Choosing the Best Olive Oil

We asked Nicholas Coleman, the “oleologist” (that’s an olive oil-tasting expert) from Grove and Vine, for his tips on selecting a good one.

First thing: Ignore the color—a greener oil is not necessarily an indication of quality. Evaluate on smell and taste alone. If the store doesn’t let you sample, you may have to endure some trial and error at home. Freshly pressed olive oil will have a plethora of aromas, from freshly cut grass, herbs, and flowers to almonds and tomato vines. Avoid oil that smells like wax, crayons, wine, or vinegar.

Opt for extra-virgin, which has passed both a chemical and a sensory test, and avoid “light” olive oil—typically a blend of inferior and virgin olive oils. (In some cases, it is a blend of 70 percent vegetable oil and only 30 percent pure olive oil). And don’t pick a bottle solely because of its country of origin. “No single region or country has a monopoly on quality,” Coleman said. “It’s about the individual producer. If they are pruning the tree correctly, harvesting at the right time, coddling their olives from tree to mill and extracting at the correct temperature under sanitary conditions, then top notch oil can be produced around the world.“

The key to enjoying olive oil is in its freshness. Store in a cool, dark place away from the stove (light causes oil to degrade), and be sure to use within three months of opening. If decanting it into another container, be sure it is perfectly clean, dry, and has no odor.

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