When does a quality olive oil make a difference
I know that for cold foods (salad dressing), a good quality EVOO is best and will make a difference. But for foods that are sauteed, fried or baked in olive oil, can you get away with a cheap olive oil?
yes. in fact, some dishes are better with just plain olive oil as extra virgin has a stronger flavor. also, some extra virgin types are just so ridiculously priced and just not worth it.
"But for foods that are sauteed, fried or baked in olive oil, can you get away with a cheap olive oil?"
I don't know about "cheap" but I don't use the same OO for marinades or grilling. I suspect most of use use EVOO and maybe even a very specific estate EVOO for salads or dipping bread. I won't use pomace for that but its fine for grilling or to sautee. Different grades don't automatically imply cheap but certainly pomace or virgin should be less costly than EVOO.
Where I am, there's little price difference between supermarket own label olive oil and extra virgin - so I tend to buy the extra virgin as an "all purpose" oil - but also use a Palestinian extra virgin for dipping or special salads.
I use a lesser quality olive oil (usually a "Pure Olive Oil) for frying and sauteing and even for some baked goods, but for anything that receives olive oil as a dressing or a final drizzle before serving, only EVOO will do. But be careful to read the label and identify what's' in the EVOO. Some items with that label actually contain some amount of "other oils" and flavors can vary dramatically depending on where the olives were grown, when they were harvested and how they were processed.
I'd suggest that you carefully select an Extra Virgin Olive Oil that you believe you might like and purchase a small container. Take it home and taste it. If you like it, use it for preparing foods that you'd like to serve with the full flavor of the oil. If you don't like its flavor, fry or saute with it and try another brand until you've found the one or two that suit your taste.
This is sort of related, but does not have to do with quality of the oil. Olive oils from different origins have different flavor profiles, and I highly recommend trying out a few different ones to see what you like. At a lot of supermarkets you can now find spanish, italian, and greek olive oil. I also had the opportunity to bring back some portuguese olive oil, and it was fantastic. Definitely try some different ones out to see what you like. Currently, my favorite is portuguese because its so fruity, but I only have a little bit left. Spanish is my second favorite.