What does "Extra Virgin" mean? In Europe, strict criteria must be met before an olive oil may be labeled as "Extra Virgin". Essentially the oil must pass two tests:
A chemical analysis: acidity level, peroxide level and UV absorbencyA sensory evaluation: taste test
Interestingly there are no corresponding rules in the United States. This lack of regulation in the US allows European producers to ship and sell us olive oil that would fail the European criteria and still call it "Extra Virgin". So purchasing an imported "extra virgin" olive oil does not guarantee quality - in fact you could be getting ripped off!
In California, growers have adopted a voluntary set of criteria established by the California Olive Oil Council, which meet or exceed the European standards. All olive oils sold at il Fustino are guaranteed to meet either the European or COOC certification for Extra Virgin.
Unlike wine, olive oil does not improve with age. However, because of its high level of monounsaturated fat and initially low oleic acid, Extra Virgin oil will last longer than other oils if properly stored. Enemies of olive oil's longevity are light, oxygen, time and temperature. Reducing any of these factors will increase the useful life of your oil and retain its peak flavor longer.
While it may look pretty in a clear bottle, oil should be stored in a dark colored glass bottle and kept in a dark place. Ultraviolet light, especially fluorescent lights can degrade oil more quickly. Besides being environmentally unfriendly, oil in some plastic containers can pick up unpleasant flavors. At il Fustino, all oils are sold in dark green glass bottles to protect them from light. We keep all oils in light-proof stainless steel tanks or in a darkroom.
The amount of air in the container will accelerate degradation. Keep oil in small bottles and tightly capped when not in use. We inject nitrogen into our fusti displacing all the air, so no oxidation can occur while the oil is stored.
Try to use oil 6 months after purchasing and buy no more than you will need. Label oils with the purchase date, so you know which are the oldest and use them first. Discard any oil that is older than one year and never combine older oils with fresher ones. We turn our inventory rapidly and purchase only recently pressed oils to insure freshness. All our oils come pre-labeled with the sales date and the type of oil.
You can store oil in the refrigerator without harming it. It can even be frozen without damage! However, cold oil has little aroma. If you are going to use it on a salad or to dip bread, let it come to room temperature. The ideal place to store oil is in your wine cellar at 57 °F (if you are lucky enough to have one) but you may forget that you have it if it is not stored where you keep your other condiments. If it is kept at 70°F (25°C), it will be fine. Just don't store it over the stove or refrigerator. Our oils are stored in a temperature-controlled darkroom until they are ready to be sold and then we only refill fusti 5 gallons at a time.
Color: Surprisingly the color of olive oil has little or nothing to do with its taste or quality. Most people assume that the "greener" the oil the better the taste and quality. In fact, color is not an indicator of either. Professional tasters actually use special blue glasses to mask the color of the oil so it will not bias their opinions.
Consistency: Olive oil should be smooth with a pronounced body, not thick and syrupy or watery and thin. Consistency is an indicator of the extraction process and smooth consistency insures the oil was produced by natural methods, not heated or chemically extracted.
Taste: of course is a complex, experiential sense, combining smell, taste, mouth-feel and psychology. Before tasting make sure your palette is clear. Drinking a bit of water helps. We strongly recommend NOT tasting with bread. Bread obscures the pure flavor of the oil. Instead we recommend directly drinking the oil following the rule of "The 4 S's:"
First, warm the oil in the palm of your hand. Optimal temperature for tasting oil is room temperature or about 70 degrees. Warming it will release the aroma. Swirling it will coat the cup or glass and molecules of oil will be released into the air. You may even want to cover the top of the container with your other hand to hold in the aroma as it warms until you are ready to....
You are looking for a fresh "green" "grassy" or "fruity" aroma of olives. There should be no hint of rancidity, like old nuts. If there is stop right here. Nor should there be a "fusty" or "musty" odor. Olives that are not immediately sent to the mill can start to ferment or mildew. Oils will vary from a strong to light odor, but should always smell fresh. Get ready to....
This is the fun part and it is definitely acceptable and advised to slurp rather than sip! You don't have to drink a lot, but you want to take in enough to coat your entire mouth and tongue and activate all your taste buds. If you must sip, rather than slurp, inhale some air through your mouth to spread the oil around. You will notice some bitterness. This is a good thing. Bitterness indicates the presence of phenols, which indicate the oil is still young. As oil ages, phenols oxidize (combine with oxygen), which is why they are called antioxidants. As you taste different oils, and you should to compare differences, you will notice different levels of bitterness. Now you can finally....
As you do, you should detect a kind of throat tickle or a bit of burning; you may even cough. This is the pungency of the olive oil reacting with the membranes of your throat. It can range from smooth to spicy or peppery; the degree of pungency will vary with the oil.
3 Taste Indicators you are looking for
Fruitiness: Any positive organic smell or taste. Oils may smell or taste of green apples, grass, pepper, orange, or even wild flowers.
Bitterness: A good sign in fresh olive oils, indicating the presence of antioxidants and freshness. Bitterness will dissipate over time.
Pungency: A piquant or biting tactile sensation indicating the presence of unripe olives; it may produce a mild burning sensation and cause you to cough.
Selecting an Oil
Now you have tasted 3 or 4 oils and you have some appreciation for the differences, what you want to do is consider what you will use them for. A pungent somewhat bitter oil will stand up well to strong flavors like onions, bleu cheese, and ripe tomatoes. A milder oil might be a better choice for a simple salad of mixed greens. But is is really up to you! Just like you probably did when you began drinking wine and went for the sweeter brands first, then evolved your tastes towards more acidic and assertive varieties, your taste in olive oil will evolve and develop as well.
The Mediterranean-style diet, rich in olive oil, has proven valuable to the health of the people of that region for thousands of years. In recent years, this diet's benefits have been scientifically investigated, acknowledged, and promoted for good health, including weight management.
Olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, promotes heart health by decreasing "bad" LDL cholesterol without reducing the "good" HDL cholesterol. The invisible healers within this "liquid gold" also work to prevent cancer, inflammation, and may even play a helpful role in diabetes and weight loss.
Research indicates that replacing other types of fats with monounsaturated fats, especially olive oil, helps people lose weight without additional food restriction or physical activity (although doing so would further increase weight-loss!). A number of studies showed that when people substituted monounsaturated fat-rich olive oil for saturated fat, they ate less food and either maintained or lost weight. Other studies indicate that monounsaturated fats actually help the body to burn stored fat.
Olive oil is a good source of vitamin E, beta-carotine, and polyphenolic compounds, all of which help fight cancer by reducing free radicals.