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Best bang-for-the-buck extra virgin olive oil in the Watertown/Cambridge area

PinchOfSalt Jun 15, 2009 11:59 AM

My most recent bottle of moderately-priced green, peppery evoo has given up its last drop, Time to go hunting for a replacement! This bottle was the generic Italian evoo sold by Whole Foods. It's perfectly fine for everyday use and the price is comparatively gentle on the economy-impaired wallet. In times past I have enjoyed a Lebanese extra virgin olive oil that is sold in glass bottles and jugs at Sevan market - quite tasty at a reasonable price. However there are a plethora of other choices available at Sevan, Arax, Massis, and under the fruit counter near the check-out counters at Russo's. Alas, nobody seems to be staging comparative olive oil tastings. What are your favorites? My goal is about a liter of evoo that might stand in for a good everyday Italian product in sauteeing or dressings. In this specific case I am looking for something

- is moderately assertive
- somewhat peppery
- filtered (I tend to use unfiltered olive oil only in dressings or finish a recipe)
- greenish (as opposed to the yellowish; for some reason I associate more yellow-y olive oil with a milder/rounder flavor profile).
- it can be from Italy but doesn't have to be

For what it's worth I am also currently working on a bottle of Whole Foods Spanish evoo that works great when I want a milder flavor.


  1. c
    ClippyZ Jun 15, 2009 02:12 PM

    I don't have a favorite, but I do know that Capone foods offers tastings of most of their oils. When I asked for recs for a reasonably priced balsamic, they were happy to comply and I was happy with the results. I'm sure they'd do the same for the olive oil.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ClippyZ
      PinchOfSalt Jun 17, 2009 07:32 AM

      That's another reason for me to finally get over to Capone's. I've been meaning to. Thanks!

    2. Bob Dobalina Jun 15, 2009 02:19 PM

      A little out of the way, but the former Roma Seafood on Somerville Ave. near the Target is now called Souza's. They had metal cans of Portuguese olive oil that pretty much hit the characteristics you seek, particularly the peppery part iirc. I unfortunately do not remember the name, but the folks there can probably help you out. That is also down the street from the original Capone's. It was pretty cheap too.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Bob Dobalina
        teezeetoo Jun 15, 2009 06:19 PM

        i think Formaggios used to have oil you could taste before buying (bring your own bottle to fill is what I recall). I try different ones at Russos and am reasonably happy with Sicilian olive oil at the moment. For every day use, I like Sassos, which I get in big tins at Arax.

      2. kobuta Jun 16, 2009 10:07 AM

        I always thought you weren't supposed to saute using evoo. Am I wrong?

        I found a great delicious really "olivey" greek (and green!) evoo at the Milton Marketplace/The Fruit Center in East Milton Square. They had a lot of varieties from different regions as well. If that's close to you, I'd recommend checking them out.

        2 Replies
        1. re: kobuta
          Delhiwala Jun 16, 2009 01:20 PM

          It is fine to saute with EVOO, as long as you don't mind the relatively high cost and don't mind the EVOO flavor that the sauted food will have.

          1. re: Delhiwala
            StriperGuy Jun 16, 2009 01:24 PM

            Well, EVOO also has a really low smoking point so it is not good if you are going to get the pan real hot. Burns much easier then say Canola, or Peanut which is the best for frying.

            Also, if you have really good EVOO the volatiles which make it tasty are the first thing to evaporate away when heated so most of the flavor will go away if you heat it much at all.

            You certainly can sautee with it, but just don't heat it too much...

        2. nsenada Jun 16, 2009 01:35 PM

          Not in the area you're looking in, but I used to go to George Armenis in the North End tucked away in a nondescript storefornt on Lewis Street for extremely cheap extra virgin olive oil (I will not say or write "evoo" thanks to Rachel Ray). I think I used to pay $12 for the large metal container of Olivia brand. I'll see if they are still there later in the week: http://www.oliviaoliveoil.com/

          2 Replies
          1. re: nsenada
            PinchOfSalt Jun 17, 2009 07:48 AM

            Cool! I have lived in the Boston area for more than 35 years and never heard of George Armenis. This is definitely a must-visit for my next North End foodie crawl.

            1. re: PinchOfSalt
              nsenada Jun 18, 2009 05:47 AM

              When I worked in the North End, I would stroll around at random, and I think that's about the only way I would have ever known about it. They also have Greek olives that they will sell you, out of barrells. Nothing fancy, but quite good.

          2. w
            winedude Jun 16, 2009 03:46 PM

            If you head out to Costco in Waltham, you can get their latest bottling of Kirkland brand, Tuscany-grown olive oil. It's $12 a liter, and it has the taste profile you're looking for, at good value.

            3 Replies
            1. re: winedude
              smtucker Jun 17, 2009 07:35 AM

              This year's Costco vintage is very peppery. A little too much so for my taste but does sound perfect for the OP's taste.

              1. re: winedude
                PinchOfSalt Jun 17, 2009 07:49 AM

                Yes, I have tasted that olive oil and it is pretty good. Thanks for reminding me about it! Was there life before Costco?

                1. re: PinchOfSalt
                  winedude Jun 18, 2009 06:06 AM

                  There was, but it wasn't worth living :-)

              2. StriperGuy Jun 18, 2009 06:28 AM

                Honestly, I find many of the Trader Joe's bottlings to be pretty tasty and small $.

                1. j
                  jajjguy Jun 20, 2009 11:44 AM

                  3 liters of Capatriti something like $13 at Market Basket. Medium-weight clean flavor, slightly peppery, great for all purpose use and nice enough for dressing and finishing tasks. Italian.

                  At the moment, I'm using something called Aria from Crete for small volume yummy extra flavor moments, it's pretty strong and peppery, on the greener side, very nice. $20 for half a liter at Savenor's.

                  1. rubysdad Jun 20, 2009 08:49 PM

                    My vote is for Trader Joe's California estate grown. It has that lively green color, peppery finish, and is moderately priced at $12/liter.

                    16 Replies
                    1. re: rubysdad
                      mlkrgr Jul 10, 2009 07:53 PM

                      Even better, I've found a 16.9 ounce half liter bottle at trader joes for $3.99. That has beaten anything at the other grocery stores and has matched the sales for sizes in that vicinity. I only use this size since it lasts me a few months.

                      1. re: mlkrgr
                        Zatan Jul 14, 2009 03:56 PM

                        Agree on TJ's. i have had several bottles from there that fit your description for excellent prices. Right now have the TJ's label Spanish EVOO and I think it's great though it is a more "yellow" type if you will. Try some, you can buy three or four bottles for the price you'd pay at WF for a single bottle and bound to get a really good one.

                      2. re: rubysdad
                        opinionatedchef Mar 22, 2011 12:02 PM

                        this is strange; that Cal Estate evoo is my go-to but I don't care for peppery; i like round, rich. so i wasn't going to rec it to pinch!

                        but pinch, remember that if you get ANY product at TrJ that you don't like, you can return it. so that way you can find the one that you do like.

                        1. re: opinionatedchef
                          evoolover Mar 22, 2011 12:29 PM

                          That's the interesting thing. Studies show most american consumers like round, smooth, and sweeter evoo. The thing is, this is because we have been conditioned to bad olive oil. Just how we don't like the taste of grass fed beef, as we expect the beef to taste like its been stuffed with corn its whole life.

                          A real evoo should be bright green, aromatic naturally without additives, and a little peppery. Peppery does not mean acidic.

                          The best bang for the buck evoo that is easily available ir whole foods organic. Their other stuff is complete garbage, the tunisioan, spanish, italian, greek, they aren't even evoo if you analyze them in a lab. The organic seems to be from a different source. My family produces evoo but I don't want to seem biased ;), so the wf organic is my go to if I don't have our own oil handy.

                          All this being said, at the end of the day, go with what tastes good. If you like a late harvest ripe olive oil, then just go for it, it doesn't matter its not evoo. Go with what you like

                          1. re: evoolover
                            StriperGuy Mar 22, 2011 01:09 PM

                            "A real evoo should be bright green, aromatic naturally without additives, and a little peppery."

                            Uhhhh, not.

                            Some evoo is peppery, others are just sweet and smooth.

                            At home we use evoo pressed from the trees my grandmother-in-law has been harvesting from trees in Rotello Italy for 80 years or so. It has wonderful olive flavor, but none of the peppery bite that I associate with Tuscan oils (? not sure if that is correct.)

                            Furthermore in my youth in Spain I had some very sweetish smooth oils pressed at the local cooperative and it was evoo literally streaming out of the press. It also did not have that peppery bite.

                            1. re: StriperGuy
                              evoolover Mar 22, 2011 03:08 PM

                              She may harvest late, and the olives may be kept for days as she harvests more before taking them to the press. ....and the spanish olives are larger than most greek and italian varieties...those two factors can result in a golden olive oil. Gold is never a good thing for olive oil.

                              1. re: StriperGuy
                                MC Slim JB Mar 22, 2011 04:40 PM

                                This kind of makes me mad. My memories of my childhood do not involve pressing olives in Italy or Spain. What I mostly recall is canned-vegetable casseroles and Fluffernutters.


                                1. re: MC Slim JB
                                  scotty27 Mar 22, 2011 04:49 PM

                                  Separated at birth, brother.

                                  1. re: MC Slim JB
                                    Madrid Mar 22, 2011 04:53 PM

                                    yeah, me too. I grew up in NC and I do remember wonderful peaches and tomatoes and corn and butter beans picked from the field as a very young child...but after that, canned green beans cooked for hours with bacon fat and canned soup casseroles with canned fried onions on top. We did have pimento cheese, however, and real shrimp and real oysters, though we did not eat them raw.

                                    so they don't decide to move this thread, is it possible to buy olives anywhere in the Boston area that aren't processed at all yet? If so, what can we do with them? Or do they lose everything between being picked and being shipped?

                                    1. re: Madrid
                                      PinchOfSalt Mar 22, 2011 06:25 PM

                                      In season, you can get "fresh" (i.e. not cured, but probably not picked the day before either) olives at Russo's. (There. That should help.)

                                2. re: evoolover
                                  StriperGuy Mar 23, 2011 07:15 AM

                                  Allright, so I am stuck on the whole peppery thing, last night I tried some of nonnas (grandma's) oil straight from the bottle; my tasting notes:

                                  Initially green, fruity, smooth, really a fruitlike taste, a hint of sweetness and grass, (wait for it) and I will admit there was a hint of peppery bite at the very end that caused me to almost cough.

                                  I guess I don't really notice it on salads, or drizzled on bread, but there IS a peppery note.

                                  Wonder how it tastes on Humble pie ;-)

                                  I swear however that I have tasted very high end Spanish oils that did not have any hint of pepper. And the oil from the coop when I was a kid in Mallorca was just olivey and sweet and fruity and smooth.

                                3. re: opinionatedchef
                                  cambridgedoctpr Mar 22, 2011 02:00 PM

                                  if evoo is not peppery; it is probably not olive oil. peppery from what i learned is what olive oil is about. There is an article in the New Yorker, about fake olive oil from italy.


                                  1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                    StriperGuy Mar 22, 2011 02:09 PM

                                    NOT TRUE. See above.

                                    1. re: StriperGuy
                                      cambridgedoctpr Mar 22, 2011 02:11 PM

                                      probably is the operative term. thanks for the information though as i have learned something interesting as usual from you

                                      1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                        StriperGuy Mar 22, 2011 02:22 PM

                                        As I understand it, that peppery bite is only present in SOME olive varieties and only if they are picked VERY green. If they are allowed to ripen a bit they have less bite.

                                        1. re: StriperGuy
                                          evoolover Mar 22, 2011 02:54 PM

                                          Yes. Some varieties are not as peppery, large olives with more flesh are an example. My families orchards are all Koroneiki kalamata, the very small olives have a high skin ratio, so more antioxidants and polyphenols, more aromatic, and greener as the skin is what it green, if the olives are picked late, or left on the ground or in nets, all this goes out the window and you get a golden smoother sweeter possibly rancid oil.

                              2. MC Slim JB Mar 22, 2011 12:26 PM

                                Syrian Grocery Importing Co. in the South End sells Solon, a lovely greenish Greek EVOO in 3-liter bottles. Don't recall the price, but it struck me as a bargain last time I bought it (it's almost empty), especially compared with South End Formaggio next door. They have a nice selection of oils in general.

                                The Trader Joe's Trader Giotto is a good, nice-priced standby, too.


                                South End Formaggio
                                268 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

                                Syrian Grocery Importing Co
                                10 Damrell St, Boston, MA

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: MC Slim JB
                                  PinchOfSalt Mar 22, 2011 12:33 PM

                                  Thanks MC. I have never been to Syrian Grocery Importing Co. Every time someone mentions it I think I really should go there. This is another reason!

                                  Syrian Grocery Importing Co
                                  10 Damrell St, Boston, MA

                                  1. re: PinchOfSalt
                                    MC Slim JB Mar 22, 2011 12:40 PM

                                    The Syrian is a fun small grocery store, mostly Middle Eastern in focus but with some range these days (a small Indian section now, for instance), a few fresh and produce items (fresh figs on a regular basis, cheeses, breads, turnovers, preserved lemons), lots of nuts, herbs, syrups, vinegars, spices, etc. Hookahs and tagines, too. A little treasure, a relic of the once large Syrian-American community in the neighborhood. Open noon-7pm, Tues-Sat.


                                  2. re: MC Slim JB
                                    teezeetoo Mar 22, 2011 01:15 PM

                                    this is my go to olive oil (the Solon) and I often find it at Arax which has a great selection of reasonably priced greek olive oils. My splurge oil (just for bread or for finishing a dish, never for cooking) is Falconero, expensive but to my taste the essence of good peppery green tuscan oil. (I get it at New Deal Seafood).

                                    1. re: teezeetoo
                                      tatsu Mar 22, 2011 02:59 PM

                                      Solon is a good make, so is Greek Gourmet, they are very similar. Arax uses Solon themselves in the take away items they make. (Some of which I just love, including their unbeatable Muhammara.)

                                      Sevan also has Solon, usually it's a buck cheaper there.

                                      1. re: tatsu
                                        PinchOfSalt Mar 22, 2011 06:27 PM

                                        Arax has the BEST prepared food section in my shopping radius. I always leave with too many containers of middle-eastern vegetable goodness. Yum.

                                        1. re: PinchOfSalt
                                          tatsu Mar 23, 2011 05:10 AM

                                          Beats the heck out of WF, that's for sure. I never understand how they have access to the best ingredients and turn it into dog food. My favs at Arax are the Muhummara which I mentioned, the black-eyed pea salad, any bean salad really, and the dish with Swiss Chard, the name I can't recall now. But everything is very high quality really, with only the borek or kibbee being bested elsewhere perhaps. The produce is the best in the neighborhood of course, but I buy pantry items and most spices and bulk items elsewhere. (Nuts and oil at Sevan, smaller quantities of spices and grains at Massis, etc.)

                                          1. re: tatsu
                                            tatsu Mar 23, 2011 05:18 AM

                                            Finally about Solon, I'd say it's inexpensive enough to use for light sauteing, but decent enough for salads. There's always a new wonderful olive oil to try, but I'd be ok with only Solon in my kitchen if I had to budget it down to one olive oil. So that's bang for buck right there. Certainly beats the lineup America's Best Test Kitchen had, the winner might of been Colavita or something.

                                            If you have an extra buck or two per 3 liters, Greek Gourmet is probably that much better. Comes in a metal tin as opposed to plastic, but haven't bought either in a while to be honest, due to regrettable lazy WF purchases.

                                            1. re: tatsu
                                              scotty27 Mar 23, 2011 05:43 AM

                                              I love ARAX, but wish Hagop was back.

                                    2. s
                                      scotty27 Mar 22, 2011 12:33 PM

                                      I order Stonehouse olive oil from California. Free shipping for 6+ bottles. Unbelievably delicious and far better than most Italian oils I've tried. First tried it at the Embacadero.
                                      This is their site: www.stonehouseoliveoil.com

                                      12 Replies
                                      1. re: scotty27
                                        okra Mar 22, 2011 01:14 PM

                                        Your Olive Oil May Not Be The Virgin It Claims



                                        1. re: okra
                                          scotty27 Mar 22, 2011 01:21 PM

                                          Makes sense. Same thing happens all the time with wines, unfortunately.
                                          Dudes are serving time.
                                          Imagine being incarcerated for it:
                                          Whaddya in for?
                                          "Diluted the olive oil."
                                          Puts a new spin on Harry Lime from The Third Man who diluted penicillin.

                                          1. re: scotty27
                                            okra Mar 22, 2011 01:39 PM

                                            Zither music plays in the background... :)

                                            1. re: okra
                                              scotty27 Mar 22, 2011 01:51 PM

                                              You brought a smile to my face. I see a remake: "The Third Olive."

                                              1. re: scotty27
                                                threedogs Mar 24, 2011 01:10 PM

                                                This reminded me of a true story I have to relate.

                                                My ex-boyfriend (now passed away - we remained friends & his loss is still felt) was totally Italian. Despite my being half Sicilian, it's been diluted through the generations - all I now know about olive oil, etc., I credit to him.

                                                Well, he always raved on about a brand of olive oil that he could no longer buy - it was called Buie, (my spelling might be off - means bull in Italian, so searches online turned up nothing related to olive oil), from an ancient grove in Sicily, but at one point they switched to plastic bottles (don't ever buy olive oil in plastic - ugh, cardinal rule!) and eventually they stopped exporting to the US.

                                                He had an idea at one point - called a local distributor (that shall remain nameless, but it's a common brand here). He knew the owner (or owners - can't remember). Anyway, he talked to the regional salesperson to find out if this oil could be obtained by them.

                                                Turns out, they own the company now. Well, he said he'd see what he could do. Called back some time after, said, yes, he could get some gallon bottles, but only once - he charged a measly $10 per bottle. Once more, they were smuggled into the country - that's why it was a one time deal.

                                                I had to laugh - other countries smuggle drugs. Italians know what is REALLY valuable - food!

                                                And yes - the oil was out of this world. Never tasted anything like it, before or after. Even my kids (who were mostly teens back then, loving junk food - yuk) remember that olive oil with fondness.

                                            2. re: scotty27
                                              evoolover Mar 22, 2011 03:20 PM

                                              Its good they caught some people....the problem is most get away with it.and it puts price pressure on honest producers.

                                              We get 2 liters, or half a gallon of evoo from our trees. That's an insanely low yield.

                                              Its very tempting to use ripe olives or olive oil or pomace oil (yuck, solvents are used to extract the oil from the crushed pits) or even an altogether diff oil like sunflower or hazelnut oil....especially since most consumers will like its smoothness and sweetness. ...

                                              The most prized greek olive oil is called agourelaio, literally meaning unripe oil. This first week of november oil is almost antifreeze neon green, and very aromatic, bursting with flavor. Yet it is very peppery, and most people won't buy it because of this, and because it costs much more than most evoo.

                                              1. re: scotty27
                                                evoolover Mar 22, 2011 03:25 PM

                                                One of the reasons the italians have cracked down occasionally on this "slippery business" is because the Made In Italy brand, so coveted by italian companies and the italian economic system as a whole, has been hurt with these types of antics.

                                                Italy exports Much more oil than it produces. The vast majority of oil which says "product of italy" is from tunisia, spain, etc. Italy as olive oil has mostly become just a marketing gimmick. This at the expense of real estate grown producers who still do things the right way, but made in italy doesn't mean what it used to.

                                                The bertolis and colavitas of the world and other mass marketed italian labels sell who knows what, as the UC Davis study showed.

                                                1. re: scotty27
                                                  opinionatedchef Mar 22, 2011 04:13 PM

                                                  YOU are funny!! thanx for that; my hearty chuckle for the day :)

                                              2. re: scotty27
                                                Gabatta Mar 22, 2011 02:11 PM

                                                Which do you order, House Blend or Olio Santo? I used to have an office a few blocks from the Embarcadero and would bring their stuff back. I didn't know about the free shipping. I actually thought the House Blend was a bit more flavorful.

                                                1. re: Gabatta
                                                  scotty27 Mar 22, 2011 02:19 PM

                                                  It's free shipping for six bottles or more, according to the website. yeah, I used to carry them aboard back in the day, too. That and a suitcase of Bella Viva dried apricots, necks, and pluots. I bought 12 bottles of "Estate Blend" in September; the stuff is so rich and fine, I only use a bottle per month.


                                                2. re: scotty27
                                                  tatsu Mar 23, 2011 05:24 AM

                                                  Years ago (Like before e-commerce was popular, so I called them.) I ordered by phone from St. Helena Olive Oil company, it was cheap actually, like 50 bucks for half-gallon. I ordered a Manzanilla oil, to match these Manzanilla olives I bought fresh at Arax to cure myself. Man that olive oil was extremely memorable. I think prices are much higher and they offer many types of oil nowadays. Anyway, I agree, some CA mail order stuff can really compete internationally.

                                                  1. re: tatsu
                                                    winedude Mar 23, 2011 05:45 AM

                                                    My personal favorite olive oils come from another California merchant, Sciabica: http://www.sciabica.com They've been making their oils for 75 years, and have a wide variety. I've tasted many at the SF Farmer's Market. And, following up on the thread upstream, they run the gamut from very buttery to very peppery, depending on the type of olive and the time of harvest, yet they are all extra virgin olive oil, grown in CA. Well worth the money, IMHO.

                                                3. philbog Mar 22, 2011 05:34 PM

                                                  I'm pretty partial to the Ariston ev olive oil. They sell it in bulk at Marty's in Newtonville. I think I've also seen the display at the Meat House in Brookline. You buy the glass jar, and can bring it in and refill it for less. It's moderately inexpensive, and is of excellent quality.

                                                  The Meat House
                                                  1285 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                                                  1. nsenada Mar 22, 2011 07:03 PM

                                                    Upper Falls Liquors on Needham Street in Newton has some fancy-looking olive oil that you can fill containers with. Anyone ever try it?

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: nsenada
                                                      philbog Mar 22, 2011 09:28 PM

                                                      That sounds like the Ariston I recommended upstream

                                                      1. re: alexdifeo
                                                        threedogs Mar 30, 2011 08:38 PM

                                                        My grandparents on my mother's side were from Sciacca. I've never been there, but hope to make a visit someday (my daughter & her fiance plan to live in Italy for about 6 months next year :D. Getting my bags packed now, hahaha). I met - and lost her address, sad to say - a distant cousin by marriage who visits Sciacca often, and met relatives there.

                                                        Thanks to google, I found out what Una Faccia Una Razza means - I totally agree! (One face, one race). I see the similarity between Greece and Italy, or, closer to my (half, lol) heritage, Sicily. So many similarities w/food, even if they aren't cooked the same, much of the ingredients are.

                                                        I so hope I actually get there!

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