Italia in a Flash: Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Italy is one of the largest producers of olive oil in the world, second only to Spain. And when trying to decide on one, we know it may seem like we have every bottle from both country on our shelves. In hopes of helping to demystify this category with so many choices, below is a quick primer on this liquid gold we love so much.

Although most Italian olive oil comes from the southern part of the country (the most oil is produced in Puglia), nearly every region produces olive oil on some scale.

Extra-virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only, and is of higher quality, it contains no more than 0.8% free acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste, having some fruitiness and no defined sensory defects. Extra virgin olive oil is essentially ‘fresh squeezed’ from the fruit of the olive tree, without alteration of the color, taste, and nutrients or vitamins.
Oil can be labeled similar to wine, stating its Geographical origin (PGI, DOP, IGP, etc.), variety of olive, and orchard or mill site. Some oils may be a mono-varietal oil while others are a blend of varietals custom blended each year to retain the same flavor profile year to year. Like wines, olive oil varies year to year depending on weather and harvest conditions. The color of the oil is no indication of flavor or quality. Beyond the flavorful taste, there are many health benefits of olive oil. It’s naturally free of cholesterol, trans fat, salt, sugar, and gluten. In addition, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat (that’s the good kind).

As a general rule the lighter the olive oil's flavor the lighter foods it should be used on, and in the reverse, the more bold and spicy olive oils are better paired with bolder, spicier foods.

Great ways to enjoy olive oil:
  • Tossed with freshly cooked pasta with salt and Parmigiano-Reggiano. No sauce needed.
  • Poured over cheese, including mozzarella, burrata, and goat cheese – this is especially good with a milder fruity olive oil.
  • Drizzled on artisan bread with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt – way better than butter!
  • Blended into mashed potatoes – this is delicious with a sharp, hot peppery variety of olive oil, such as a Tuscan blend.
  • Drizzled on grilled meats to bring out added flavor and depth. Try this with a bolder, more robust olive oil.
  • Generously drizzled over a tossed green salad.
  • Drizzle over fresh Mozzarella slices and fresh tomatoes.
  • Blend fresh Basil, Pine Nuts, and Pecorino Romano until smooth for a great pesto.

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