Friday, June 8, 2012

Foodie Faves: Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What do you bring home from a trip? Snow globes? Christmas ornaments? Refrigerator magnets? I bring sand and olive oil.

Not together, mind you. The sand is from all those places that have beaches or lakes or rivers, and while it looks pretty in the jars in my kitchen, it’s not terribly useful. The olive oil, on the other hand, gives me an enduring pleasure as long as it lasts, and then it’s gone. Which makes olive oil from my travels a particularly happy collectible because there’s no long-term storage problem. I don’t have to keep dusting the jars or finding more shelf space, like I do with the sand.

Every good olive oil has a redolence of its own – lemony, earthy, grassy, ... the possibilities cover almost as much territory as wine. Always buy extra virgin, the first cold pressed. The extra virgin is less acidic and is considered the best tasting; cold pressing is a method of extracting the oil that doesn’t involve heating it, which removes flavor. And while you don’t have to spend a lot of money, the more time and trouble a grower takes in the processing, the more it will cost. So splurge a little. (I must warn you though, that “Splurge a little” has been a theme of mine in life.)

Cold-pressed oil has the most flavor, but it also spoils the fastest. To inhibit spoilage – and trust me, your nose will know when it’s rancid – you want to keep the oil in a cool, dark place, and not in clear glass. Try to use it within six months, but if it’s older than that and doesn’t smell off, it’ll still be fine. They say smell of rancid oil is a lot like that of cardboard boxes. I say it's just bad.

So the photo above contains my current supply. The one on the left is Queen Creek Olive Oil, from a company we visited in Scottsdale in January. The middle one is from Olea Estates, a Greek company, that I bought in May at the farmers’ market in St. Louis. And the last is from the Franschhoek Olive Oil Company in the wine region of South Africa, which we visited in February. So when I drizzle some over some sliced Jersey tomatoes this summer, I can close my eyes and pretend I’m back in one of those places. Sort of like experiencing my travels all over again.

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