Alongside salt and pepper, olive oil is the ultimate cupboard staple. But depending on the product you use, it can do much more than preventing your pans from sticking.
In professional kitchens and in most homes, olive oil is used on a daily basis for cooking and seasoning. Spain is the biggest producer of olive oil in the world, followed by Italy and Greece, with about 75% of the country’s production coming from the southern region of Andalucia.
While extra virgin olive oil is seen as the pinnacle, this delicate product needs to be used with care and consideration. To make the most of your precious olive oil, we asked Juan Garcia, owner of O-Med, a family business based in Ácula, Granada, for his best tips on how to choose, use and store your olive oil.
How To Choose The Right Oil
Several factors influence the taste of the oil, including the type of olives, their ripeness, the way they are pressed, and the storage of the finished product. Bitterness, spiciness and fruitiness are the three elements shaping the taste of olive oil and their balance determines what will be the best use of the product. A great indication of the quality of an extra virgin olive oil is a freshness in smell and flavours. “Olive oil has to taste like nature”, Juan Garcia explains.
READ MORE: Pantry Staples: Olive Oil
Spend Or Save
Since high-quality extra virgin olive oil doesn’t come cheap, the best option to make sure you spend your money wisely is to have two different products in your kitchen. “I would only recommend high-quality oil for ‘crudo’ - just for finishing. You could cook with it, but it would be a pity as when it’s heated, you lose a lot of flavours and aromas, it’s killing the product. For cooking, I’d use a common extra virgin, which is a late harvest, gives a better yield and can be sold for cheaper”.
Juan produces different types of olive oil. The Arbequina, made with olives harvested in the last week of October, boasts a strong smell of freshly cut grass and a taste of fruits, with hints of apple and green bananas. It pairs well with seafood, but is also very recommendable for fruit salads. The Picual, made with bigger size olives, offers a more vegetable-like flavour, reminding of tomatoes, and works beautifully for salads such as Caprese, carpaccios, or with full-body cheeses.
To make the most of your high-quality olive oil, Juan recommends to think outside the box and not only use it for dressings or as a drizzle on your bowl of pasta. “I tell people to play around with the product. I love talking to chefs who tell me that they use it in an unexpected way - one told me once he used the Arbequina extra virgin olive oil on a vanilla ice cream, and it’s really amazing, everyone should try it!”
Juan also recommends to try it for cocktails: “I pour a little bit of olive oil in a glass and put it in the freezer. The fat solidifies. Then I pour the gin and tonic, and slowly, as you are drinking it, the drops are starting to appear because the fat melts and goes to the top of the liquid. The sweetness and bitterness of the oil balance the gin really well.”
How to store it
Unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t improve with time. “There is no maturation with olive oil, it only goes down after it’s produced”. Light, oxygen and high temperatures are the three main culprits altering the taste of the oil, so always make sure you pay attention to the way you store it. “If you store your olive oil at room temperature, in a dark place and properly sealed, the product will be protected.”
As handy as it can be, never leave your oil beside the stove. “When I see chefs storing their oil near the oven or in a hot place, I tell them that they are destroying it!”. To keep it at its best, choosing a product with an opaque packaging, such as a tin or a UV protected glass, is ideal.