I’ve always loved olive oil. I’m half Italian; it kind of comes with the territory. I grew up used to it being in pasta sauces, drizzled on dishes, and placed in nice glass bottles on the table to be used for dipping bread. The very first grocery trip I went on in my first apartment, when I was overwhelmed with my first-ever totally empty pantry and kitchen, one of the ten (comically incompatible) things I bought was a big bottle of extra virgin olive oil.
So you can imagine my surprise when several years ago, after a lifetime of olive oil enjoyment, always believing that extra virgin was the best, I heard my now-spouse say that he preferred “regular” olive oil to extra virgin. WHAT. What did that even mean? I had honestly never even glanced at the other options at the store, and buying a bottle that said simply “pure olive oil” and contained such a yellowy-looking product was a nerve-wracking experience.
Don’t worry, I still keep the good stuff around, and use it frequently. But I wanted to at least try “pure olive oil” and see if Mr. McDoogal was onto something. While he loves dipping bread in extra virgin, he finds the flavor too strong and dominant when used for cooking. Yes, I know. He’s wrong. I haven’t the slightest shred of understanding as to why he feels this way. Now, I understand that some people make this decision for financial reasons. Extra virgin olive oil, its quality representing the upper percentile of olive oil produced, is expensive. Sometimes prohibitively so. But this? This was a decision based on taste.
If you’re anything like me, you know basically what extra virgin olive oil is, but may not know exactly what classifies it as such. It’s kind of like that big word that you can use in a sentence but, if pressed, wouldn’t be able to define properly. Extra virgin (or even just virgin) olive oil is considered by the powers that be to be the best-tasting olive oil. It has low acidity ““ acid being the enemy of that delicious olive-oily taste.
Therefore, extra virgin olive oil does not need to be blended with other oils or treated with chemicals in order to soften the bitter flavor as does its inferior cousin. Anything that’s
labeled “olive oil” in the grocery store, but isn’t called extra virgin, is still olive oil. It has, however, either been refined or blended with a milder-tasting oil. (In other words: slutty!)
Olive oil contains the healthier unsaturated fats, as evidenced by the fact that it is liquid at room temperature (saturated fats are solid. Think of bacon). While it can be high in calories, it contains no cholesterol and is a great substitute for butter in many circumstances. While I consider olive oil, despite its Mediterranean origins, to be pretty popular in the US, we lag behind countries Spain, Italy and Greece in terms of consumption. (Unsurprisingly, those countries are also the world’s major producers of the stuff.)
So I don’t mind using pure olive oil once in a while. Just like I don’t mind mixing it up sometimes with some basil- or lemon-flavored olive oil too. When you love it as much as I do, you’ll take it in pretty much any form. (You’ll note I haven’t used a certain dreaded nickname) Anyway, it’s dinner time, and I think I need to make something with olive oil immediately. Extra virgin, of course.