There’s nothing quite like the experience of enjoying a high-quality olive oil. The fresh herbaceous aroma can conjure up images of the Mediterranean coastline, while the peppery bite and subtle fruity finish can whisk you away to an olive grove in some enchanting region in Italy.
The versatile condiment can elevate almost any dish you can think of. From enjoying it on bread or a cracker to enhancing fresh-caught fish to using it as a base for a refreshing salad or making that pasta dish sing, the utility of olive oil knows no bounds. But just like wine, the quality of olive oil can be the difference between an exquisite dining experience or a forgettable feast.
When you think of olive oil, there are likely a few different origins that come to mind. While Spain is the world’s largest producer of the silky elixir, Italy isn’t far behind and plays second fiddle to no one in terms of quality and taste. Let’s take a look at what makes Italian olive oil one of a kind.
What Makes Italian Olive Oil So Good?
The answer to this question lies in its diversity. There is an astounding amount of olive varieties in Italy (over 350), with each one producing a unique flavor profile. Different varieties do better in different climates and regions, making some of these regions protected in Italy (PDO) the same way that wine and cheese are.
High-quality Italian extra virgin olive oil is considered to be some of the best in the world and thrives in the Tuscany, Lazio, Lake Garda, and Sardinia regions, to name a few. It’s natural for the flavor and aroma to vary throughout Italy, but there are also some commonalities that most share.
Italian olive oil is known for its rich complexity and spicy and subtle bitter taste. Its aroma tends to have fragrant but not overpowering fruity notes with hints of nuts, artichokes, and fresh herbs. While the color isn’t limited to just one, Italian olive oil is known for its rich, vibrant shade of green.
What Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
EVOO is a type of olive oil that has not gone through the same processing as regular olive oil. Consider it a more natural version. While heavier processing can be good for an oil’s shelf-life, it reduces the flavor, quality, and health benefits.
Extra virgin olive oil maintains its natural ingredients, vitamins, and polyphenol – which is a type of antioxidant. When heavy refining takes place, many natural health benefits, including polyphenol, are stripped away. Not only is extra virgin olive oil better for you, most people find that it also tastes much better.
What Does Cold-Pressed Mean?
Extra virgin olive oil is made from cold-pressed olives. The term cold-pressed is used because there is no heat involved in the process. The olives are ground into a paste and then pressed to extract the oil. All without heat.
Regular olive oil can be made from a blend of cold-pressed as well as processed olives. There is a rigorous quality control process for an olive oil to be certified as extra virgin olive oil, which also means that it was cold-pressed.
Where Is the Best Olive Oil in Italy?
Many of the best olive oils can be made of a blend of different varietals that are found throughout Italy. However, there are a few regions that stand out for their prowess to produce this Italian liquid gold.
Tuscany is known for its rich, strong flavors and produces arguably the best olive oil in Italy. Many vineyards in the area are accompanied by a swath of olive trees, and it’s common for a vineyard to produce both wine and olive oil. Tuscany olive oils are famous for their pungent smells and rich green colors. A fine Tuscany olive oil will have a peppery bite, suggesting it’s fresh from the cold press.
The Liguria Riviera is a picturesque location lined with terraces of olive trees that share their space with some of the vineyards in the area. The defining quality of Liguria olive oil is its delicacy. The culprit of its delicacy is its primary cultivar – the Taggiasca olive. These tiny olives are a vibrant purple color known for their low level of acid and explosive flavor. The color of Liguria olive oil tends to be more golden than its Tuscan counterparts.
Lake Garda is a special region for olive oil in Italy due to its unique geography. Lake Garda is Italy’s biggest lake and is located in the northern end of the country between Veneto and Lombardy. The lush landscape is rife with lemon trees, olive groves, and vineyards, and its mild alpine climate is conducive to producing some of Italy’s rarest olive oil. It’s known for its buttery finish and notes of mild, fresh herbs.
Italian Olive Oil vs. Greek Olive Oil
While both of these countries produce some of the best extra virgin olive oils in the world, it will come down to personal preference when making your choice for the dinner table. Although both delicious, they have very different production methods and flavors.
Not only do the two regions have different olive trees to work with, but they also have different soil for the trees to thrive in. The result produces unique flavors and smells that are distinct to each country. Italian olive oils are known for their robust smell and flavor. It’s very distinct and in your face. Whereas Greek olive oils tend to be more complementary and have a more subtle taste and aroma.
Explore the World of Quality Italian Olive Oil
Once you begin to dabble in the flavors and aromas of quality Italian olive oil, you’ll quickly be able to establish your preference. Cibaria International is your one-stop shop for fine olive oils, whether that be in bulk, food service, retail, or private label. Contact us today to see how we can manage your needs.