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
THIS WEEKEND (March 20 & 21)|
WE ARE CELEBRATING OUR
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
CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO
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!
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:
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
- 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:
- Quality production and storage methods - you must start with good olives
- 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.
- 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.
- Growing Region
- Seasonal variations in weather and growing conditions
- Pressing Method - Although much is made of different pressing
techniques, if properly done they will produce very similar oils with the
Haggis is widely referred to as the national dish
immortalized by the poet Robert Burns (25
January 1759 – 21
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.
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
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.
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 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
- 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.
- Smell the oil. What do you smell? Grassy is a common term for good oil,
but what else?
- 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.
- Finally, swallow the oil. Bitter? Peppery? Overpowering or
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,
Bitter: grapefruit rind, tonic water.
Pungent: pepper heat, chili heat, throat catching.
Fusty or Musty: Brined olives, lactic acid, musty
Winey: Vinegar and/or nail polish remover. Exactly the
same as volatile acidity (VA) in wine.
Rancid: Off walnuts, stale oil. The most common
Earthy: Earth, wet soil.
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.
|Smoking Point and Typical Uses
of Common Oils
|Refined Olive Oil
||Sautee, stir fry
|Grape seed oil
||Cooking, salad dressings
|Olive Oil Extra Virgin
|Sesame Oil (unrefined)
||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
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.
||#1 – SCORE 84.5 - Rincon de la Subbética Certified
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!
||#2 – SCORE 83.5 - Louianna Estates
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!
||#3 – SCORE 78.1 - Casa Caponetti
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.
||#4 – SCORE 75.2 - Acropolis Certified
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!
||#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:
||#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.
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
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,