QUALITY AND TASTE:
HOW TO PICK AN OLIVE OIL
It can be very confusing...extra virgin, virgin, light, pomace, filtered, cold pressed, stone milled, organic — the list goes on and on. There are a few keys to choosing the right olive oil: first is knowing the types of olive oil available, the second is considering what you will use it for. Learning the different grades of olive oil and their characteristics will help you make sense of what you read on labels.
The basics of olive oils are fairly simple, though. Olive oil is produced principally in Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey Portugal, Tunisia, Morocco, and California. As with wine, the flavor can vary dramatically depending on the source, the variety of olive, the soil conditions, weather, etc. Some olive oils are single-estate oils, that is, an oil from a single variety of olive. Others, including most Italian oils, are blends of oils from different types of olives and different countries.
GRADES OF OLIVE OIL
Although there are many grades and definitions, the most important factor is how the oil was obtained from the olive. Extra virgin olive oil is obtained from the olive only, using solely mechanical or other physical means, in conditions, particularly thermal conditions, which do not alter the oil in any way.
Olive oil is pressed from the ripe olives after they are harvested. Oil from the first pressing is classified as virgin. Extra virgin is the highest grade of olive oil and simply means an oil from the first pressing that is particularly low in acid — less than 1%. It is considered the finest oil, and is likely to have the fruitiest and most pronounced flavor. Virgin olive oil may have as much as 4% acid.
Fino or fine olive oil is a blend of extra virgin and virgin olive oils, with an acid content not above 3%. After the first pressing, more oil can be extracted in subsequent operations using a combination of pressure, heat, and chemical solvents. These refined oils may be blended with virgin oil to replace some of the flavor lost in the processing, and are sold as pure olive oil or just olive oil.
Refined olive oil is obtained by treating low quality or defective virgin olive oil with the use of charcoal and other chemical and physical filters. An obsolete equivalent is “pure olive oil.” Note that no solvents are used in the refining process. The term olive oil, when used alone, refers to a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil.
Pomace is the ground flesh and pits left after the extraction process. According to the IOOC, all olive-pomace oils are obtained by treating it with solvents or other physical treatments. Within the olive-pomace oils category, oil specifically labeled as olive-pomace oil is a blend of virgin olive oil and refined pomace oil.