In his book Extra Virginity, Tom Mueller takes us through the sublime, scandalous world of olive oil. He discusses how resellers add lower-priced, low-grade oils filled with artificial coloring to extra-virgin olive oil!
In fact, one study demonstrated about 69 percent of olive oil imported and labeled “extra-virgin” failed to meet standards in an expert smell and taste test (standard testing for this type of labeling). That’s outrageous! Thank you Tom for doing the research for us. Here are his findings:
- California Olive Ranch – good fresh extra virgin olive oil, mainly from the arbequina and arbosana cultivars, grown in super high density groves in northern California. Available at a wide range of stores throughout the US. Note that their Limited Reserve is the highest-quality oil, unfiltered and from olives picked during the first 2 weeks of harvest. “Everyday” is the company’s best-seller, with a flexible flavor profile. Arbequina, Arbosana, and Miller’s Blend oils, part of the company’s “gold medal series,” have actually won more medals in olive oil competitions than COR’s other oils, thanks to their distinct flavor profiles.
- Cobram Estate – extra virgin olive oil from a range of cultivars, grown in Australia with the medium high density agronomic model, which has won olive oil competitions including best of show at the 2011 Los Angeles County Fair. Available here:
- Corto Olive – good, fresh super-high-density arbequina oil available at Costco (occasionally), HEB, Zabar’s under the Zabar’s label, Kroger as a specialty label called “Private Selection.”
- Costco Kirkland Toscano – Kirkland is the Costco store brand. I’ve been disappointed by Kirkland Organic EVO (not to mention the “extra virgins” in multi-liter plastic jugs), but the Toscano signature oil is the real deal.
- Oleoestepa – just entering the US retail market, this Spanish cooperative produces excellent oils at competitive prices. Keep an eye out for their oils arriving in shelves near you soon!
- Ottavio and Omaggio – in terms of value for money, I don’t know better oils than Ottavio and Omaggio: a fine balance of fruit, pungency, bitterness that will appeal to a wide audience, at rock-bottom prices. Ottavio is available at HEB and Central Market, and Omaggio is available at Sam’s Club.
- Trader Joe’s – 3 out of the 6 extra virgin oils I tasted in August, 2013 were the real deal. One of these, the Premium 100% Greek Kalamata, was very fresh, spicy, complex at an extremely competitive price (1 liter for $8.99). The California Estate Olive Oil was also a good choice, while the Premium Extra Virgin was decent and defect-free, if a bit uninspiring. The 3 other Trader Joe’s “extra virgins” I tasted were defective.
- Whole Foods California 365 – The Whole Foods 365 store brand from California is good-quality extra virgin olive oil at a great price. In my experience, the other members of the 365 lineup are poor – an odd situation from a company like Whole Foods that preaches quality.
I have not sampled the whole list but I will tell you my two favorites are the California Olive Ranch “Everyday” (a little lighter) and the Premium 100% Greek Kalamata (bold and zesty) from Trader Joe’s. Let me know your favorite!