- Gerri Sarnataro
How to buy a bottle of olive oil
We own 35 olive trees in Umbria which we care for during the year and harvest in October. We've learned a lot in the past 8 years and would like to share some information that we think will help you the next time you buy olive oil.
Do you know the difference between these 2 bottles of extra virgin olive oil?
The obvious size and brand don’t count. So what does, you ask? Read on….
Let’s take a look.
1. Both labels say “extra virgin olive oil” which means the oil is made from 100% olives with acidity no more than 0.8% and characteristics of fruitiness, pungency and bitterness. These are basic standards that must be met to qualify as EVOO.
2. Both bottles are made of dark colored glass that protects the oil from light and slows down oxidation. This is good.
The bottle on the bottom cost $18.00 for 500ml purchased from the grower in Radda (town) , Chianti (area) in Tuscany (region),Italy. The bottle on the top cost $10.49 for 1000 ml purchased in Fairway, New York City. Which are you going to buy? That depends on what you want to use your oil for.
We think the most important information on a label is:
1. The harvest date or best by date because olive oil is NOT LIKE a fine red wine that improves with aging under the right conditions. Rather, olive oil will lose its wonderful freshness and healthy benefits over 18 to 24 months from the time the olives were harvested, milled and bottled.
2. The origin of the oil, in other words, where the heck were these olives grown. Now this is tricky because we often see “product of “ a particular country. That's not telling the whole story. It is NOT telling us where the olives were grown. We want to know that the oil in the bottle is not only a product of a country, but grown in that country. Better yet, we want to know the specific location.
If this information is missing, as it is on the top picture, then the price should be much lower, which it is. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad oil. It just means you may want to reserve it for cooking because the flavor of the oil may not be as fine. We don't know when the olives were milled nor where they came from. The oil may be a blend of many olives coming from many growers in a variety of regions and countries. We just don't know .
Let’s say you want to sauce a fish or drizzle the oil on bruschette, then you are better off with an oil that assures you a more distinctive wonderful flavor. That’s when you go for the expensive stuff, with a label that has all the information, as you see on bottom picture. Don’t forget to check that you are buying a recent harvest. Remember olives are picked between october and december so if the date is current or past, for example 2016, you can be assured your oil is relatively fresh up to the latter half of 2018. Or, if you see a date in the future, for example Nov 2017, it means your oil was from the harvest 2 years prior to that date.
After this, the rest is a matter of personal taste. The diversity of olives and terroir produce flavors ranging from robust to delicate. It may take a few bottles to decide your preferences. Whichever, at least you will feel confident that you know what you are paying for.
And, don't forget, store all your olive oil at room temperature in a cool dark area.
If you are interested in learning more take a look at olive oil times.