If you were watching 60 Minutes on CBS this past Sunday night, you likely saw the story about the problem with the mafia in Italy corrupting some of the foods for which Italy is most famous. Journalist Tom Mueller estimates that the Italian olive oil found on grocery store shelves in Italy is over 50% fake (they are in reality seed oils made to look like olive oil which cost a fraction of the price to produce or they do not meet the legal definition of extra virgin olive oil). What about on the shelves of American grocery stores? Upwards of 75% of the Italian imported olive oils are not what they claim to be! (source)
Many of us are so used to eating bad olive oils, or simply fake olive oils, that we can’t tell the difference between the good and the bad, and thus we’re not reaping any of the health benefits that fresh, good olive oil can give us. Being sure you are actually eating this olive oil is a good thing to do. Extra virgin olive oil, the oil gathered from the very first press of olives, should not just help something cook or wet a salad; it should add flavor and antioxidents. The flavor of good olive oil should be a bit fruity, a little bitter and peppery. It should taste light, not heavy. It should not taste metallic, moldy or metallic. And bland is not good.
Unlike wines that age and become better, olive oils should be eaten as freshly as possible.
With olive oils now being produced in the South, it’s a good time to be reminded just how good these olive oils are. Not only will each purchase support a product that didn’t have to travel far to end up in your kitchen (lower carbon footprint), but you’re supporting regional brands AND you’re actually getting the real deal: olive oil.
The first olive oil we’re recommending comes from Georgia Olive Farms. It does everything an olive oil should do. “It’s smooth and ticks the back of your throat with a faint peppery kick, the way it should.” – Esquire Magazine. The first harvest was in 2011 (and this marked the first harvest of olives in America since the 1800s!) and this olive oil has already created quite a culinary buzz in the southeastern states. You can order online and find it in specialty stores like White’s Mercantile, in Nashville, TN, as well.
Texas is actually home to several olive oil producers; if you are in the Austin area, take time to explore the hills outside the city and take some tours. You may forget that you aren’t near the Mediterranean … Two Texas-based olive oil companies to check out are Texas Olive Oil and Texas Hill Country Olive Company. Texas Olive Oil starting producing olive oils in 2001 and they have the pride of claiming the first producing olive orchard in central Texas. They offer tours year-round and their store includes fresh preserves, chocolates, wines and more. Texas Hill Country Olive Company, in addition to their “regular” olive oils, is creating flavored olive oils including jalapeno-infused, lemon-infused and garlic-infused. They also have three different olive oils with use recommendations for each one, from atop popcorn to dressings for salads to a recommended one for meats and potatoes. And yes, they offer highly rated tours as well!
Expanding out of the region, there are plenty of tasty California olive oils to try, including the extra virgin olive oil used at Blackberry Farm, produced in Napa, and sold in their online store.
Another fabulous way to experience what real olive oil should taste like is to visit a specialty store. Most offer taste testings for their fused and infused olive oils as well as imported olive oils that are guaranteed to be fresh and the real deal. We’ve experienced the expertise of olive oil selections at Primo Oils & Vinegars in Louisville, KY, by going to a class on how to pick your favorite olive oil. Stores to check out include:
- The Olive Oil Store in Nashville, TN and Jacksonville, FL
- Strippago, Atlanta, GA
- Oli.O, Birmingham, AL,
- The Mighty Olive, Memphis, TN
- Primo Oils & Vinegars, Louisville, KY
In the age where we are finding ourselves craving farmers markets for the freshest vegetables and butcher stores for the freshest, local meats, we can see how the guaranteed quality of ordering olive oil from a local producer, or visiting a local store that specializes in olive oil, needs to be part of our routine. Thinking we are getting the benefits of olive oil, but realizing that likely we are eating something more along the lines of colored canola oil (again, the 60 Minutes investigation) has us rethinking the ways we are buying this pantry staple.
For more suggestions on how to to purchase quality olive oil, see this article on How To Buy Great Olive Oil.
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