Getting Great Oil: the list begins

oil photo
(photo by Francesca Mueller)

As announced, I’ve compiled a guide to getting great oil (there's a permanent tab in my navigation bar under Great Olive Oil, called "Great Olive Oils of the World" that will take you there). It’s still work in progress, and will grow and evolve a great deal over the coming months and years, so check in again soon for updates. This is my personal first cut at places to get great olive oil in America, and brands from various parts of the world to watch for. For now my focus is on the North American market, though this will also evolve with time.

In the Producers & vendors by state section, I mention both producers – growers and millers – who grow their own olives and make their own oil (primarily in California), and retailers who sell fine oils made for the most part by others. In the list of Selected brands by nation – for now Italy, Spain and Greece – I’ve listed brands that I’ve tried and loved, or know through totally reliable sources, though not all of these brands are currently distributed in the US. (I’m working on fixing this, too!)

This list does not include all, or even most, of the best oils in the world – I'll insert many hundreds more oils over time. Just to take two examples: 1) I haven’t mentioned a single Australian olive oil, though on average Australian oils may be the highest quality on earth – a generous range of Australian oils are coming soon; and 2) by rights Costco should be on this list, because though I haven’t been happy with every oil I’ve found in their stores, I’ve found their Kirkland store brand to be acceptable, and the Corto Olive oils which they sell to be both very good and reasonably-priced.

Despite its current limitations, this list is the first resource of its kind, in a market where labels on olive oil bottles simply don’t indicate the quality of the oil inside, and where trust in a person, a brand, a store, or an institution is the only way to ensure you’re getting excellent oil.

Comments

Do you know how to read a label in extra virgin olive oil?
Here are few tips:

Has to mention that the extra virgin olive oil is the first cold press result of the olives (Cold extracted)
Has to mention that is solely made from olives only.
Has to have the PGI sign (Protected Geographical Indication) a certificate that guarantees that the olives are from specific area only.
Has to mention the acidity level!!!!! The most important factor for a good quality extra virgin olive oil. The acidity has to be between 0% – 0.8%, but as close to 0% acidity level you get the best quality you have. Top extra virgin olive oils have around 0.3% acidity.
If you see all of the above on the label, buy it!!!
More info at http://www.lakoniaoliveoil.co.uk/products/phileos-olive-oil.php
HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Yes and no, Chris. More no than yes, actually:
1) "First cold press" is a meaningless and anachronistic term that is used by most bad guys as well as good.
2) Doesn't need to mention "solely olives" - this is extra virgin olive oil, right? That's a given.
3) PDO is more restrictive & indicative of quality than PGI
4) Doesn't need to mention acidity level. Free fatty acidity is indeed one of the indices of good oil, but by no means the only one, and an oil can have acceptable FFA and yet be defective in taste.

But thanks for writing and starting this conversation!
Tom

Tom,
I think I have in my hands a great extra virgin olive oil.
I would like to send you a sample, is that possible?
I am proud to represent this local Greek cooperative from Lakonia, Greece (Ancient Sparta) and the olive oil Phileos is top quality.
Please tell me if it is possible to send you a sample and if yes can I have your details please.
You can visit my site for more info http://lakoniaoliveoil.co.uk

You have done a great Job!
Chris Nikolaou

Hi Chris – I'm always eager to taste new oils (all the more from storied regions like Lakonia!), and to build my own personal repertoire. I'll contact you via email w/ the details.

I agree first cold press is a holdover from the old days of olive oil marketing. Unfortunately consumers think it actually means something and demand it.

extracted solely form olives is an old stamp used in greece, in the Greek domestic market you need to have it for evoo.

Acidity is also I believe a very simplistic measure of just one characteristic of evoo. If I could only have one criteria, I'd want to taste an oil first, then know its peroxides, K232, acidity, and preferably its DAG score.

Greece has good oils, but the problem is that 95% of Greek's themselves don't know a good oil, we believe we somehow inherited knowledge of oil from our grandfather's, and that "my village has the best olive Oil". I visit over 50 mills every harvest, including my own family's both in Messinia and Halkidiki in the north, and its always a struggle talking to the old timers about olive oil.

Also the practice of taking the best early harvest oil and "sweetening it" with last years oil to make it "better" just shows you how much most Greeks know of oil. Of course there are the connoisseurs who appreciate "agoureleo", but its a rarity, and because of this, the mills don't produce the best oils. They increase the temp of the olive paste, run the malaxer longer and faster, etc.

Greece has a lot of good or premium evoo, also some amount of what I call super premium, and very little ultra premium. They can produce it, but there is no commercial advantage to producing it, since people either don't want it at all and prefer the sweet stuff, and certainly don't pay more for it.

NIck,

I totally agrre with TOm, but also be aware that they are some EVOO out there that are not DOP that can still be excellent.

Also the first Cold press is ONLY a marketing word to me, and to many professional evoo tester like me. You can produce a liquid gold from Bad olives on a first cold press and still not obtain a EVOO.

Also to all the readers be aware what does say on the label as the country of origin. For Example if your bottle of Evoo say Made in Italy, Packed in Italy or imported from Italy, for sure IS NOT ITALIAN. Does not mean is not good, but most of the time IS NOT GOOD.......

I have been preaching all those things for ages in USA and still is shocking me that in USa we spend more money for OIL for your vehicle and not for EVOO for your own body..........

Hopefully will change.

Good luck with your evoo

Ciao Mario Rizzotti
Iron Chef america Judge

Youc an also go on www.academiabarilla.com and watch on video how to ( on a shorter version) can taste evoo the priofessional way. Ciao

I agree completely, Mario:

DOP is an additional layer of quality control, but many excellent small producers don't have the patience, or the cash, to be part of the DOP bureaucracy.

It is great to see a pro chef who really understands extra virgin olive oil - the real stuff - and is spreading the word. I'm constantly amazed at how many really fine chefs, with impressive knowledge of everything else in their kitchen and on their menus, cook with and serve poor oil - a sure way to spoil, or at least degrade, a dish, and reduce its health properties in the bargain!

This is particularly bad news because chefs are in such a perfect position to educate people about great olive oil, and about how to use it in their cuisine. So keep up the great work, Mario! I'd love to correspond with you about putting together olive oil recipes and cooking advice, which is a critical piece of the puzzle for many consumers - so often I've given a bottle of great oil to someone, and had them smile, shrug, and say, "Now what?"

Incidentally, could you possibly supply the link to the video on olive oil tasting? I plan to make a little video on this subject soon, and also involve my friends at ONAOO, the world's oldest olive oil tasting academy just up the road from me in Imperia, Italy, but would love to see the Academia Barilla's take on this subject.

Ciao,
Tom

I'm really enjoying the

I'm really enjoying the design and layout of your website. It's a
very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here
and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme?
Superb work!

Thank you so much for this wonderful service, Tom. Olive oil is important, and understanding what is good and what is not is crucial.

You should look at a new organic olive oil company (called Frank), which was just launched by my husband, whose entire business model is based on honesty, transparency and giving customers a cystral clear look at exactly where their olive oil comes from and how their olive oil is produced, from grove to grocery, every step of the way. They have videos of the entire production process and interviews with the farmers on their website. Check out their website at www.frankorganics.com

PS - I gave my husband a copy of Extra Virginity for Christmas!

Thanks Kevin - skilled chefs are perhaps the most important ambassadors in bringing awareness of great olive oil among consumers, so your understanding and appreciation of first-class oil has the potential to educate, and inspire, a lot of people. Thanks for joining the olive oil revolution!
Tom

There is a second Missouri store for Di Olivas in St. Louis in addition to St. Charles

Got it, Robert. Thanks. Good luck w/ your new store!
Tom

What do you know about" The Olive Tap"? I believe it is a chain and there is one in my area.

THanks for this! I had a bout given up looking for decent olive oils from around the world having gotten wind of many of the scams in bits and pieces over the year. Im trying 2 new ones now California Frantoio (650 on phenolics) from Livermore and Picual-Olec from Chile. Hopefully you can find these and comment on them

Hi Richard – Am investigating both of these right now!

Corto and Kirkland olive oil do not have production dates on their oil. These very large corporations (costco) make it hard for small producers and small retailers to sell their oils. I can't believe you are promoting them while talking about looking the producers in the eye.

I agree and don't understand why costco is a topic of discussion. i don't see it listed now but wasn't costco on your event schedule?

I prefer not to take an overly purist (or puritanical) view of olive oil quality, any more than I insist on drinking first-growth Bordeaux or 40-year-old Supertuscans – sometimes an honest table wine is preferable. Kirkland and Corto may not win any major awards (though I wouldn't necessarily count Corto out if they put their mind to it), but they are true extra virgin olive oil at a very good price. It's oils like these, more than splendid boutique oils from small estates, that will make real change the olive oil industry.

A friend of mine who owns a small Greek restaurant, has an orchard in Greece, bottles it and imports it for sale at her cafe. Right now, they are out of supply, but they will have a fresh delivery in May, 2012. I believe it is strictly from her own orchard in the Kalamata region but I don't know about certifications. I heard your interview on Your Call in Santa Cruz ..an excellent show. Thank you for that valuable information.

Athena Grill
567-9144 Restaurant
1505 Space Park Drive
Santa Clara, CA

My wife and I just had the pleasure of our first serious olive oil shopping experience at Alfonso Gourmet Olive Oil in Tucson, AZ. What wonderful knowledgeable people to help us through our first tasting and selection process. The only thing missing from the migration to a more olive oil centric diet is a good cookbook that focuses on Mediterranean recipes that feature various olive oils: a help in paring the right olive oils to food. You touched on that in the book. Maybe Francesca could help write the follow-up book.

You are so right: once someone gets a great oil, the next question is: "What do I do w/ this?" Also, knowing what meal you'll be preparing leads the choice of an oil. Recipes and cooking suggestions are critical. I'll check w/ Francesca and see what she says about co-writing a follow-up!

I just recently became aware of your book and have not yet read it. I did read the UC Davis report and see that Colavita extra virgin oil seems to have passed the test. Am I correct? This is the oil I use daily. I appreciate your comments.

Hi David, Unfortunately, no, Colavita didn't fare too well on the UC Davis report, nor do they typically do well in other tests I'm aware of. Not that they don't know what good oil is – these people are experts, both in the US and back in Italy – but for the moment their business model appears not to include it. More details in my book.

I reread the report and now realize I was wrong about Colavita. It only passed in 1 sample. Time to find a more consistant oil.

Hi Tom. Thank you for your articles. I was born and raised in Malta, centre of the Mediterranian. I was weaned on olive oil. We use it a lot. I have lived in Canada for many years. And, 'Calavita', is as good as I got so far. I am very interested to find out in the olive oil YOU use. It would help me a lot.
Thank you
Keep up the good work.

John Grima

Hi John - I use many of the oils I list in the bottom half of my (ever-evolving) list of producers, vendors and olive oils (http://www.truthinoliveoil.com/great-oil/best-olive-oils/). I'm particularly fond of oils made w/ coratina and koroneiki olives – robust, peppery and bitter, wherever in the world they're made. I'm also partial to more unusual ones cobrançosa (from Portugal - I've had oils from the Douro region), recioppella (from area of Naples) and casaliva (from Lake Garda). But I always try the local oils made in the places I visit.

I'm curious: what are the traditional oils on Malta?

Maybe someone can help me out with this question?

I've noticed when I test various store bought olive oils the bowls I sample them in rinse out differently using plain water. It is only a speculation on my part, but from what I can gather, pure or pretty pure olive oil rinses out fairly cleanly from the bowls with plain water. While other so called 'olive oils' that may be cut with seed oils do not rinse out cleanly and leave lots of greasy residue with plain water.

In the photo it shows a Spanish olive oil and an Italian olive oil. the Spanish oil rinsed out pretty much with water alone. The Italian oil left a greasy mess. The Spanish oil tasted like olive oil. The Italian oil was inferior and tasted little of olive oil.

http://i685.photobucket.com/albums/vv219/keepitlow456/100_6540.jpg

Am I correct in this 'rinse test' theory? Or do Extra Virgin olive oils all react differently with a water rinse?

Hmmmm, I'll need to check this out. Will get back to you!

I purchased a liter of Toscano extra-virgin olive oil from Costco (Kirkland brand) a few days ago for about $12. The label indicated that the olives were harvested in October/November 2011 and that the acidity was a maximum of 0.5%. The oil is pretty good, but not outstanding.... no burning in the throat on the finish. I wouldn’t have known what that was before reading Extra Virginity. I recall purchasing the same oil with the 2010 harvest date sometime last year. I believe it's sold out by summertime.

Joe,

Kirkland or Costco does not mess around the EVOO.
they are not the best of the best on the market but as the UC DAVIS report says it is a real EVOO.

Tuscany is a very small region and there is not many olives available to produce a tremendous amount of evoo.

If you like a Toscano I.G.P. that will give you that pepperiness sensation, you can try the Academia Barilla Toscano, which will not be as unexpensive as the Costco brand but higher quality, and it is also an I.G.P.( www.academiabarilla.com)

Ciao and enjoy it

Mario Rizzotti
Iron Chef America Judge

Hi Joe, Kirkland oil in my experience is extra virgin, in that it's fault-free and has some appreciable taste or aroma of olive fruit. It's not a great oil, but it's legal – highly unusual on a supermarket shelf!

As a child and continuing well into my adulthood, the only oil in our home was olive oil. My father immigrated to Canada from a region in Italy where olive orchards are common to the family farm and to their traditions. He only purchased and consumed the best oils from Italy, Spain and Portugal to name a few. He treated each bottle as if it were fine wine and rightly so. Your book solidifies many of my long held beliefs, and opinions, regarding what make a great olive oil.
Thank You!

Thank you Livio! Yes, great oil treated w/ the same respect as great wine – and oils every bit as diverse as wines. Yet as your father no doubt taught you, olive oil is used around the Mediterranean very freely, and in great abundance. It's a daily, sometimes 3xdaily, food, and a staple rather than a gourmet item. It's the keystone of the Mediterranean diet. This balance of high quality and generous portions is a hard thing to communicate to North Americans.

Caught your interview on CBC recently. Excellent !! Although now I feel like dumping all the cheap olive oil in the house and going out to buy some REAL olive oil. Thank you for your tireless research and generosity in sharing your information. It never occurred to me that unscrupulous olive growers or oil producers would adulterate and (total shock!) fake their product with other cheaper oils, and that oil may not be as fresh as the label states. If this information could reach more of the general public maybe they would buy less of the cheap, crappy oils and force producers to be more honest and deliver more of the "good stuff".

Hi Skysurfer, and thanks for the note. I agree, it's shocking that unscrupulous producers will do this – and that the authorities will let them get away with it. Or rather, that we – at least in the USA – don't prioritize food authenticity and safety enough to fund our authorities enough to do their jobs. In Canada, the CFIA at least has a regular testing program, and calls out a few fraudsters, though the quality of olive oil on supermarket shelves remains low. In the USA, w/ the FDA asleep at the wheel (or in a funding-deprived coma), it's the wild west on those supermarket shelves….

Dear fellow Olive Oil lovers. Tom's book is a real eye opener for those of us who value the life giving properties of true extra virgin olive oil. We are a new specialty store in Fort Lauderdale carrying extra virgin olive oil from Italy, Spain, Greece, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey and California and our customers can taste each of our oils before buying. Our oils have been subjected to random tests to make sure our customers are getting the real thing. A big "thank you" to Tom for educating the public on the industry and the benefits of adopting olive oil into our diets. I take two tablespoons in the morning every day.

Hi Tom:

Good to hear back from you and thanks for the good wishes for evoo market. As they say, "From your lips to God's ears." You are obviously welcome to drop by to my store whenever you are in Fort lauderdale. Hopefully you will consent to signing my copy of Extra Virginity. It not only educated me about the industry and the history of olive oil and its history, but I use the knowledge I gained from it to inform my customers as well. I am originally from South Asia and olive oil is used by women to make their hair strong and silky. It works!

That's evoo market, 1239 Las Olas Boulevard, Ft Lauderdale, FL 954 522-5088

Nancy -- Always nice to hear from people who have direct experience in the groves! Note that the sting in the throat, which admittedly is an acquired taste, is recognized in most olive oil legislation as a sign of quality, and by medical research as indicating the presence of health-promoting substances like oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory. So sting, like bitterness, = health!

I am looking for your feedback on Bariani Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

The label states that it is “Estate Grown, Produced and Bottled by: Bariani Olive Oil, in Sacramento, California.
I understand that this oil is considered “raw”. The label also states a Harvest Date.

I appreciate any feedback.

Thanks for "Extra Virginity".

Gloria - A personal comment only, but I haven't been impressed by the Bariani oil I've tasted.

If you live in the US why not just buy US oil? I suspect less risk of fraud, great quality, and you help struggling US growers. The take home message is that the myth of great Italian oils is shown to be a fraud. They keep the good stuff for home and cheat the Yanks.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath with regards to Italian oil. I see a backlash here that is most unfortunate.
There are great Italian oils from honest producers and importers available in the US. Have a look at Olio2Go.com as a mail order source for Italian oil ( I am not affiliated with them ).
And of course please try our own oil, a 100% Italian product from Caltabellotta, AG Sicily.

www.Fratelli-Colletti.com

I agree with George, with some qualifications. Some of the best oils in the world - and some of the most gifted and committed oil-makers - are Italian. On the whole, the lion's share of great oil is made in Italy, Spain and Greece.

That said, look at things a little differently, like a poker player. If you were sending a friend to the grocery store somewhere in North America to buy olive oil, and they knew absolutely nothing about the stuff, what advice would you give them? Based exclusively on the odds, "buy California" would have to be one of the first things out of your mouth. Because while the majority of great oil is made in the Med, most of that oil never leaves the Med; most of the Med oil that enters N. America today, in volume terms, is cut-rate. CA producers may not all be great - some are terrible - but on average they are well above the abysmal levels of supermarket Med oil. So if your friend found a bottle of CA oil, they should pounce on it.

How do I get to the Producers & vendors by state section of your website?

Do you know anything about OlioCarli Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Thank you,

Terry

Producers/vendors by state is here: http://www.truthinoliveoil.com/great-oil/best-olive-oils/

Olio Carli is just up the road from me, in Imperia. They make an excellent DOP oil, and they financially support ONAOO (http://www.oliveoil.org/), one of the premier olive oil tasting schools in the world. They also make a very poor "extra virgin" oil that the sell, very successfully, door to door, with a massive marketing campaign. An unusual case of olive oil quality schizophrenia, but of the Big Oil companies that I've come to know, they are among the ones that I think are closest to making a major move into quality. Which, after all, is where all companies big and small need to be moving: bulk oil and a price-war-driven race to the bottom is a dead industry.

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