What to do once you’ve used up every drop of that fruity, creamy olive oil pressed straight from the orchard at the dreamy villa you rented last summer in Tuscany—besides planning another vacation? Head straight to the grocery store, of course. But be warned: Although every grocery store has a house olive oil that bills itself as top quality, not all olive oil is created equal.
Here, two experts impart tips for shopping for quality olive oil stateside.
Count the countries of origin.
Lots of bottles will proclaim themselves as Mediterranean blends; in those cases, make sure there are no more than three countries of origins listed. Any more than that, says Salvatore Asaro, president and CEO of Botticelli Foods, a line of Italian culinary products, and you’re probably facing a low-quality oil.
Don’t be fooled by high prices.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: “You should expect to pay $12 per liter for a good-quality oil, and $15 per liter for a premium oil,” Asaro notes. Adam Halberg, senior vice president of Barcelona Wine Bar, a Spanish tapas bar with locations throughout the country, adds that paying less than $10 for a 375-milliliter extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) “is likely not going to give you anything convincing, but paying over $20 to $30 offers you no promise of anything better.”
Note the harvest year.
Note the year on the bottle—that’s when the olive oil was harvested. “Olives are harvested in the autumn and pressed as quick as feasible,” Halberg says, noting that they go rancid quickly once off the tree. “Having olives that were pressed soon after being picked is key.” By this logic, Asaro says, a 2016 harvest date indicates the freshest oil available.”
Buy what you’ll use.
An oil’s taste will change with age, even when it’s still in its prime; the taste also worsens after the bottle has been opened. Given its minimal shelf life, Halberg advocates for “only buying olive oil in bottle sizes that you know you will go through relatively quickly.”
Scan labels for misleading info.
The international olive oil industry is poorly regulated; hence, misleading labels like “Product of Greece,” even when olives were collected in Spain or northern Africa and pressed into oil in Greece, Halberg says. “There are famous oils out there that use the name of Italian towns for their brand names, but have fine print on the bottles noting that the olives are from Turkey or Greece,” he says. To avoid this, purchase olive oil directly from a producer, co-op, or well-trusted retail shop or restaurant.
This story was originally published by Jenn Rice on Tasting Table.
Jenn Rice is a food and travel writer constantly traveling for cheese, tacos and kouign-amann pastries. Follow her on Instagram at @jennricewrites.