pet peeve - old/undated olive oil
- jen kalb
following up on Allans post re Peters, I applaud their stocking dated oils! I get really annoyed with (1) the lack of vintage/"best before" date labelling for most olive oil here, especially expensive Extra-virgin oils and (2) the failure of so-called fancy food vendors to take the old EV oils off their shelves or mark them down. As you know, unlike wine, for olive oil new is best (for fine flavor, tho the cooking quality remains fine for some time) so Im always trolling for the most recent vintage, and now, for the new oil from the 99/00 vintage. But delicious fresh oil can be hard to find here. I have good luck with the relatively-inexpensive lebanese oils in brooklyn and greek oils in astoria, where the turnover is huge and the staff knowlegeable, but try to find high-quality oil you can identify as new-crop italian, spanish or french! To give 3 recent examples, most of the fancy oils at ABC Food Hall (which I generally support) were oldish (2-3 yrs); the Campagna oils (and all the oils I could see on sale) were similarly oldish at Campagna's 21st st. takeout store, and one bottle of Lerida oil at my favorite Eagle Provisions in Brooklyn (admittedly not a high volume olive oil outlet) was from the 1994 vintage. Buyer beware, and lets see if we can get our purveyers to take more care with their stock. And I'd like to hear recommendations of other reliable sources.
I agree -- nothing yuckier or more disappointing than funky/flavorless expensive olive oil. Fairway usually has a big display of 'Novellos' when they first come out, with pretty good descriptions and samples available, generally alongside last year's, which are heftily (and rightfully) discounted -- make sure to check that label! Anything marked 'novello' should also show a vintage. A friend of mine swears by La Giara's novello, but not the cheaper La Giara stuff that's always around. Some of the California ones are pretty good too.
Did you get a chance to try or bring back any extra-special freshly pressed oil on your trip to Italy?
thanks, MU! I snagged a single liter of new crop umbrian oil from the forno in Campo de Fiore in Rome - but was dragging a laptop and was thus too burdened to do what I wanted, which was to bring back several. It just killed me to look but not buy when in Florence at the beginning of the trip.
The first time La Giara's novello arrived it was superb. Then it rapidly went down hill. . . we don't even bother top try it. Murray's Cheese on Bleecker has Frantoia, a Sicilian oil which is essentially a novello but not labelled as such (unfiltered, fresh taste of new oil, unsettled).
Most of the olive oil sold in the markets isn't stored properly, that is, it's exposed to the light and heat inside the store. Kept in a cool, dark place, olive oil (and I mean good olive oil) will keep most of it's flavor for 2 years or so.
The sharp, peppery flavor of young oils, particularly the Tuscan and Umbrian oils that are pressed earlier than most, will fade a bit after a few months. The oils still taste fruity, but the bite has softened.
Sometimes I think the main reason we go to Italy is to stock up on oil. I usually stuff my clothes into a cardboard box that can be checked so I can put the olive oil in the carry-on (FAA legal bags can hold about 5 liters). On our last trip we were too early for the harvest, but I found some nice Sicilian estate-bottled oil called Tommesello.