Harvested olives in Crete, Greece for olive oil production.

You’re OIL I need

High-quality olive oils offer superior taste and significant health benefits

I recently had the privilege of teaching a class at the Chef’s Table at Touch of Italy that explored the vast world of olive oil.  This was one of the many classes I will lead this summer, and it allowed me to share my firsthand knowledge of this remarkable, globally essential ingredient.  A few years ago, I even had the pleasure of experiencing olive oil production firsthand with  Corto Olive Oil in Lodi, California. At Corto, I witnessed the age-old tradition of olive farming perfectly blended with modern milling techniques to ensure and preserve the freshness of the fruit. Corto’s dedication to protecting the olives’ natural flavor and health benefits was evident, and it confirmed my belief that the best olive oils come from people who genuinely care about the integrity of the fruit and the process.

One of the topics we covered during the class was the lack of transparency in the olive oil industry as, unfortunately, crooked practices have occurred in the production and distribution of olive oil. For example, some olive oil brands try to mix high-quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) with different oils like soybean or sunflower. These contaminated products are then sold as pure EVOO, deceiving consumers about the product’s actual quality and value. Producers sometimes claim that their olive oils come from prestigious regions like Tuscany or Crete, even if they are sourced from less renowned areas. The olive oil industry has recently made strides towards better transparency and authenticity. More regulatory bodies, certifications, and rigorous testing have been established to protect consumers and uphold the integrity of high-quality olive oil.

During our class we conducted a group blind tasting of various olive oils, ranging from exceptional to mediocre. We discussed the qualities of good olive oil and used all our senses to evaluate the many samples. One of the samples was Piro Olive Oil from Tuscany, generally recognized as high quality.   We also sampled olive oils from local grocery stores, including Aldi, Giant, and Fresh Market. These ranged from decent to disappointingly bland. Some had the fresh, fruity aroma characteristic of good olive oil, while others had off-flavors indicative of poor handling, blending, and processing. It was an eye-opening experience for everybody who attended the class. It highlighted the importance of discerning the right olive oil for the price point and flavor profile that best suits your needs. 

We also explored the different regions of olive oil production and some of their flavors and characteristics:

Italy: Known for producing a wide range of flavors. Tuscany, for example, offers robust, peppery oils like Piro, while regions like Liguria produce delicate, fruity oils.

Spain: The largest producer of olive oil, known for robust and intense flavors, particularly from the Picual olive.

Greece: Famous for its Koroneiki olive, which produces an intense, fruity, and peppery oil.

California: An emerging region producing high-quality oils with diverse flavor profiles, often fruity and fresh.

France: Typically produces delicate and subtly flavored olive oils, often with a nutty or floral aroma.

Morocco: Known for robust and spicy oils, often with a distinctive earthy flavor.

Australia: Produces high-quality oils with a wide range of flavors, from fruity and mild to robust and peppery.

Argentina: Emerging as a significant producer, offering olive oils with a balance of fruity and bitter notes, often with a fresh, grassy aroma.

High-quality olive oils offer superior taste and significant health benefits due to their higher levels of antioxidants and healthy fats. They can elevate a simple dish, turning it into something extraordinary.  Whether a seasoned chef or a home cook, choosing the right olive oil for the right recipe can make all the difference in your culinary creations.

Chef Hari Cameron is a renowned culinary expert, consultant and restaurateur. He has received critical acclaim for his modern farm-to-table approach to cooking and has been recognized for his numerous contributions to the hospitality industry. With a passion for using the highest quality Mid-Atlantic ingredients, Chef Cameron has become a leading voice in today’s culinary landscape.

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