Tom's Supermarket Picks: quality oils at good prices

Since launching Truth in Olive Oil, many people have asked me which oil they should buy at their local supermarket, warehouse club or mass merchandiser. This is a vital question, and deserves a good answer. One of the critical factors in improving olive oil quality in North America is to raise the bar in supermarkets, where the vast majority of Americans get their oil. As the level of supermarket offerings improves, it will be a rising tide of quality that floats all boats, ensuring a supply of real extra virgins to consumers, acting as “gateway oils” to point people towards premium, “grand cru” oils, and at the same time, selling more good oil that supports honest oil-makers out in the groves.

While most of the very best oils are available in olive oil boutiques, delicatessens, and other specialty shops, it’s important to know that good, even very good oils can sometimes be found supermarkets. (And as I’ll be writing soon, some very pretty boutique stores actually sell low-grade, even adulterated oils – so caveat emptor!) Helping people find quality oils at good prices – in addition to celebrating the very best olive oils on the planet – is a vital part of Truth in Olive Oil’s mission. Think of Beaujolais nouveau and first-growth Bordeaux. The former compliments and spreads appreciation of the latter, and vice versa, in a virtuous circle that expands consumer knowledge and discernment. That’s exactly what should be happening in olive oil.

What’s more, fine olive oil needn’t cost an arm and a leg, as the supermarket oils listed below, and others I hope to identify soon, all prove. Some producers reduce costs using highly mechanized “super high density” and “medium high density” production models. Others can maintain low prices because their groves are located in areas where labor, land and other costs are relatively modest, such as Chile and parts of North Africa. And even in the heart of the Mediterranean, certain producers and oil-merchants know how to grow and source quality oil at modest prices. So while ultra-low prices (below, say, $8 per liter – but ultimately a store sets its own retail prices, and can even choose to take a loss in order to draw customers to the store, so retail price isn't always a good indicator) can call what’s in the bottle into question, some modestly-priced olive oils – like those below – are better than many premium-priced products, whose price is actually the only “premium” thing about them.

The key to good oil is freshness, so check the label for best by date, or ideally for harvest date, to make sure you're getting the freshest oil possible. 

The oils listed below are my own choices; I’ve tasted them all myself. Some I’ve run across on my own, others have been pointed out to me by visitors to this website, by friends & family, by producers, and by other oleophiles. THIS IS BY NO MEANS A COMPLETE LIST! In fact, it will only contain a fraction of the honest extra virgin olive oils available in supermarkets throughout North America. The good news is that more and more good olive oils are available in mass-market stores, and this list should grow rapidly. Please write a comment with your reactions to these oils, and share your thoughts on which oils should be added to the list.

Tom’s Supermarket Picks (in alphabetical order):

  • 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 (see the store locator).  Note that their Limited Reserve is the highest-quality oil, unfiltered and from olives picked during the first 2 weeks of harvest (reviewed here).  "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.” I profile Dino Cortopassi, founder of the company, in Extra Virginity.
  • 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.
  • Lucini – a wide range of fine oils, led by the top-of-the-line Limited Reserve Premium Select oil. I quibble with the clear glass bottles, which impair the shelf life, but as long as the oil is fresh it’s first-rate, and is widely available across North America. See the store locator.  Lucini Premium Select is their finest oil, made on a a single estate near Bolgheri, in the Maremma region of Tuscany.  Their Estate Select oil is made from olives grown in various estates in central Italy; since it's sourced from a wider group of farmers, it costs less.  
  • 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!
  • O-Live – available at stores across Canada, and in selected US stores (including HEB in Texas). See the store locator (which sources tell me isn’t always 100% reliable).
  • 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. (Note: In the past, Valco Enterprises, producer of Ottavio, and Axiom Enterprises, producer of Omaggio, have both supported Truth in Olive Oil. Read here for what this means.)
  • 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.  (See here for details.)
  • Whole Foods California 365 – The Whole Foods 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 über alles.

As mentioned above, there are likely to be many more good supermarket oils not included in this list. Please suggest some, and I’ll try them out as soon as I can.

Comments

I live in the US but have a

I live in the US but have a home in Pescara Italy. I try to bring as much local oil back to the US as possible. Our home is in Collecorvino which is bewteen Pescara and Penne. Nearby, between the cool, clean breeze of the Gran Sasso Mountains and the sea, there exists a small town called Loreto Aprutino where we buy oil from the SCAL Coop. I can tell you that I have never tasted true EVO until I tasted this stuff... Pure liquid gold. They use it in a local restaurant called Da Carmine and when poured on the plate, it glows an almost neon green. Abruzzese oil is a well kept secret.

Hi Tom. You have absolutely

Hi Tom. You have absolutely visit Loreto Aprutino. We have a 2000 history of production of extra virgin olive oil. In Loreto we have 16 oil mills and almost all family owns some hectar of olive tree. Moreover, it is a wonderful little town.
When and if you want to visit Loreto you can contact us. We will be proud to show you the home Abruzzo of extra virgin olive oil.
Regards.

I agree, I passed by SCAL in

I agree, I passed by SCAL in Loreto in december 2013, a few weeks after they picked up the new olive, I bought a 5 liters just pressed a few days before, ..., just the best thing you could taste in your life !

It's important to remind

It's important to remind readers that in addition to just the brand, it is extremely important to know when the oil was pressed. It doesn't matter what brand it is, if the oil is older than 18 months from pressing, forget it; the benefits are gone.

I was by turns excited and

I was by turns excited and disappointed when I saw production dates on the oils at Whole Foods; excited that they were there at all, but disappointed that none was more recent than about 18 months and some were even older.

Alana,

Alana,

Unfortunately, you can't unless you physically go to their outlet. The manager would not even ship a case to me even though I promised to order at-least one case every few months. They date all of the bottles as to production and when to use by... The bottle I have at home is San Zopito and the expiry date was 18 months after after the production date. They are honest and somewhat of a smaller operation.
Tony

I acted on your review of "

I acted on your review of " Whole Foods California 365" and dressed a salad with it last evening. Wonderful ! Taste for a change, not taste and "oilyness" as some EVOs give. Thanks for the recommendation.

Thank you, thank you, thank

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Tom! I was getting a lot of questions as to which supermarket oils are the real deal. I'm quite happy to hear that the Costco Toscano in my pantry is on the list, but I'll enjoy trying all the others, too.

California Olive Ranch EVOO

California Olive Ranch EVOO is on our supermarket shelves on a regular basis, unfortunately they also regularly run from a press date of 2009 to 2011. Although I try to pick the freshest there, I regret having another customer behind me be forced into buying an earlier pressing and maybe not getting the wonderful flavors of the freshest products.

We are producers of prize

We are producers of prize-winning EVO in central Tuscany and guarantee the quality of our oil for 24 months. The regulations require us to put an expiry date of 18 months on the label, but it is all a bit arbitrary. Sure, the oil loses some of its peppery taste etc but it is still good, especially if kept in a dark bottle (NEVER buy EVO in a clear bottle!). I found a bottle of our 2004 oil the other day and was amazed how good it was and how green it still was - after 8 years!

Freshness is the number one

Freshness is the number one key factor to taste quality and health benefits in olive oil. EVOO is a fruit juice that is pressed from a fruit on a tree. Would you squeeze an orange and drink the juice a year later? Even though EVOO has more natural preservative properties than most fruits, even the highest quality EVOO will be a shadow of its former self after 12 months, and starting to develop negative taste defects after that. All EVOO will begin to decompose and oxidize the day it is pressed and continue to lose taste and health benefits the older it becomes. This is an undeniable fundamental Chemistry fact and comments like the one from the producer saying his oil was still good and green after 8 years is outright fraud. Harvest date is the most important characteristic of an EVOO. If you want to taste good EVOO, make sure you buy a bottle that was HARVESTED within one year.

Of course EVOO loses its

Of course EVOO loses its properties over time; that's no secret. Jeff is right on that but didn't read my comment carefully enough. My point was that I was surprised at how good the oil tasted; it wouldn't have had all health benefits of eight years before but it was delicious. Not every EVOO is the same year in year out; there can be enormous differences. If he thinks my statement was 'outright fraud', let him please come by and taste it! People who are passionate about olive oil are always welcome here.

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,
Does you recommendation of an oil mean you know somehow that it is pure evo from the origins it claims on the bottle and not mixed with lesser quality oils?

Found this little shop in

Found this little shop in Fairfax, VA, Olio2go that sells just about every type of olive oil from Italy. Plus they sell pasta, spices, honey & sea salt, all imported from Italy. Very reasonable price for excellant olive oils. I highly recommend this shop.

I believe that is among the

I believe that is among the most vital info for me.
And i'm glad reading your article. However should observation on some common things, The web site taste is great, the articles is in point of fact nice : D. Good task, cheers

Tom,

Tom,

Thanks for posting the infomation. I've been able to find Lucini and Calif. Olive Ranch products at the nearest Big Y(chain store)supermarket. REALLY Great oils at affordable prices.

Gerry

Loved your book!!

Tom,

Tom,

Big Y supermarkets is a regional chain located in Conecticut and Mass.

They were listed as a source when I looked up store locations for Lucini. Lo and behold they also carry COR too as well as
EVOO products from Cat Cora, Paul Newman, and some other TV network celebraties.

Have you sampled any of

Have you sampled any of Fairway Market's Private Label EVOOs -- and if so, any opinions?

Here is the list in their current Holiday 2012 magazine (Issue 3):

Barbera Sicilian
Trevi-Umbria
California
Gata-Hurdes Extremadura
Pugliese
Catalan Arbequina
Baena
Australian Picual
Greek Koroneki
Luque Early Harvest
Picholine Languedoc
Naturvie
Italian Riviera Taggiasca
Cabeco das Nogueras

Thanks.

It's the best time to make

It's the best time to make some plans for the long run and it is time to be happy. I've learn
this post and if I could I desire to suggest you some interesting issues or suggestions.
Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this
article. I wish to learn more things approximately it!

Thanks for asking this

Thanks for asking this question! I love the Gata-Hurdes oil but would love to hear more feedback on any/all of the Fairway line and how they rate.

Thanks!

I love this site! Since

I love this site! Since reading your book I've been sampling more expensive oils. I've really enjoyed the Fairway oils, but being a newbie I don't think I could tell if someone flavored up some of it with "beta carotene and chlorophyll" or if it's the real deal. Also, why wouldn't someone who's into oil date their bottles and use green glass? (I keep mine covered in a brown paper bag).
I think people like you and the ability we finally have to communicate globally will weed out the unscrupulous among us. You're setting a clear example of how this global community thing is really starting to work!

I find Pompeiian EVO to be a

I find Pompeiian EVO to be a good oil at a very reasonable price. It used to be all Spanish, but is now a blend. Fruity. Also Trader Joe's Spanish EVO. Sharper than the former, but also a good value.

I buy half my olive oil at a

I buy half my olive oil at a supermarket, and half at a specialty olive oil store (a VF store). The former, I have been buying at Costco (the Toscano version). Unfortunately, the last three times I've visited (so going on 3-4 months now), the stores in my area have not had the Toscano stocked, and it looks like they won't be anytime soon. Instead, I bought a new oil carried at Costco called: Tasso's. The label claimed the oil was award-winning, estate bottled, and it did have a date of harvest. But, my palate isn't developed enough to taste if this oil is the real deal. Has anyone tried it? Their website is www.tassos.com

Just finished your book and

Just finished your book and had to get on the computer and do some more research. I was not aware of a lot of the things you mentioned in your book-nor all the history-I found it fascinating. Thank you for the education on EVOO and I cannot wait to taste test all the different kinds out there. It is unfortunate that along with other industry's, it all comes down to the mighty dollar. Why do we sacrifice our health and the health of future generations?
Thanks again and may all your EVOO be true to it's name!

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