Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most delicious and widely-used ingredients in the world. Drizzle it on salad, dip it with bread, or brush it on grilled vegetables, and you can instantly elevate any dish.
But with so many types of extra virgin olive oil being sold in-store and online, choosing one can be an overwhelming decision.
Whether you’re purchasing extra virgin olive oil for yourself or as a gift for a food aficionado in your life, you want to make sure that it meets the highest quality standards.
What makes olive oil “extra virgin”?
The difference between extra virgin and regular olive oil lies in the process and oleic acid content. Extra virgin olive oil is made by grinding olives into a paste, then cold-pressing them to extract the oil. Regular olive oil, on the other hand, can be made chemically extracted with high-heat equipment. Some regular olive oils are made by blending both cold-pressed and processed oils.
After it is processed, extra olive oil must undergo rigorous testing in order to certify its quality. Extra virgin olive oil is legally required to have a free oleic acid content of less than 0.8 percent. It then must undergo a sensory test, where a panel of olive oil experts test it for any taste defects. The “extra” in extra virgin therefore signifies that the oil meets the highest quality standards for olive oil.
How do you know that the extra virgin oil you’re buying is real?
Because extra virgin olive oil is the finest type of olive oil, it’s also the most expensive. If you’re investing in this kitchen staple, you want to make sure what you’re buying is true extra virgin olive oil.
Unfortunately, recent studies have found that some olive oils that are labelled “extra virgin” in fact don’t meet the quality standards. There are several quality checks to ensure that you’re buying high-quality, true extra virgin olive oil.
Check the label for the region the oil was produced in. If you see more than one country, region, or even city listed on the label, that means the oil is in fact a blend of several different oils. True extra virgin olive oil is sourced from one region.
Some gourmet olive oil makers will not only limit the region that the olives are harvested from, but also only use one type of olive to produce the oil. This is the case with our Taggiasca olive oil, which is made using only hand-selected olives from the Taggiasca strain (also referred to as monocultivar).
A rule of thumb: the more specific the olive oil label is about which olives it uses and where the olives are sourced, the more likely it is to be true extra virgin.
Fresher is Always Better
It’s not only important to check where the olive is harvested from, but also when. This is specified on the label as “harvest date” or “pressing date”. The fresher the olive oil is, the better its flavor and nutritional potency.
As a general rule, don’t buy any olive oil that has been harvested more than 6 months prior.
Olive oil is like wine. The growing conditions of the olive such as climate, region, and terrain all influence the flavor and quality of the oil, much like how grape varieties influence wine flavor profiles.
Much like with wine, olive oil also has complex flavor profiles and notes that stand out. Here are some of the common flavor profiles and their meanings:
Fruity: evokes the smell of a fresh olive fruit
Grassy: tends to have earthy, herbaceous notes reminiscent of fresh grass or artichoke.
Floral: indicates sweet, light sensation evoking ripe fruit, almonds, and fresh flowers.
Bitter: can be indicative of a high-quality olive oil, with a slightly stinging effect
Fresh: refers to a clean aroma, not oxidized
Peppery: a pungent, slightly stinging sensation in the throat
Round: fills and satisfies without aromatic character
Filtered vs. Unfiltered Olive Oil
Unfiltered olive oil tends to be cloudier, rawer, and more natural than its filtered counterparts. Tasters appreciate the pure taste that unfiltered olive oils lend. Filtered olive oils tend to have a cleaner taste, and a longer-lasting product. In the end, the type of olive oil you choose depends on which flavor you prefer.
Pay Attention to the Container
Look for olive oils that are sold in dark glass bottles or better, tins. Opaque packaging prevents exposure to sunlight, which can compromise olive oil’s freshness and taste.
Storing Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Once you’ve purchased your extra virgin olive oil, make sure to store it in a way that preserves its taste and maintains its longevity.
Although it may be tempting to place your olive oil right next to the stove where you can access it quickly, leaving it exposed to heat can diminish its flavor. Instead, make sure to store your olive oil in a cool, dry, dark place, away from heat and light.
In addition to heat and light, oxygen can also degrade the oil, making it go rancid quicker. Once opened, make sure to keep the cap firmly closed on the olive oil bottle when it’s not being used.
Why Buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil Online
Olive oils that are sold in grocery stores are often exposed to light and heat during the transportation and storage process. Buying extra virgin olive oil online is the best way to assure its quality, freshness, and flavor.
Many gourmet extra virgin olive oils, such as those sold at La Merenda, are sent to you directly from the harvesters when the olives are pressed. This assures that you’re getting the olive oil at the peak of its flavor, freshness, and nutritional potency.
Another advantage of shopping for extra virgin olive oil online is that you can read in-depth descriptions of where the olives were sourced, as well as flavor profiles and pairing suggestions of the olive oil.
The Best Extra Virgin Olive Oil Online
At the end of the day, you want to make sure that the olive oil that you’re investing in is of high quality, tastes great, and is truly extra virgin.
La Merenda by Dominique Le Stanc produces some of the highest quality extra virgin olive oil in the world. Sources from the arid regions of Italy, each olive is hand-picked and immediately cold-pressed using techniques passed down by generations of olive oil makers.