I keep two kinds of extra virgin olive oil in my kitchen: a small bottle of robust, peppery, somewhat expensive oil for finishing dishes and special salads, and a milder, everyday oil for when the flavor of the oil might be overwhelmed by other ingredients or isn't very important. Everyday olive oil, like everyday wine, is a kitchen staple and while I don't reach for the cheapest brand from the bottom shelf, I need to keep the price point fairly low.
What brand do you use as your everyday olive oil?
We need to be careful when selecting our olive oil, as things are not always what they seem. According to Tom Mueller, author of the book Extra Virginity, the olive oil industry is rife with fraud. In his blog Mr. Mueller writes:
Olive oil bottles (are) labeled with fancy phrases - 'cold pressed,' 'made in Italy,' 'first pressed,' 'extra-light,' 'pure,' and the ever-present 'extra virgin' - that are meaningless, and often downright lies, false virgins selling at a fraction of the price of true extra virgin olive oil, which systematically undercut honest producers. Faced with this situation, governments do nothing, oil buyers turn a blind eye, big bottlers and oil-traders pocket the cash. Consumers everywhere are systematically defrauded, and honest growers go bankrupt.
His solution is to know and even visit olive oil producers and attend a pressing. If that's not possible, then he suggests we buy from a reputable establishment that has pre-screened their oils for authenticity. And of course taste before you buy. This is fine if you're like me and live in an area where there are not only olive oil producers, but plenty of tasting opportunities at small grocers and even an olive oil store or two.
What about people who only have the grocery store or Costco as a source? Well, you're in luck! Apparently, Costco' Kirkland brand Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil was the only imported 'grocery store' olive oil that passed a blind standards test for extra virgin. All other brands come in at 'virgin' quality.
Is there an everyday priced, extra virgin olive oil that you like? Where do you shop for your olive oil? I'm considering going in on a gallon of Tehama County Blend by Pacific Sun with a few friends. At $50/gallon, it's a bargain price for a delicious everyday olive oil.
• Tom Mueller's website is packed full of excellent information where you can find tips on how to look for and choose and olive oil as well as a Guide to Great Olive Oil which lists growers, producers and providers in all 50 states.
• Check out the UC Davis report on their olive oil testing and compare your favorite brand of oil on their handy chart.
• Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller, $17.13 at Amazon.
Related: Hurrah! New US Olive Oil Standards
(Image: Dana Velden)