All of the studies seem to agree—extra virgin olive oil is the way to go. It has the most potency health-wise, and the best flavor. So you just grab the nearest bottle that says “extra virgin” and you’re good to go, right?
Fraid not. The olive oil world was thrown into chaos last year by a report out of the University of California, Davis. After studying, testing, and tasting a wide sample of oils purchased in three major cities in California, the panel concluded that many of the ones labeled “extra virgin” were in fact less than virginal—they failed to meet most IOC standards for such labeling, and were inferior in taste and health benefits. They were either blends of better and lesser oils, in some cases completely different oils like nut or seed oils; or they had been made from inferior olives or had just been poorly stored with resulting degradation. Many of these mislabeled oils were brands found on most supermarket shelves. (Read the report at http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu.) Subsequently, the USDA issued its first revision of standards for olive oil labeling since 1948.
So how can you be sure you’re getting what you paid that premium price for? There are a few things you can do. For California oils, look for the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) seal or the North American Olive Oil Council (NAOOC) seal, and seek out small producers, who grow, press, and bottle the oil themselves. For imports, it gets tougher. “Cold-pressed” and “first pressing” on the label are good signs, but no guarantee that the oil is extra virgin. I’ve had the best success with regional and site-specific producers, where the oil is clearly labeled as to its origins. Avoid mass-market brands and pay a little more—you’ll get a whole lot more in return.
You want your olive oil to be a fresh as possible—some Italian oils come with a bottling date, which is excellent. Only buy what you can use in a short period of time, and store excess in the fridge. Keep only what you need for a week or so at room temperature. Clear bottles are a no-no; dark and cool is the way to go, so tinted bottles or metal containers are preferable. And store your current bottle away from the stove and out of the light to keep it at its best.
Ultimate Cesar Salad
A healthy interpretation of the classic! Make your own homemade croutons with a cubed baguette baked with a drizzle of garlic olive oil.
3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2 anchovies, mashed
1 medium clove garlic, minced
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large head of romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup shredded reggiano parmesan croutons for garnish
PER SERVING: 226 CAL; 29 G PROT; 12 G TOTAL FAT ( 2 G SAT FAT); 4 G CARB; 65 MG CHOL; 904 MG SOD; 1 G FIBER; 1 G SUGARS