Friday, May 13, 2011

Tasty tidbits about olive oils

A friend recently asked me what kind of olive oil I use. The simple answer is that I have two that I use – one that I use for almost all moderate heat cooking and a more expensive “premium blend” that I use for making dressing or for making dipping sauces. I use extra virgin olive oil about 90% of the time when I am cooking. The exceptions are when I am cooking on high heat or when I want the flavor that butter adds to the meal - even then I often use half olive oil and half butter to cut down the fat content.

Most often I purchase Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It seems to be readily available at a grocery stores just about anywhere we move to, and it has a nice balanced flavor that doesn’t take over the meal. For my money the Spanish olive oils are the best choice for a premium oil to use in dressings etc. I usual can find Columela, a slightly fruity oil that is not too peppery or heavy. As a side note if you have a Whole Foods near you their private label brand 365 is one olive oil I would use in place of both a premium and every day brand. Also worth noting is that my food goddess, Ina Garten really likes California Olive Oils. And if you are anywhere that you can get fresh olive oil jump on the chance though be warned – once you have tasted the real deal you may never want to go back to the more generic mass market versions.

There are a couple of things that you can do to protect and promote the flavor of your olive oil. Possibly the most important is not to purchase it in the mongo containers unless you are a super heavy user – like you are running a small bistro or catering business out of your house. An article that I recently read suggested that an olive oil should be used within one year of pressing, and that includes the time it takes to transport the oil to the store, that it sits on the shelf and then comes to your home. Over time the acidity of the oil will increase so though that mega jug at Sam’s may seem like a great bargain, as it sits there on the floor of your pantry, the flavor will change and eventually become more acidic and unpalatable. Exposure to light increases acidity as well. When purchasing olive oil don’t take the front bottle on the shelf – dig toward the back – those bottles have been exposed to less of the harsh store lights that can compromise the flavor.

For the life of me I am not sure why most oils are still sold in clear bottles. I guess it is an opportunity for you to buy a pretty dark glass or ceramic decorative bottle that you can fill with a small amount of oil, leave on your counter and then store the rest of your oil in the back of your cabinet away from the light as much as possible. The same goes for heat. Heat negatively impacts olive oil so try not to store you oil next to your stove or oven. Ideally oil should be stored in a slightly cool room – a.k.a wine cellar — but since most of us mere mortals don’t have a wine cave in our house (not yet anyway) the next best thing is to keep it at room temperature away from a heat source and in the dark as much as possible.

Lastly olive oil, much like wine, comes in a plethora of flavors from fruity to peppery, to a bold olive taste. Experiment with different types in small amounts to find the one that tastes the best to you. Fun Friday night idea – invite some friends over for a wine and olive oil tasting. Buy a baguette, slice it up, and pour small amounts of different olive oils into small dishes for folks to dunk into. Once you are done with the olive oil tasting you can vote then continue with other tapas – olives, an antipasto plate, nuts, figs and honey, some soft cheese – and have a lovely happy hour figuring out what olive oil is right for you.

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