What makes a good olive oil?
Taste in olive oil is similar to taste in wine – although it is subjective, there are some agreed upon factors that distinguish the good from the bad. When you think of a good wine, you probably think of a certain vintner, a particular variety, and perhaps a certain year. These same basic concepts can be applied to olive oil.
Unfortunately, for most of the olive oils found on the shelves of your local market, you can’t even answer these questions because
- They are blended to the point where you have no idea what type of olives made the oil
- They are made from a mish mash of olives from around the world
- The harvest year is hidden or not given at all
What you often end up with is a terribly bland oil – one might as well use Canola or Corn oil
Extra virgin olive oil has the best taste – think of it as the oil that the farmer uses straight off the press – the freshest and most flavorful – the first oil that comes from the olives. But even with Extra Virgin oil, if it’s an old harvest or if it’s overly blended, it can still end up bland.
Here are a few other things the make good oil – Bramasole Olive Oil makes use of all of these.
- Hand pick the olives – avoid machine harvesting which tends to bring too many leaves into the pressing
- Press the olives as quickly as possible after they are picked
- Use only natural ways of extracting the oil – avoid any chemical or heat-based extraction or refining methods
- Keep the oil cool during the entire process
- Certify the oil as coming not only from a particular county, but from a specific region of that country (see below to learn more about different regions)
- Mark the harvest year (see below to learn more about harvest years)
Bramsole olive oil uses no refining. Why would an oil be refined anyway? Generally, only if the acidity is above the levels for extra virgin or virgin oil. That is 0.8% or 2%. Only the very largest, “supermarket brands” refine oil for a couple of reasons. First, the chemistry needs to be exact and secondly the low grade oil that is produced after refining is best sold under a big brand name in a supermarket.
What would cause such a high acid oil to begin with? Late picking will increase acidity. Keeping the olives for a long period between harvest and processing will increase acidity particularly if temperatures are high. Poor processing will increase acidity.
The moral to the story is that to be an educated consumer of olive oil, first you’ve got to know what to look for on the label. Then, once you’ve found the basic standards of quality, find a taste that you enjoy.