Olive Oil and Me: A Love Story

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

Olive oil and bread on a table
So...who's hungry?

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.

Images: Getty

13 replies on “Olive Oil and Me: A Love Story”

I use sunflower oil for most of my cooking, and extra virgin olive oil to add flavor later as a dressing or garnish or whatever.

Olive oil in general and extra virgin olive oil in particular have really low smoke points because of the way they’re processed. Sunflower oil (and vegetable oil and grapeseed oil and such, but I’m partial to sunflower oil) has a much higher smoke point so you’re not smoking yourself out of the kitchen every time you try to brown some chicken. And while I love the taste of olive oil, sometimes it’s a little too overpowering for the other flavors I’m using. Using the generic-tasting sunflower oil doesn’t leave a flavor signature over the whole dish like olive oil does, and I can use it sparingly later on to give specific things a little kick if I want.

Is the certain dreaded nickname “evoo”? Yeah, what is that about? Is it because people can’t say, read or write the word “virgin”, even when it’s referring to oil? The first time I came across a recipe asking for evoo, I thought it was one of those weird concoctions that people use instead of oil, like Pam cooking spray. I remember thinking “these Americans and their weird processed ingredients, why don’t they just use oil instead?”

I don’t know a lot about the production of olive oil, but I think the extra virgin stuff is what you get when you first press the olives, so it’s like the purest “olive juice” you can get. Once the extra virgin stuff has been extracted, the resulting pulp is pressed a few other times, to get all the oil they can from it. This may involve heating it and/or adding chemicals, which lessens the quality of the resulting oil.

Rachel Ray is particularly annoying because not only does she use the cutesy “EVOO” abbreviation, she EXPLAINS IT EVERY SINGLE TIME. So it’s not a short cut if you’re saying, “EVOO – that’s extra virgin olive oil” instead of just saying, “extra virgin olive oil” in the first place!

I hate her. She’s not even a real chef. She doesn’t belong on Food Network. Arrrrggghhhhhbrainmeltdown.

If you’re local to the NYC metro area, get thyself to a Fairway Market immediately, as they have some of the most delicious olive oils from all over–everything from Pugilese to this gloriously spicy Catalonian oil that I have to try every Sunday we’re in the store. You get the story of the olive oil on every bottle practically (or at least on the shelf) and most of the exotic kinds (save for extra-special ones) run less than $20 for a liter–which I realize is not cheap, but if you’re looking for something special it’s worth the splurge.

If you go to their website you can even order it, which is almost as good.

[Full disclosure: I do not work for Fairway. I just shop the Harlem store a LOT, the 74th St. store when we’re in the neighborhood and I’ve been to the Stamford store once.]

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