Extra-virgin for 2018: A healthy resolution

The best thing you can do for your health in 2018:

get serious about the Mediterranean “diet”

Rather than diet, though, I prefer to say the Mediterranean “way of eating,” because it isn’t about losing or gaining weight so much as it’s about adopting eating habits that promote long life and good health—and offer some great food too.

And the best thing you can do to adopt a Mediterranean way of eating is to get into the olive oil habit. Extra-virgin is what we’re talking about because extra-virgin olive oil is not just a heart-healthy fat, it’s also loaded with antioxidants that bring even more benefits. Try a bunch of different olive oils (from Greece, Spain, Italy, California and elsewhere), find one or two you really like and that fit your budget (not all extra-virgin requires a mortgage to buy), and use it liberally—on salads, of course, and in sauces, dolloped on top of a plate of vegetables or a piece of grilled fish, garnishing a bowl of hearty winter soup. And don’t be afraid to cook with extra-virgin. That’s what distinguishes the food of Mediterranean chefs and home cooks alike, extra-virgin olive oil for frying, braising, low-temperature poaching, baking—even cakes, muffins, and cookies benefit from the use of extra-virgin.

Pugliese pastry chef Rosy Grottoli bakes with extra-virgin

It is simply not true that extra-virgin olive oil has a low smoke point–the smoke point is 210ºC (around 400ºF) which is way higher than you would want even for deep-fat frying (The Joy of Cooking recommends 350º to 360º for that). So cook with pleasure, cook with assurance, cook with extra-virgin, and know that you’re cooking with the finest fat there is.

fresh new oil into the fusto

People often ask me what’s the best extra-virgin to use. I find that hard to answer because often an oil that’s available in one part of the country may be impossible to find elsewhere. But with the widespread use of internet shopping, that becomes less and less of a problem. A three-liter tin of Greek Iliada oil, a first-rate cooking oil, is available on Amazon for $39, which works out to about $13 a liter (a liter is approximately one quart), certainly not a budget buster. If you prefer to stay local, both California Olive Ranch and Seka Hills provide excellent options that range from all-purpose cooking oils to special-profile oils that are more expensive and that you’ll want to save to use raw, as garnishes or dressings, where the flowery flavors of the oils can add a lot to a dish.

As a behemoth, Amazon doesn’t always pay a lot of attention to the oils it offers—it’s almost impossible, for instance, to get any information about the all-important harvest date from Amazon’s postings. (A brief word about harvest date: younger is better, youngest is best. Look right now for 2017 harvest oils, although 2016 and even 2015, if it has been kept in optimum conditions, can be good for cooking oil.)

Unless you really know your way around olive oil, here are several, much better alternatives to Amazon. Be guided by information on the websites and don’t be afraid to ask. These people are passionate about their products and they are all in business to serve you:

  •             www.gustiamo.com, specializing in fine oils from all over Italy
  •             www.Olio2go.com, also specializing in Italian oils of the finest kind
  •             www.Markethallfoods.com, a great source for oils from all over the olive world, California to South Africa to the Mediterranean; Market Hall Foods has a retail store, Rockridge Market Hall, 5655 College Avenue, Oakland, California
  •             www.Zingermans.com, also has well-sourced olive oils from all over the world, including hard-to-find oils from New Zealand, Provence and Tunisia; their retail shop is Zingerman’s Deli, 422 Detroit Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Like Rockridge Market Hall, it’s well worth a stop if you’re in the neighborhood.

You can also find a longer list of olive oils I especially recommend in the back pages of Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil, my book that tries (but fails) to exhaust this inexhaustible subject.

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