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This issue: A Guide to Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Previous issue:  Haggis - A Celebration of Scotish Pâté

Upcoming issues:  Olive Oil, Bread, Spices, and more

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VOLUME 34 ... A GUIDE TO EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

 

To taste a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is nothing short of tasting Earth’s ambrosia. Archeological excavations have proved the existence of wild olive trees as long ago as 12,000 B.C.!  As far back as written records extend, humans have always prized the olive and its oil as a symbol of health, strength, peace, and prosperity.


Yet, not many people have had the fortune of tasting good EVOO; grocery stores have bombarded us with cheap, flavourless olive oils that even at their eight buck price tag are priced one-hundred times too much. What makes a good EVOO? What should you look for on a label? We answer these questions below. A few weeks back, we assembled 17 HB customers at our Queen St. store to form a tasting panel. We tasted 10 olive oils and rated them using an official 100 point European show scoring system. Despite the fact that nobody on the panel had any formal olive oil tasting training, the results were remarkably accurate as compared to professional judges; we say this because the top olive oils from our panel are also internationally awarded olive oils.  The results are shared below.

 


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THIS WEEKEND (March 20 & 21)
WE ARE CELEBRATING OUR
5 YEAR ANNIVERSARY!

Great Sales, lots of samples, free cake.
FREE VALET PARKING at the Eglinton store. The first 100 customers at the Queen store get a FREE VICTORINOX PARING KNIFE.

 

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO

 

Healthy Butcher Balloons
Dave Meli's Poultry Class

A few spots are still open

in next week's class:


POULTRY... & nothing but!

This is a hands-on class! You will cut up chickens in many ways and never look at a chicken the same way again.

Click here for more info & to register.


THE WORLD'S BEST
OLIVE OILS ON SALE

Now is the time to tickle your taste buds with some of the best olive oils.  Nearly all of our olive oils are on sale for the next two weeks at all locations!

 

The Healthy Butcher's Olive Oils
Two Words:  ROAD TRIP!!!

This summer we will be organizing a couple of Sunday road trips to some of our farms.  If you're interested in getting more details, send an email to: iloveroadtrips@thehealthybutcher.com

 

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VOLUME 34 ... A GUIDE TO EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

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What Makes a Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

One would be tempted to think that all oils labeled “Extra Virgin” must be of high quality, but that would be incorrect. The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) is the largest body governing olive oil and defines Extra Virgin as follows:

  • obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration;
  • acidity of not more than 0.8%; and
  • no apparent defects in aroma and flavour.

The standards do not include any details on how the olives are cultivated, picked, stored, or any other important detail that makes the difference between a good oil and one that is mediocre.

Further, and this was a big surprise to us, the U.S. and Canada are not member countries of the IOOC, so even the above requirements don’t legally apply. The USDA does not define Extra Virgin at all, but instead it’s highest rating of olive oil is “U.S. Grade A” or “U.S. Fancy” which possesses a free acid content of not more than 1.4% and is “free from defects”. Canada is a complete vacuum with no definitions for olive oil. So legally, it is impossible to say what those $8 bottles of Extra Virgin on grocery store shelves are made from or what standards they meet.

What really makes a good olive oil? Of course, the best olive oil for you is the olive oil you personally like the most… after all, taste is subjective. However, there are certain marquee characteristics of quality. Above all, you must be able to taste the fruit. If an olive oil just tastes “oily” and does not display lively fresh fruit characters than it is not of good quality. Further, the real kick (literally) of a good EVOO is what makes it healthy – the pepperyness or bitterness on the finish. The sensation is not unlike what you get from eating ginger or mild chilli. Both the bitterness and pungency in oils come from a group of compounds called polyphenols, which are the same class of compounds that produce red wine colour, bitterness and astringency. From a wine tasters perspective, the bitterness and pungency are unusual attributes as Richard Gawel explains, a well-known olive oil consultant. Yet, bitterness and pungency is the souce of olive oil palate complexity.

Ample research in the last 30 years has proven that olive oil is a nutrient powerhouse. The polyphenols found in EVOO (and not other edible oils, including lower grades of olive oil) are powerful naturally occurring antioxidants that can reduce your risk of coronary disease. Some types of polyphenols are bitter while other types produce the peppery, or throat catching sensation. The polyphenols also help to protect the oil from getting tired and ultimately rancid; any oxygen molecule that finds its way into the oil will react with any polyphenol it encounters before reacting with the fat molecules. However, as each polyphenol can ‘do its thing’ only once, sacrificing itself in the process, they are naturally used up over time. In fact, even under good storage conditions, around 40-60% of the polyphenols of an EVOO are used up in the first 6 months. This protective role of polyphenols also explains why milder oils (which are low in polyphenols) generally have shorter shelf lives than the more bitter and peppery robust styles (which are rich in polyphenols).

Balance, of course, is key. Many EVOO’s are so overwhelmingly peppery that one can’t help but cough. Outstanding oils are not only high in polyphenol content, but the fruit flavours match the bitterness so that there is excellent balance.

Top Factors affecting Olive Oil Flavour

The Olive Oil Source lists the following 6 factors as the top factors affecting olive oil:

  1. Quality production and storage methods - you must start with good olives
  2. Fruit Maturity - a Tuscan and a Spanish olive picked green may produce a more similar oil than a Tuscan olive picked late or early in the season. All olives begin life as a green fruit. The flesh is composed of acids and sugars. As the fruit ripens on the tree, these acids and sugars convert to oil, and the olive changes from green through to violet and then black. The only difference between green olives and black olives is ripeness. Unripe olives are green, whereas fully ripe olives are black.
  3. Olive Variety - there is a big difference between an olive oil made from Greece’s Koroneiki, a strongly fruity, herbaceous olive, and Spain’s Hojiblanca, an aromatic and mildly pungent olive. To read more about olive variety and maturity, click here to read an article by Paul Vossen, an Olives/Olive Oil and Pomology Farm Advisor at the University of California.
  4. Growing Region
  5. Seasonal variations in weather and growing conditions
  6. Pressing Method - Although much is made of different pressing techniques, if properly done they will produce very similar oils with the same olives.

Haggis is widely referred to as the national dish of Scotland, immortalized by the poet Robert Burns (25 January 175921 July 1796) in his poem Address to a Haggis (see below).  Robert Burns, also known as Rabbie Burns, Scotland's favourite son, the Ploughman Poet, and in Scotland as simply The Bard, is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, and is celebrated worldwide.  Burns is the best known of the poets who have written in the Scots language.  On his birthday every year, Scots celebrate the poet with a traditional dinner of haggis served with “neeps and tatties” (meaning rutabaga or yellow turnip and potatoes, boiled and mashed separately) and a “dram” (a glass of Scotch of course!).  The Scotch part is probably the real cause for unending happiness on Burns Day.

Reading the Labels

First Cold Pressed / Cold Pressed MEANINGLESS - a misleading phrase used for marketing purposes. The term “First Cold Pressed” is not an official designation. It basically means the fruit of the olive was crushed exactly one time – i.e. the “first press”. And the “cold” refers to the fact the temperature didn’t exceed 86F. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, by its very definition must be First Cold Pressed, so adding those words does not ensure any level of quality. Olive Oil on Mozzarella di Buffala and Tomatoes 

Estate-bottled/Single-Estate Oils POSSIBLY MEANS GOOD QUALITY - Usually refers to top quality, premium-priced oils. But again, this term does not specify any standards, so poor oils can still be labeled "Single Estate".

Single Varietals vs. Blends NEITHER HERE NOR THERE - The producer may choose to blend various olive varieties or stick to one single variety. There are great olive oils produced in both camps.

Filtered vs. Non-Filtered NEITHER HERE NOR THERE - When olive oil is first extracted it is cloudy. Almost all olive oil today is filtered in some way to create the clear look we all know. Some artisan producers believe less interference creates better oil and do not filter their oil. Others allow the oil to sit for a period of time allowing the sediment to settle before bottling.  It's a similar debate as cheese made from pasteurized vs. non-pasteurized milk.

DO, DOP, DOC, PGI, and PPO USUALLY MEANS BETTER QUALITY - These abbreviations relate to an oil’s designation of origin. The mark is awarded to oil that meets the precise standards set forth by the specific geographical region, and usually denotes marks of quality.

Date of pressing ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECES OF INFORMATION – The freshness of an oil is hugely important but, sadly, the pressing date is rarely found on bottles. “Best Before” dates are worthless as they do not indicate when the oil was pressed. Keep in mind that olive oils are made once per year, so a good retailer will know when the new batch of oil is ready and be sure to always be carrying the newest oil.

World Regions

The “Big Three” of the olive oil world are Spain (32% of world production), Italy (22%), and Greece (16%); together, these three countries produce 70% of the world’s olive oil! Production in Tunisia and Turkey has skyrocketed in the last decade due to demand for lesser priced oil. Further, the olive oil industries in New World countries such as Australia and the U.S. (mainly California) are growing quickly. Although some California oils are of high quality, in our minds the Old World countries of Spain, Italy and Greece hold the crown.

The bottom line is this: Extra Virgin Olive Oil from any region can range in quality from poor to world-class, depending on the factors discussed above. It would be wrong to associate any specific country with one quality level.

How to Professionally Taste Olive Oil

So now we get to the tasty part! The proper way to taste olive oil is as follows:

  1.  Pour a bit of oil in a shot glass, then warm the oil slightly by holding the glass in your hand and covering the glass with your other hand.
  2. Smell the oil. What do you smell? Grassy is a common term for good oil, but what else?
  3. Take a sip of oil and roll it around your mouth allowing the oil to evenly coat all parts of your palate. Take in a little air in a similar fashion as if you were tasting wine. What do you taste? To truly taste the oil, you should avoid dipping it in bread, as the bread will give it’s own flavour and alter your tasting experience.
  4. Finally, swallow the oil. Bitter? Peppery? Overpowering or well-balanced?

Positive attributes:
Fruity: Grassy, spinach, artichoke, green banana, leafy, tomato leaf, bean sprout, green tomato, herbaceous, hay, nutty, almond, pine nut, orange, lemon, floral, spicy, apple, eucalyptus, perfumed, confectionery, buttery.
Bitter: grapefruit rind, tonic water.
Pungent: pepper heat, chili heat, throat catching.

Negative attributes:
Fusty or Musty: Brined olives, lactic acid, musty room.
Winey: Vinegar and/or nail polish remover. Exactly the same as volatile acidity (VA) in wine.
Rancid: Off walnuts, stale oil. The most common defect.
Earthy: Earth, wet soil.
Burnt Caramel

Cooking with Olive Oil

One of the most common questions we are asked is whether olive oil can be used for cooking, especially high heat cooking.  The answer is yes, with the only exception being very high heat frying such as deep frying.  When cooking with any oil it is important not to heat the oil above its "smoking point", that is, the temperature at which the oil or fat begins to break down and begins to smoke.  An oil that has smoked yields a very unpleasant taste.

The smoking point of olive oil will vary significantly depending on its quality.  A good olive oil will have very little fatty acid content and therefore have a higher smoke point.  In fact, the reason why we sell the 1L bottles of the Acropolis Biodynamic ($25.99, which means it's price is only $12.99/500ml) is that it makes a perfect go-to oil for cooking without a large price tag.  The smoking point of Extra Virgin olive oil is around 190°C (374 °F).  Most deep frying is accomplished at temperatures between 350-375C.  Irma Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking recommends frying food at 365F for best results.  So, you can see that deep frying happens at temperatures right around the smoking point of EVOO, hence we don't recommend using EVOO to deep fry (who could that afford that anyway?).

For general cooking, EVOO is perfect.  Buy a lesser priced (but still good quality) EVOO for cooking, and buy more expensive EVOO for drizzling.

For more information, read this article by the International Olive Oil Council. http://www.internationaloliveoil.org/web/aa-ingles/oliveWorld/aceite3.html

Smoking Point and Typical Uses of Common Oils
Canola Oil 242C/468F Frying, baking
Refined Olive Oil 225C/437F Sautee, stir fry
Grape seed oil 204C/399F Cooking, salad dressings
Olive Oil Extra Virgin 190C/374F Cooking,dressings, flavouring
Sesame Oil (unrefined) 177C/351F Cooking
Butter 150C / 302F Cooking, baking, sauces, condiment

The Results of The Healthy Butcher's Tasting Panel

We used the 100 point European Show Scoring System made up by Richard Gawel (available here: http://www.aromadictionary.com/oliveoiltasting.html).  The taste sheet rates Olfactory (the aroma), Gustatory (the taste), and the finish based on fruitiness, bitterness, pungency, intensity and harmony.

Rincon de la Subbetica  #1 – SCORE 84.5 - Rincon de la Subbética Certified Organic
Hailing from Cordoba, Southern Spain, our champion olive oil has won over 65 International awards and recognitions between 2006-2009! It is made from 100% Hojiblanca olives, picked by hand and pressed the same day, and has a remarkably low acidity of 0.16%! 
Tasters notes: herbaceous, floral, grassy, buttery, perfect balance.
Regular price $38.99/500ml. Sale price for this newsletter: $34!
Louianna EV Olive Oil  #2 – SCORE 83.5 - Louianna Estates Certified Organic
Molise, South Central Italy. The timing of our tasting event was impeccable! That same day, the new oil from this year’s crop came in on the boat. Owner of Louianna Dominic Spedaliere personally brought in the bottles for the tasting! Louianna is a made from a blend of Gentile di Larino (60%), Leccino (20%), Peranzana and others (20%). The polyphenol content of this oil is remarkably high at 0.75mg per tablespoon – nearly double that of an average EVOO. Tasters notes: lemon, grassy, peppery, intense fruit, best aroma of the lot.
Regular price $26.99/500ml. Sale price: $23!
Casa Caponetti  #3 – SCORE 78.1 - Casa Caponetti Certified Organic
From Tuscania (not Tuscany), in the Province of Viterbo (near the border between Tuscany and Umbria). 100% Canino hand-picked olives. This olive oil is not yet available for sale in Canada, but we are in the process of importing it. The taste sample was delivered by hand by olive oil master Lorenzo Caponetti. The unique aspect of this olive oil was that extraction was accomplished using the rare “Sinolea” method – a range of blades slide in and out of a series of small slots bored in into the olive paste stainless steel container, which keeps rotating in order to continually stir the paste inside. The oil sticks to the metal blades and is removed with scrapers in a continuous process, while the water in the olives (which has a different surface tension) does not adhere to the blades and stays behind. Tasters notes: oregano, an adventure, lemon, peppery.
Acropolis Certified Organic Olive Oil  #4 – SCORE 75.2 - Acropolis Certified Organic
Crete, Greece. 100% Koroneiki olives. Acropolis also makes a biodynamic line of olive oil, which received a rating of 4 points less overall. The organic is a premium single estate oil, exclusively from select hilltops of the Tsiriotakis estate. Tasters notes: floral, tomato, herbacious, buttery
Regular price $24.99/500ml. Sale price: $21!
Campo di Torri Organic Olive Oil  #5 – SCORE 74.7 - Campo di Torri Certified Organic, by Azienda Agricola Il Casellino.  Tuscany, Italy. Blend of 3 varieties that are all native to Tuscany: Frantoio, Leccino and Moraiolo. Olives are picked by hand and pressed the same day. This oil has won the Premio Armonia 2006 & 2007, and received awards from Biol Italy. Tasters notes: walnut, perfumed butter, nutty, intense, spicy, herbaceous
Regular price $28.99/500ml. Sale price: $26!
Spartan Rolling Hills Organic Olive Oil  #6 – SCORE 74.5 - Spartan Rolling Hills Certified Organic - BEST VALUE
Spartan Valley, Southern Greece. Blend of Koutsoulis, Maniataki, Kakori. Nick Tzaras, the owner of Spartan Rolling Hills is frequently at The Healthy Butcher sampling his wonderful oil. Nick is very proud to explain that his family’s estate has very limited road access so olives are transported by mules and donkeys to the press. The oil yields acidity of 0.007%! Tasters notes: earthy, leafy, slight peppery finish
Regular price $19.99/500ml. Sale price: $17.99!  Even better value is the same oil in a 750ml bottle for only $24.99 (that's the equivalent of paying $16.66 for 500ml)

The remaining four oils, all excellent olive oils in their own right are listed below in alphabetical order. The score difference was a mere 4 points between the 6th place and 10th place oil… so why split hairs?

Acropolis Organics – Biodynamic series – Produced using non-Certified Organic olives on the same estate as our #4 pick. The same variety and blend is used. For only $14.99/500ml or $25.99/1L, this is a steal. ANOTHER BEST VALUE

Bodegas Roda S.A. “Dauro” - From Girona, Northern Spain, this olive oil is used regularly at Nobel Peace Prize Award Banquets. Not available at The Healthy Butcher.

Old Village Certified Organic – Kalamata, Greece, using 100% Kalamata olives. Single estate, hand-picked by the Lianos family. $26.99/500ml

Spartan Rolling Hills – Biodynamic series - Produced using non-Certified Organic olives on the same estate as our #6 pick. The same variety and blend is used. $20.99/750ml bottle.

And then we tasted...

After tasting 10 great EVVOs, the bonus olive oil we threw in for the tasters was an $8 bottle of olive oil purchased at a grocery store (we won’t specify the brand, but it rhymes with Pear-Toley).  Tasters notes: “Yuk!”, “rancid”, “disgusting”, “pass me more apple to get rid of this taste”… you get the picture. 

CONCLUSION

Not all EVOO are created equal; the range in taste, health (amount of polyphenols), and price is huge. In many respects, olive oils are like wine; you can purchase a bottle of wine made from Pinot Noir grapes for $8 or you can buy a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti made from Pinot Noir grapes for $10,000 – can the two bottles be compared? Of course not. At least in the case of EVOO, you can purchase a world class bottle for around $25. Trust us, the difference in price is worth every drop.

 

To access past issues of live to eat, click here.

 

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