Olive Oil Part 3
Olive Oil's flavor and quality are inherent in its point of origin. The best marker of quality olive oil is a clearly stated producer or a singular region. It’s okay to blend several olive varieties together, but identifying a region on the label will help rule out is an Italian brand that’s blended with poorly produced oils from several other countries. The region or producer is more important than organic (in fact, you’re probably better off avoiding olive oils with an organic sticker). J
Just like wine, olives use the principle of “terroir”. The same olive variety grown in different places will taste differently. Oils from northern Spain and Greece tend to be mild in flavor. Oils from southern Spain and southern Italy are bolder and more peppery. All the major regions produce just as good of an EVOO as Italy. *One Exception: My uber driver today told me that the purest olive oil in the world is undoubtedly in Palestine. He seemed knowledgeable on the subject, but we don’t see a lot of Palestinian olive oils on American grocery shelves.
Spain: Spanish olive oil accounts for more than 20-25% of the global market. It’s hot, arid, climate fits olives that produce strong bitter and sharp tastes. Most production comes from Andalusia and the most popular olives are Piqual, Picudo, and Manzanilla. There is less fraud in Spanish olive oils because of the lower price point.
Italy: Italy is probably the first country associated with olive oil. It has also marketed its olive oil far more aggressively than its Mediterranean counterparts. Puglia and Calabria regions account for 70% of all Italian olive oil, but Tuscany and the area around Lake Garda are the most well-known. In Italy more olive oil is consumed than it is exported, yet there is still a surplus. What does this mean? Not all Italian olive oil is Italian. (psst… it’s totally controlled by the mob and highly fraudulent)
Greece: Greece may not have the same exportation output as Italy and Spain, but it outpaces both countries in its consumption. The fact that Greeks have low cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s have been attributed to high olive oil consumption. Greek olive oils are marked by their subdued flavors and generally low acidity. Low acidity is good because it preserves nutrients and compounds. Most Greek oils are going to be from the Koroneiki Peninsula and Crete.
California: The beginning of Californian olive oils happened in direct response to the 2011 release of Tom Mueller’s book “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil”. The book is an in-depth expose of corruption in the olive oil market that led Americans to want to take olive oil matters into their own hands. Although very new to the market, disillusioned Californians (myself being one of them) tend to take their EVOO purity seriously. There is a lot of ambition to do for olive oil what California has done with quality wine. Another reason to shop Californian is that olive oil does spoil with age and is sensitive to transportation, so the closer you can get the product from home the better.
French: You can sometimes find French olive oils from Provence. Specifically brands like Williams and Sonoma like to carry French olive oils. It’s all about taste preference, but France does produce their olive oil differently than Italy, Spain, and Greece. French olives are typically harvested late season (it’s early season harvest you want for maximum polyphenols) when olives have already begun a fermentation process on the tree. French olive oil is not fancier or more premium than Greek, Italian, or Spanish even if it is typically sold at a higher price point. Olive Oil somme, Wilma van Grinsven-Padberg puts forth a theory that French cuisine is butter based. This late season harvest tends to give olive oil more of a buttery profile which may suite their tastes better than the grassy, bitter, or peppery flavors found in southern Spain and Italy.
Tunisia: The up and comer. Olive oil mills have been along the north coast of Africa for as long as they’ve been in Italy and Greece. Tunisia has long been known for churning out low-grade, refined olive oil, that might be cut into Italian products. Recently, Tunisian olive oils are claiming a space and winning awards. When I shopped for olive oils at an organic market that allows you to taste all of their oils before buying, their top-shelf olive oil was from Tunisia. If you’re looking for the trendy buy – bet on a quality Tunisian olive oil.