While Italian extra-virgin olive oil has long been synonymous with Mediterranean cuisine, the Mediterranean offers a broad and tantalizing range of oils, and which you prefer will often be more a question of personal taste than of quality. So which oil is for you?
Generally speaking, Italian olive oils tend to greenish in colour and are mildly bitter, with a tangy, grassy flavour and a herbal aroma. Geography plays a role, however. Oils from the north tend to mild and slightly nutty—great with fish—whereas oils from central Italy are stronger tasting with grassy notes. Drier, herbier oils come from Sicily and elsewhere in the south. And hazy, unfiltered olive oil has a different profile again—rustic and earthy (try the delicious Arte Olearia Mantuano Riserva). The assertiveness of Italian EVOO suits it perfectly to cooked dishes where it can be a major player, so everything from pasta to seafood to baked goods. Of course, if you want to be certain that you’re getting 100% Italian, you can always choose an oil certified as Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), or Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) in Italian.
Spain currently produces nearly half the world’s olive oil (compared to Italy’s 20 percent). Spanish olives yield an oil with a similar thickness but a much more yellow colour than Italian oil due to Spain’s more pronounced seasonal changes. Distinctly fruity and nutty in flavour, Spanish olive oil tends to be sweeter and more robustly savoury than Italian oil, offering less herb and more pepper. That said, olives are grown all over Spain, and the flavour profile can be quite different from, say, Extramadura (home to La Chinata’s extensive oil groves), as compared to olives raised father north in Catalonia. Spanish olive oils are a great choice for uncooked foods, whether tossed over salads or served as a dip or drizzle for breads.
Greek olive oil, while more culturally synonymous with Greece than perhaps any other country, has yet to gain the international cache of its Mediterranean cousins—which is a shame, because Greek EVOO has very low acidity but more polyphenols (antioxidants) than other extra virgin oils, making it a great healthy choice. Greek oil tends to be darker, earthier and more intense than Italian oil, with a robust and deeply savoury flavour that makes it a natural partner for the pungent herbs that dominate Greek cooking. Other Greek oils have a much smoother taste, like our mild, fruity Iliada PDO Kalamata EVOO, which is ideal for salad dressings, grilled fish, white meat and vegetables (and also has a naturally low acidity of less than 0.4%).
There can be few things in life that epitomize the Med more than soaking fresh bread in a bowl of incredible EVOO and adding a liberal sprinkling of salt—perfection!