Olive oil is one those rare commodities- something that tastes wonderful and is actually good for you. Speciality food shops conduct olive oil tastings. The oils are poured into small white dishes and accompanied by broken bread. The oils are tasted by dipping the bread into each oil and comparing the flavors. Oils at such tastings are offered labelled according to their country or region of origin, and to their grade. the grades oil are determined by the method of harvesting and pressing.
The most desirable in terms of quality are hand harvested, first pressed and cold pressed. The finest oils from each region are harvested and pressed in this way. The best oil is extra virgin, with an acidity of less than one percent. It is best used as a flavoring agent, in dressings, or poured over finished dishes, so it’s inherent taste is not altered by heat.
Other grades include fine virgin olive oil, semi-fine olive oil, refined and pure olive oil, and you should choose one of these lower grade oils for cooking and for making mayonnaise. Aioli, the rich garlic mayonnaise of Provence, should however be made from good green extra virgin olive oil.
Olives are grown all around the Mediterranean, as well as in South Africa, Australia and California. The top oil producers are Spain, Italy, Greece and France. Each country’s oil has distinctive flavor, with nuances and color that vary between regions, affected by climate, soil and fruit of the the olive variety. French oil is very sweet and, though produced in small quantities, is of fine quality. Greek oil is more aromatic and oils from the Pelopponese and Crete are very highly regarded. Spain is the largest producer of oil and its oil tastes very fruity. Fine Italian oils are produced in Linguria, Tuscany, Umbria and Apulia. Tuscan oils have a peppery aftertaste which varies from district to district.
California olive oil is fruity and mild, and produced under varietal names such as Manzanilla, Sevillano and Mission. Australian Oils are labelled like their wines, with fruit varieties, climate, aspect of the groves and pedigrees of the trees. Cyprus produces some superb oils, while oil produced in Israel, Lebanon,Turkey, Syria Tunisia, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria and South Africa is mostlly consumed in the home market.