In ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, olive oil was a luxury so prized for its cosmetic and medicinal uses that the people made “liquid gold” offerings to the gods. Nowadays, olive oil is a go-to ingredient in preparing and enjoying food, and tasting bars have become popular places where non-experts can “taste around” and discover their preferences for the perfect pairing. Here are some tips to help you along.
Olive oil has numerous quality categories. Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the oil from the first pressing of the fruit. Ultra premium (UP) is a new category that distinguishes the world’s highest quality EVOO from those of lesser quality.
Extra-virgin olive oils range in colour from gold to amber to emerald, but colour doesn’t affect quality. The acidity of EVOO is less than 0.8%. Lower categories, such as virgin, pure, olive and olive pomace oil, have higher acidity and many are blends.
There are thought to be over 1000 olive oil flavours around the world. To help consumers make their selections, olive oils are graded according to their intensity. Some have a mild, delicate taste; others are strong and robust with many variations in between. Typical notes include bitter or buttery, grassy or fruity.
Olive oils with added flavourings (such as herbs, spices or fruits) have become trendy items for chefs and amateurs. The taste of the base oil influences what flavourings are added. The base oil is usually mild and is selected to complement (rather than overpower) the additions.
Any flavoured olive oil is an ideal condiment for dipping warm, crusty bread or for mixing with balsamic vinegar for a tasty salad dressing. Here are some other no-fail pairings:
Garlic olive oil—delightful drizzled over pasta, mashed potatoes or sautéed vegetables.
Lemon olive oil—complements light dishes such as seafood, chicken or fresh salads.
Jalapeno or chipotle oil—pairs well with soups or stews and makes a zingy meat marinade.
Herbed olive oil—delicious dribbled over a cheese or meat platter or mixed into a vegetable dip.
Ask for recommendations from friends or family or from your olive oil vendor, such as Evoolution at the Enjoy Centre here in St. Albert.
Decide whether you want the flavours of the food and the oil to be complementary or contrasting, and choose your pairing from there.
Start with an oil infused with elements you know and like; get more adventurous later if you want.
Italian Wisdom “Olio nuovo, vino vecchio” is an old Italian proverb that means “New oil, old wine.” Unlike wine, olive oil does not improve with age, so serve it within three months after opening.
To keep olive oil fresh, store it in a cool, dark place in a tinted glass, ceramic, porcelain or stainless steel container. Make sure the container seals tightly to keep out air.