive oil vs unfiltered olive oil - Most imported olive oils are filtered before bottling or storing. Filtering out the olive fruit pulp is done to increase the shelf life. Most domestic olive oils are naturally filtered because they are making it to the table much faster than imported. This doesn’t mean that you receive olive oil with fruit pulp in it though because it naturally settles to the bottom of the container before being sent to suppliers or consumers.
- New Oil – the oil from the first press of the harvest season has many names including Olio nouvo northern Italy) or olio novello (southern Italy). This is the most special and unique of all oils. Locals have celebrations to taste the oil from the first press because it is only available once a year.
This oil must be consumed within 4 months because it is bottled without being stored; therefore the fruit pulp does not settle in the storage container. It is the freshest oil we can expect to consume.
- What is the shelf life of olive oil?
Remember that olive oil is best when fresh so use it as soon as possible but 12 – 18 months is the shelf life. The taste will change with time. Make sure to keep it away from heat and direct sunlight.
Baking with Olive Oil
Butter to Olive oil conversion chart
Cooking with Olive Oil
According to The Olive Oil Times and many other sources you can cook with extra virgin olive oil. Many people think that it cannot hold up to the heat but it CAN. It does lose some of its taste which is why some people choose to cook with a lower grade. Extra virgin is the most expensive olive oil because it is the highest quality.
California Olive Oil
A light went off for us when we discovered California olive oil. It is fresh, high quality and local. We will frequently update this section with facts about California’s growing olive oil industry. Some advantages to getting our olive oil from CA:
1. First and foremost, it is FRESH and has high standards for quality. We received olive oil 1 week after it was pressed last year and I think that is amazing. It did not need to be bottled because we buy it in bulk and bottle it here so it was simply pressed and shipped to us.
2. We speak direct to the producer and we trust them.
3. We are all supporting local agriculture and thus the economy.