Ingredient of the Week: Olive Oil

Ingredient Of The Week - Olive Oil

During spring I begin to crave the freshly pressed, peppery, herbal flavor of olive oil. In the winter months I tend to use butter more in my cooking, but spring is a time for sitting on the patio with a glass of rosé, dragging ragged pieces of crusty bread through a pool of olive oil on my plate. I savor the fruity aroma and bitter finish in the back of my throat. The many varieties of olives mean each olive oil has a unique flavor, from rich and fruity to green and spicy. Explore the world of olive oil the same way you would wine- by tasting. Spring is the season for freshly pressed olive oils from the Northern Hemisphere regions, such as the Mediterranean (including Spain, Italy, and Greece), the Middle East, and California. When buying olive oil, seek out a shop where the owners are passionate about their produce and offer you a taste in the store. Read labels carefully and research producers. According to the book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, it’s good to remember that olive oil is simply the juice of a tree fruit, olives. Virgin oil is made by grinding and extracting the juice from the olive- no chemicals or heat are involved. Extra-virgin refers to the quality of the olive oil, determined to be without any documented faults (rancid flavors, etc.) by professional tasters.

The business of olive oil production is ripe with fraud. Many producers put “Extra-Virgin Olive Oil from Italy” on the label, though the oil may be of terrible quality or diluted with other vegetable oils. Remember, you get what you pay for, and just like with many other types of agriculture, industrialized, sometimes fraudulent producers are able to make their product at a lower cost and then undercut farmers with a passion for high standards in olive oil making. Tasting olive oils will help you identify poor quality and understand what makes excellent olive oil such a special thing.

Unlike wine, olive oil deteriorates with age, so don’t hoard it. Buy only what you will use and store it in a cool, dark place. This week at la Domestique we’ll explore the many ways to enjoy cooking with olive oil during spring. Don’t be afraid to sauté with olive oil, just keep it from getting too hot and smoking, which can bring out bitter flavors. From drizzling over pasta primavera to ice cream, I’ve got creative ideas for cooking with olive oil tomorrow for 10 Ways Tuesday.

What is your favorite olive oil or olive oil region? Share it in the comments section. Click Here.

 

6 Comments

  1. I had no idea that there was fraud with the labeling of extra virgin olive oil. Too bad that this is happening. I’ll look at price more in the future as opposed to ‘grade’.

    Reply
    • Sarah,

      I’m reading the book, Extra-Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller right now, and it’s been an eye opener. There’s a link in my post above for an NPR interview with him about the book that you might want to check out. His main point is that most of us don’t taste a variety of olive oils and apply the same scrutiny we would to buying pristine vegetables to buying olive oil. Once you start to compare flavor and price, you can taste the bad from the good. As with anything, if something is way to cheap to be true, it probably isn’t the real thing.

      Reply
  2. That looks delicious and so very wonderfully healthy. I don’t have success with artichokes but I am willing to continue trying until I get i right. Will be visiting my stepmother soon and she always serves us artichokes as a treat…they are second nature to her…

    Reply
    • Sarah,

      Maybe this method of braising the artichokes will be easier for you. There’s still a lot of work trimming away the tough outer leaves and stem, but then you’re left with the tender inner leaves that you simply simmer in chicken stock. Martha Stewart’s website has some good visual instructions on prepping artichokes- just search the word “artichokes” on her site. Another thing to note when you’re prepping artichokes is that tough leaves will never become tender with cooking. If it feels leathery and spiky, cut it off. Good luck!

      Reply
  3. I would love it if you would make some recommendations for some “real” extra virgin olive oil brands. I, too, have read about the adulteration of olive oil and have been very careful to source. There are some good sites on the web that will tell you who is making it pure and who isn’t. And if you think olive oil production can be bad, just read about honey. Just as scandalous. A lot of honey is now cut with corn syrup and other non-honey ingredients. It’s really depressing.

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting, Susan. I guess corruption exists anywhere there’s money to be made. I’m in the middle of reading the book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, and Tom Mueller shares a lot of specific names- you may want to check it out. As with anything (buying a car or jewelry or even food), being a well informed customer and trying before you buy is your best asset.

      Reply

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