Along with grapevines, olive trees have been cultivated since ancient times. Historically, olive oil was used not just in cooking but also as a medicine and a light source. Today, as we become more health-conscious, its benefits are widely recognized. And as it becomes an everyday kitchen staple, consumers are educating themselves, as they have with wine, about the subtle differences between types and brands. In this spirit, NOW conducted a blind taste test of bottles from Italy, Greece, Spain and California. Our panel, six olive-oil (extra) virgins, tasted straight oil only, with slices of tart green apple to cleanse the palate between samples. A range of extra-virgin oils, from pricey to supermarket shelf, were evaluated for aroma and taste. Not every verdict was unanimous; it's a matter of taste, after all. Here are their reactions.
Masserie diSant'eramo (1). An Italian oil from the Apulia region. Comments: smell of avocado, hint of smoke, intense, made me cough, it's got bite.
Krinos (2). A popular Greek label. Waxy smell, waxy taste, syrupy, heavy, average, bland.
Horio (3). Another Greek. Minty, grassy, nutty finish, peppery, lingers in throat.
Frantoia (4). A Sicilian oil in a hand-painted ceramic jug. Piney, bitter cocoa taste, strong afterburn, good for salads, meaty, earthy.
California Harvest (5). A California marque. Barely there, fishy smell and taste, slightly rancid-tasting, reminded me of leather.
Da Roi Olio Extra Vergine (6). Another Italian. Smoky smell, flowery, clean finish, dull, flavourful.
Grand Cru Getsemani (7). The clear favourite, an Italian oil from the Abruzzi region. Fruity, citrus scent, subtle fire, lemony, superb, I love it!
Kalamata Gold (8). A Greek label that won mixed reviews. Smells like sunshine, strong and slippery, very light, tasteless, too heavy, bland.
Nativo (9). An Italian oil from Salerno. No smell, mild smell, plastic, rich, nondescript with bitter notes, tasty, quite a kick!
Oli (10). Another Sicilian evo. Light fragrance, mellow pepper taste, resiny, subtle, harsh.
Bertolli (11). A familiar everyday brand: medicinal, very rubbery scent, soapy, ugh!
Columela (12). A southern Spanish oil. Light, smooth, fruity, sharp finish, aromatic.
Trappeto di Caprafico (13). Another fave from Italy. Lovely olive aroma, beautiful, very very good, clean green taste, a favourite.
Tenuta (14). A Tuscan. Kicky, grapey, nose-tickling, fragrant, très faboo.
Elaion (15). Another Italian. Smells like suntan oil, light and smooth, peppery, subtle, good for cooking when you don't want an intense oil.
Olio Carli (16). An Italian-style oil from Imperia. Reminds me of spring, a slow build to an intense finish, slightly fruity, full-bodied, yummy!
By the end of the session, our panel saw themselves as cognoscenti. Each of them went home and taste-tested their own regular brand -- then threw it out.
Many of these oils can be found at Pusateri's (1539 Avenue Road, 416-785-9100), Pasquale Brothers (217 King East, 416-364-7397), Dinah's Cupboard (50 Cumberland, 416-921-8112), Sun Valley (583 Danforth, 416-469-5227, Cumbrae (481 Church, 416-923-5600), and Loblaws (10 Lower Jarvis, 416-304-0611, and others).
indicates tasters' choice