Call to All Foodies (on a Budget): Olive Oil Recommendations?

I don’t have a bucket list.  Probably because I am not particularly fond of the word “bucket.”*

But if I did have a bucket list, do you know what would be on there, most likely higher up than it should be?

Attending an olive oil tasting.

Yes, such a thing exists, and conveniently it seems to often occur near vineyards, where you can engage in other sorts of tastings.

Ideally, I will do this somewhere in California, because going to California in general is also on my life to-do list (I hear they have some decent zoos and aquariums there…).

But for now, I have a smaller goal – to find a good, reasonably priced olive oil.  Not for cooking, but to be used as more of a finishing oil.  You know, salad dressings, for dipping bread, etc.  I seem to end up with ones that are either flavorless or bitter.  I’ve read that bitterness is sometimes considered a good thing with olive oil, but I’ve had ones where that was all I tasted, even when mixed with other foods.

I suppose I could do more research on my own, but I spend enough of my time doing research.  So I decided to take the lazy way out and ask for recommendations from others.  Please remember, I am a grad student, so while I am suspect there are some incredible olive oils out there with a price tag to match, for now I’m looking for a good value.

Suggestions?  If I try one you suggest and like it, I might just give you some recognition….

*The more words I add to this list of words I don’t like, the more I wonder if I have some bizarre, lexical variation of a sensory processing disorder, where I have extreme sensitivity and aversion to certain words just based on the way they sound.  Is there such a thing??

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Call to All Foodies (on a Budget): Olive Oil Recommendations?

  1. eatwilmington

    If you want good olive oil, get out of the grocery store. Find a small gourmet shop. I could give you a plethora of info, but you might not want it. So, in brief, you want cold processing and low acidity. First press is very pricey though fabulous. So look for Greek – the best nation producer in my opinion. I love a brand named Lakoniko – actually met the family that owns the trees and presses the olives. You might try a google search to see if someone has it in your area. Finishes like butter – delish! Usually mid priced, around $16 for 275 ml.

  2. Purchase a mid-priced brand of extra virgin for dipping and dressing. Don’t by anymore EVOO then you’ll use within a month or two and store in a tinted glass or ceramic bottle. Store in a dark cool place or put a week’s worth in a smaller tinted container, store at room temp and refrigerate the rest, as it will last much longer. I tend to buy my EVOO at an Italian market or the like, as they always have a very nice selection from different countries. That’s my take anyway….Happy Tasting!

  3. Jenn Marx

    Boy do I have tons of info for you! We go to the olive festival every summer in Paso Robles (the town next to us). It offers free olive oil tastings from over 100 places, plus wine tasting. You are always free to visit and check it out! Our personal favorite is the offerings at Pasolivo, a local olive oil co. The tangerine, lime, and rosemary varieties are my Dave. They have a website I believe.

  4. Raj

    Greek or small-batch Italian olives, cold pressed, and either custom bottled, or rebottle it yourself in a ceramic or glass aspirated container. Only a handful (less than two dozen) of the first-pressed oils that I’ve sampled have been so stellar that I’d support paying the upcharge over later pressings, but do as you will in that regard.

    Also, I second the comment that the best use for cheap olive oils is dipping, or using as immersions for custom infusions.

    • Thanks, Raj. I should have known you would have some good information on the topic! Just to clarify- when you say the best use for cheap olive oils is for dipping, then what do you recommend using higher-priced olive oils for?

      • Raj

        Personally, I prefer to use cheap olive oil for dipping (granted, I’m not talking bottom of the barrel, quality-wise), because often you’re dipping a bread/appetizer that has enough body and flavor on its own that the oil shouldn’t need to compete on your palate.

        Higher-end (not necessarily the highest price, but the ones with the best flavor notes and body) oils are what I use for cooking. Any recipe calling for more than a tablespoons or two of oil gets the good bottle, if it’s on hand. Also, I always reserve some in a carafe for last-minute vinaigrettes, or as a finishing drizzle on dishes.

      • This is good to know. It’s interesting, because I had read in a couple places (I think America’s Test Kitchen was one) was that it’s a waste to use extra virgin olive oil for cooking. I believe it had something to do with the fact that when it’s heated for cooking, all the subtle flavors that make extra virgin olive oil so awesome are lost. They suggested using light olive oil for cooking, and extra virgin for finishing. I suppose I need to do some more research!

  5. Nancy

    Just a little aside about olives and olive oils a bit closer to home. Once upon a time there was a vineyard in Virginia that had olive tastings! (Villa Appalaccia) Apparently, this event is a thing of the past but they do have wine-based events and are seeking helpers to pour wine at the festivals. http://www.villaappalaccia.com/events.html
    It looks as if they have a beautiful Italian villa on the Blue Ridge Parkway with spectacular views. They do serve olives at the winery.

  6. Jessica

    If you’re ever in DC, there’s an olive oil shop that just opened in Capitol Hill (near Eastern Market) called Sapore. I haven’t been yet but I think you can taste any variety they offer– so you could make sure you get one you really like before investing in a whole bottle!

  7. Raj

    1) the whole “don’t use good oil ‘x’ for cooking” seems a bit more a complicated issue than ATC and other sources make it out to be, because they don’t always delve into different cooking conditions and situations before making a blanket pronouncement. Sure, under very high heat, any aromatic, oil, or aromatic oil will begin to break down and have it’s flavor profile change, subtly or dramatically. However, a good oil is often still going to be better to the palate than its poorer counterpart, even in a degraded state (with the exception of some specific chemical reactions that result in bitter tastes when heat is involved).

    2) If you are venturing near DC for grocery shopping, I’d suggest these two spots as well for olive oil, both selection, and better pricing than say, whole foods or other upscale gourmet spots:

    * A. Litteri’s – 517 Morse Street NE DC (last I was there, they had ~50 oils on hand, and maybe two dozen of them I’d recommend in a heartbeat, while the others are probably worth a try, a minimum; the prices on some of the upscale small varietals will make you appalled at what other places charge… their vinegar selection is also pretty nice)
    * Three Brothers Italian Market – 4521 Kenilworth Ave., Bladensburg (strong selection of oils and other products, really friendly and informative proprietors… also a great spot if you’re looking for obscure types of pasta at very reasonable prices, under $3/lb)

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