Olive oil is an important fat and essential to our healthy eating repertoire. Last week, the New York Times revealed that many olive oils labeled “Italian” and “extra-virgin” are neither from Italy nor extra virgin.
Among the things we learned is that “olive oil bottled in Italy and sold in the United States may be labeled ‘packed in Italy’ or ‘imported from Italy’…even if the oil does not come from Italy.”
We were still confused how to spot a winner on the shelf, so we asked Nicholas Coleman, the chief oleologist (olive-oil expert) for Mario Batali’s Eataly emporiums, how to make sure our oil is legittimo.
Check the date. “At the end of the day,” says Coleman, “olive oil is a fruit juice,” so the fresher the better. Olive oils should be used within two years of harvest.
Look for dark glass. Light causes olive oil to photo-oxidize, which in turn leads to spoiling. Oil should be stored in a dark glass or tin container.
Seek specific information about regions and cultivars. “Cultivar” means the kind of olive produced by selective olive breeding. Similarly, if you know where the olives are grown—whether a particular region in Italy or a small town in California—you’re one step closer to knowing where your oil came from.
For Italian oils, buy D.O.P certified. D.O.P. (Protected Designation of Origin) means that, by Italian law, the olives are grown, harvested, processed and shipped from the geographic zone on the label.
Our takeaway? The more details on the label, the closer you get to knowing what’s in the bottle.
Here are Coleman’s recs for seven legit olive oils:
1. ROI Carte Noire
100% Taggiasca olives
Badalucco, Liguria (D.O.P. Riviera Ligure)
Delicate, buttery, viscous, creamy with hints of sweet almonds, ending in a light peppery finish. Pair it with basil pesto, delicate seafood, potatoes, eggs, light greens and anything where you don’t want the flavor of the oil to dominate the dish. 8.8 oz for $19
2. Frantoio Franci Villa Magra
50% Frantoio, 35% Moraiolo, 15% Leccino olives
Montenero D’orcia, Tuscany
Grassy, bitter and herbaceous oil with a sharp, assertive peppery finish in the back of the throat. Pair it with Tuscan soups such as Ribollita, Pappa Pomodoro, Bruschetta or seasoned grilled steak. Used by Mark Ladner, Executive Chef, Del Posto. 10.1 oz for $34 (Villa Magra within a tasting set of 3)
3. Frantoi Cutrera : Primo D.O.P. Monti Iblei
100% Tonda Iblea olives
Vibrant aroma of green tomato vine with a medium-bodied peppery finish. Harvested early, which leads to especially fruity, peppery flavors. Pairs well with eggplant, grilled seafood, tomatoes and pasta. David Pasternack’s, Executive Chef, ESCA, loves this oil. 16.9 oz for $29
4. La Mola
60% Frantoio, 30% Leccino, 10% Pendolino
Sabina, Lazio (D.O.P Sabina)
A balanced, medium bodied oil with soft aromas of freshly ripped herbs and green apple skin, making it extremely versatile for delicate fish and vegetables while still holding up to richer sauces, meats and soups. 8.4 oz for $18
70% Moraiolo, 20% Leccino and 10% Frantoio olives
Light and fluid, with a broad, balanced spectrum of bitter grassy notes and a delayed, elongated finish which slowly builds in the back of the throat. Excellent paired with red meat, beans, cauliflower, pasta and soup. 16.9 oz for $34
6. DaVero 2013 Estate Extra Virgin ‘Olio Nuovo’
Blend of Leccino, Maurino, Frantoio, Pendolino
Buttery, creamy and viscous texture with hints of freshly ripped mint, sage and sweet grass, with a slow building, elegant note of black peppery in the back of the throat. Excellent with all pastas, grilled fish, artichokes, meat and vegetables. A favorite at Mario Batali’s Babbo. 12.7 oz for $32
7. OLIO VERDE
Well-balanced with vibrant vegetal and leafy undertones ending with a medium bodied peppery finish. Pairs great with seared scallops, raw fish, leafy greens, caprese salad and pastas. 16.9 oz for $40
Want to become a certified olive oil taster? Coleman will lead a 20-person course with Italy’s oldest olive oil tasting school on March 10-14, 2014 at Del Posto restaurant in NYC alongside chefs from the Batali & Bastianich family of restaurants. Sign up at oliveoiltasters.com.