We all know olive oil has the “healthy fats” that you’re supposed to eat to decrease your “bad cholesterol” (do you like my super technical medical terms? Yeah, that’s why I went to law school). But do you ever walk into your supermarket’s vinegar and oil aisle only to have a mini anxiety attack over the plethora of choices (and price ranges!) of olive oil? No? Oh, me neither…that must be some other foodie family blogger. Moving on…
When I was at the store yesterday, I estimated there were 20 different olive oils on the shelf, priced from $3.86 all the way to $34.00. In addition to the price difference, there are also different virginity levels or “grades of the oil: Premium Extra Virgin, Extra Virgin, Virgin, Standard, Super Slutty (just kidding). Some bottles say the olives are hand picked and others brag that the oil is cold pressed or filtered. To add an extra layer of confusion, you can also choose the country of origin for your olive oil: Spain, Greece, Italy, California, France–and sometimes they blend oil from different countries together to make an olive oil meritage.
I love dipping bread in olive oil while I drink a glass of wine…but if you’re like me you can easily do without the bread and olive oil and just double up on the wine if you have to put too much thought into it. So here’s what you really need to know about Olive Oil Varietals, a few tasting notes and some great ways to use olive oil after you’ve had your first glass of wine.
Olive Oil: The Quick and Dirty
• Look for olive oil in a tinted or metal bottle—OO is like a vampire—sunlight kills it
• Look for “born on” date—olive oil starts to lose its taste after 1 year—Extra Virgin Olive Oil keeps longest
• If you’re not using it for high heat cooking, make sure it says “unrefined”
• Store your olive oil in a dark cool place to keep its flavor intact
For dipping, dressing & drizzling: Use Extra Virgin because the acidity level is the lowest and its aroma and flavor can be most fully appreciated. Premium or Estate Extra Virgin, though more expensive, will make a favor difference in your cooking.
• One of the best meals I ever had in my entire life was at Don Alfonso on the Amalifo Coast. I bought two bottles of Olive Oil while I was there and savored every dip and drizzle.
• On my honeymoon, we did an Olive Oil tasting at Round Pond in Napa Valley, CA. The Meyer Lemon Olive Oil is perfect for salads.
• Last Summer at the Farmer’s Market in San Francisco, this guy recommended we try his unfiltered olive oil. He said it’s like “your favorite song, turned up.” He was right. It’s peppery, olive(y) and so flavorful. Drizzle atop pasta or fish off the grill.
For quick sautéing or when mixing with other ingredients: Use Virgin because the taste will be somewhat diluted by the cooking and mixing with other ingredients. I don’t have a favorite virgin oil. I usually look for the best price.
For high heat cooking: Use olive oil or grapeseed oil. Although Olive Oil’s smoke point is relatively high (400 degrees F) he flavor of the olive oil will disintegrate at higher heat so you might as well use a cheaper oil for high heat cooking.
How to Infuse Olive Oil
Infused olive oil is a great way to add a little extra kick of flavor to your standard olive oil and it makes a GREAT gift. I still recommend using Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but you can save a little bit of money by adding your own depth of flavor with herbs and spices. There really isn’t a precise science to infusing olive oil. I’ve included a few of my favorite combinations, but you can really experiment and use whatever you like!*
Tools and Ingredients
Glass or nonreactive metal container
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Herbs (i.e. Rosemary, Thyme, Basil,
Spices (i.e. Peppercorn, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes)
Citrus Fruits (i.e. meyer lemon, orange or kumquat)
• Find an awesome bottle. Remember: Olive oil is like a vampire and sunlight kills is so try to find a bottle with a dark tint. Ideally, you also want it to be air tight.
• After preparing your herbs, spices or citrus fruits by washing, grinding or zesting, place them in the awesome bottle.
• Pour olive oil into the bottle through the funnel. (Note that most recipes below call for heating the olive oil. This makes the flavor infuse more quickly but is not necessary)
• Allow ingredients to “awesomate” (technical term) for about two weeks (feel free to taste intermittently).
• Make a cool label (or just handwrite the ingredients like me).
Infused olive oil can be kept for up to a year, but tastes best when used in the first six months.
*Beware of using garlic to infuse your olive oil. When homemade garlic-infused oil is left unrefrigerated or kept for too long, the chance of botulism growing is very real. There have been a number of documented cases of people getting sick from their homemade garlic oils.
*I should also tell you to refrigerate infused oils. Refrigerated is the safest way to store infused oil. I store my oils at room temp, but then again, I’m a pretty bold risk taker.
Meyer Lemon Olive Oil
1 cup olive oil
Peel from 2 Meyer lemons
• Warm the olive oil and the peel over very low heat for 20 minutes.
• Allow to cool for half an hour.
• Strain and pour into an antique stoppered bottle, or any bottle you may have.
Chili Infused Olive Oil
2 cups olive oil
4 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper flakes
1. Combine the oil and crushed red pepper flakes in a heavy small saucepan. Cook over low heat until a thermometer inserted into the oil registers 180 degrees F, about 5 minutes.
2. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Transfer the oil and pepper flakes to a 4-ounce bottle.
Basil Infused Olive Oil
4 cups of packed basil leaves
2 cups of virgin olive oil (the flavors of extra-virgin olive oil will compete too much)
1. Combine basil and olive oil in a blender.
2. Puree the mixture until smooth.
3. In a saucepan, simmer the olive oil and basil puree over medium heat for 45 seconds.
4. Pour the heated mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl to remove the basil.
5. Let the mixture sit for a few hours.
6. Pour the oil into an airtight jar. (don’t include the dark liquid at the bottom of the bowl, which is water mixed with finely ground basil)
Rosemary Infused Olive Oil
1/2 cup olive oil
3 fresh rosemary sprigs
1. In small saucepan, combine oil & rosemary. Cook over low heat until a thermometer reaches 180 F, about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool to room temp.
2. Transfer the sprigs to a bottle, then add the oil. Seal and refrigerate up to 1 month