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Aug 12, 2008 12:56 PM

Best olive oil?

My husband and I were recently in Italy, where we had olive oil like we've never had in the US -- smooth and spicy, with a very distinct taste. We took cooking lessons while there, and learned that often they dress salads simply with this divine stuff.

The problem is, we haven't been able to find comparable oil on our return. We live in NYC and have ran the gauntlet trying olive oils at Fairway but to no avail.

Do any of you have a favorite brand of olive oil that is truly superb and distinct? Thanks in advance!

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  1. Well, it is widely believed (and Italian oil merchants apparently anonymously agree) that that US gets the runt of the oils - even from the pricy boutique estates.

    Where was the oil you liked from?

    9 Replies
    1. re: Karl S

      I read with great interest the article in the New Yorker about 6 months ago that purported that most "Italian" olive oils are a) from neighboring countries and imported to Italy to be bottled and b) contain a large measure of hazelnut and other oils; suggesting sadly that most olive oil we get in the US is pretty inferior.

      The oil I am specifically thinking about was in Florence, but I am keen to know what other regions oils taste like!

      1. re: chompchomp

        Some regional tendencies are noted in the sidebar:

        And don't neglect French, Iberian, Greek and North African olive oils under the mistaken idea that they are inferior. They don't have the marketing identity, to be sure, of Italian oils, but they don't lack for quality. I've had superior oils from all of those areas, and often better than what passes for Italian.

        And don't forget California, too. I've had great oils from Sonoma County.

        What I would caution is that you pair oils with the foods they complement. A powerfully peppery Tuscan oil will, undiluted, not really suit certain foods. Americans tend to be indiscriminate in our amplification of BIGGER! BOLDER! FLAVORS! Which is a big mistake. Powerful oils may need to be diluted (up to a half) with neutral oils in order to truly enjoy them well.

        1. re: chompchomp

          If the olive oil is mixed with other oils it should say so on the label. Are you suggesting that Italians are fraudulently selling mixed oils as "olive oil"?

            1. re: chompchomp

              Yes, that article was quite disturbing. Not as disturbing as the French putting glycol into their wine a few years back, but when some stores are charging $50 for a 1/2 litre for "Italian Extra Virgin First Cold Press" oil, I'd like to have some faith that I'm getting the real thing. Same thing with balsamic vinegar; I was quite surprised to find many so-called "balsamic" vinegars are nothing more than cheap ordinary vinegar with sugar and caramel added, and that famous Italian houses were bottling these and passing them off as their regular product.

              I had to laugh when I read someone's advice to "read the label". When the bottlers are committing fraud, they usually don't advertise it by putting it on the label. And since no one has yet invented a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer that I can carry in my pocket, I can't exactly do an analysis at the store, either. That's why we depend on the FDA and other organizations to spot check products, and ensure they are what they say they are.

              FWIW, in Toronto, I'll buy cheap "Italian" oil for sauteeing, but when I want a quality oil, I go to the Greek section of town. The grocers are happy to discuss want I want, I'm pretty sure I'm getting what I'm paying for, and the prices are 1/3 to 1/4 of Italian oils that may be of suspect origin.

              1. re: KevinB

                The point is that either it's on the label (and sometimes you do see a bottle of what looks like olive oil, but when you read the label you see that it's really a blend) or the company is committing fraud. Then it all comes down to whether or not you trust the company you're buying from that, in the very least, it wouldn't be in their best interests to commit a crime by intentionally mislabelling their product.

                I just get annoyed when I see people on this board who just assume that there's something (usually "preservatives") in their food -- often when they haven't even looked at the ingredients label. Maybe the Italians are adulterating their olive oil (although I suspect the scandal was a bit overblown), but I think on the whole that labels on American products are honest -- if they weren't, they wouldn't be listing all the icky things they do list!

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Ruth, will all due respect, because I like your posts, have you been paying attention to what's been going on on Wall Street lately? You would think it wouldn't be in the best interest of Merrill Lynch or Bear Stearns or Goldman Sachs to intentionally mislead their customers as to the safety and marketability of certain products, but that's exactly what they did. The companies might get fined, but somehow the traders and brokers and partners never have to repay the huge bonuses they earned, and in a few celebrated cases, after losing billions of dollars for shareholders, the CEO's are rewarded with severance packages in the tens of millions.

                  This is exactly what happened with the olive oil/balsamic vinegar frauds. The people in charge figured "Eh, who's gonna know?", and in the meantime, they pocketed millions. And, if you do read the link provided by chompchomp, you'll see that many of the companies involved were, just as the Wall St firms mentioned above, considered the leaders with the best brand names.

                  I tells ya, it's gettin' so you can't trust nobody!

                  1. re: KevinB

                    The firms involved weren't the leaders with the best brand names, they were the huge multinationals essentially selling commodity oil. As with wine, the good stuff is producer-grown.

          1. re: chompchomp

            For tuscan style oil, you can get very good oil in that style made in California. Just be explict about it, don't say you want "really good" olive oil, say you're looking for peppery, tuscan style oil, and you shouldn't have any trouble finding it. Also look at southern Spanish oil, which is very very green-fruity, very different from toscan style, but sooooo good.

            Oh, and spend a lot of money on the oil, then use it in small quantities. "Holy oil" is the term -- you bless ready-to-eat foods (salads, pastas, meats, etc) with it, like how christians bless themselves with holy oil. Don't try to find something that tastes good but you can afford to sautee with, you won't (unless you're Chompchomp Hilton).

        2. olive oils are like wine in Italy, with all sorts of regional varieties. In the states (especially in supermarkets), we don't see much variety.

          As far as the big brands go, I buy Colavita for extra-virgin, and it's good enough for salads and finishing dishes. It's also not too expensive ($17 per liter).

          I buy a cheaper brand (usually Filipo Berio $11/L) for my regular sauteeing olive oil.

          2 Replies
            1. In the store I hold the olive oil bottle up to the light. The greener the better. Golden olive oil is not what I'm looking for. Whole Foods extra virgin olive oil is good enough. I have some Carapelli that's very green and delicious

              3 Replies
              1. re: gafferx

                Color is not a good indicator of quality. Olive variety, ripeness, time of year, amount of leaves in the mill, even artificial color can all effect color. It is a poor indicator of quality.

                1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

                  Thanks. I will read some more on this

                  1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

                    Seconded. For instance, the TJ's Sicilian Selezione is a golden color, while at the same time is a very usable oil.

                2. Gonemon is the best that we have tried in the States. It is very rich, very full flavored and fruity. Great stuff.