Friday, January 14, 2022

The Secret Sauce of Cooking: Olive Oil

Olive Oil
Fresh bottle of olive oil, ready to rock!

Olive oil is the key ingredient to good cooking, aside from the actual fresh vegetables themselves of course.  Fancy, five-star restaurants will use butter (and cream) instead of olive oil, which admittedly does give the dishes a very unique umami flavor that can't really be re-created any other way.  However butter is expensive and it raises the question of is constantly eating large amounts of a dairy product good for you?  Olive oil is a key part of the Mediterranean diet, which is often touted as the world's healthiest diet.  The Mediterranean diet can really be summed up by saying, "Eat mostly fresh vegetables, some fish and some meat, cook with olive oil."  If you want to cook good food, cook your fresh vegetables in olive oil.  Where do you get this olive oil from though?

You go to the grocery store and meander to the wonderous aisle of oils where you are greeted by about 50 different brands of olive oil.  All with their own flashy labels, confusing phrases and extremely varying price points.  What's the difference between the $8 bottle of olive oil and the $30 bottle of olive oil?  Where do you even start with sifting through all of this?

The first important thing to point out is there is a big difference in taste between different types of olive oil.  I love doing an olive oil blind taste test, the differences are very discernable.  The second important thing to point out is the most expensive bottle of olive oil is likely not the best nor is the cheapest bottle.  The third important thing to point out is there's a lot of evidence of fraud in the olive oil industry.  Where olive oil is purposely mislabeled or gets cut with other oils so the company can offer a cheaper bottle of oil than the competition or so the company can charge a premium $30 for a tiny bottle of olive oil where they know general logic tells people that this must be the best bottle of olive oil so people buy it not knowing it's an inferior bottle of olive oil and the company rakes in the profits.  My favorite line in that linked article is, "America is the dumping ground of all those fraudulent operations."  Which is absolutely hilarious if you ask me.  Give us all of your crap, we don't know any better and we'll buy it anyways.  Just give us a good deal on it, will ya?  We wouldn't be having any fun if it weren't for a good old fashion mention of food companies discretely defrauding customers whom don't know any better.  How do you know which companies are good and which ones aren't?

Know your olive oil farmer / company of course!!!

Isn't if funny how we keep circling back to this general premise on this blog?  Get to know your olive oil producers and companies as well as their operations, find one you like and buy olive oil from them.  Luckily for you, I've already spent a crap ton of time doing this over the years.  If you try looking into big oil companies, there really isn't much to find out or know because they are such big companies.  If you can't find any info on a company then don't buy from them, that's plain and simple.  That alone eliminates probably 90% (if not more) of what you see on your grocery store shelves.

Early on in my quest of all things fresh food I was at a farmers market, I walked by an olive oil stand and they asked me if I wanted to do a blind taste test of five different olive oils.  Hells yeah I did, I was after-all still on my quest of trying to find a good source of olive oil so maybe this would help me narrow in on this search.  I was presented with five different spoons and I tried them one by one (with cleansing my palette in-between).  The first few were what you would expect, tasted like olive oil and not really discernable from each other.  Then I picked up the next spoon, tried it and I was instantly hit with a peppery explosion in the back of my throat, which I had never experienced before.  All of the same olive oil flavors were there but they were much more enhanced and pronounced in this sample.  I was stunned, my eyes were as wide as they could get, I had never tasted olive oil like this before.  The next few samples were back to the now extremely drab samples that tasted as bland as water.  After I had sampled them all the person at the stand asked me which one was my favorite.  Without any hesitation I pointed to the sample that had been the flavor explosion and went on a rant about why that one was the best.  The person at the stand smiled and laughed and let me know that is their olive oil, then they showed me the bottles for each of the samples.  I had previously purchased all of these bottles before and they ranged from the cheapest to the most expensive at the grocery store.  This person then went on to explain why their olive oil tastes so good, what that peppery explosion is and why their olive oil is better than everyone else's but still at the same price point.  I promptly bought a few bottles and I've never looked back.  Now-a-days I purchase this olive oil in large 3 L. tins directly from the company's website, which is Olea Estates olive oil.

Olea Estates olive oil comes from a single family farm in Greece.  They are certified organic, which we all know that doesn't really mean much but it's a good start.  But they are certified organic in Europe which generally has stricter standards than the US and is generally more reputable.  Olea picks their olives straight from the trees (not the olives on the ground), then cold presses them within an hour, which is the oil you get to enjoy.  So we have a single family farm whom is producing their own olive oil in a very basic and simple way, which is exactly what we want.  Furthermore if you look at their website they are trying very hard to provide as much information as they can to be as transparent as possible.  You can view their certified organic certification as well as the most recent lab analysis of their olive oil as well as just general information about olive oil, their farm, and their family.  That is exactly what I want to see!  While I don't know them directly nor have I ever been to their farm in Greece (yet) to verify all of this information is true, this is a hell of a lot more information than I've ever been able to find on any other olive oil company.  Plus the actual blind taste test is what sold me, everything else just backs up why their olive oil tastes so good and why I should buy from them.  It's actual olive oil, in it's simplest and purest form, that's all there is to it.

Olive Oil Tin
Olea Estates 3L Tin of Olive Oil

What about the cost?  Buying Olive Oil directly from a small farm in Greece sounds expensive, very expensive.

That does sound expensive, doesn't it?  The funny thing is that when you do it right, it only costs $10 per each 500 ml bottle of olive oil.  Which puts the cost at the lower end of what you find at your super market and you can get it shipped directly to your house, for free.  To do this, you buy the 3L tins directly from them on their website.  Each 3L tin currently costs $60, if you spend over $100 you get free shipping so you buy two of them at a time.  A single tin allows you to fill a 500ml bottle 6 times.  So get yourself an empty glass bottle with a fancy slow pour top that you see in fancy restaurants.  Congratulations, you're now buying your olive oil directly from a single family farm which will also be the best olive oil you've ever had and the price point is right on par with what you can buy at the grocery store but it arrives at your doorstep in the mail, what more could you want?!?!

Now that I've just rocked your world, go get yourself some excellent olive oil so you can start cooking some amazing food!

Their olives are also something to write home about.  I've never ever, ever, ever liked olives, ever, until I tried the Olea olives.  They actually taste good and they have flavor to them.  Try a package of their kalamata olives if you want to see what I'm talking about.  Once every few years I'll buy a 5 lb. tub of their olives, which is in a vinegar brine so you just keep it at room temperature and the olives are fine for a few years (as long as they stay covered by the brine).  Plus that vinegar brine can add a really good flavor to a lot of dishes.  Their candles are also unexpectedly good and are an interesting re-purposing of old olive oil bottles!  The Caribbean teakwood candle is amazing.

Important Note:  I'm not associated with Olea Estates in any way, shape or form.  I'm merely an extremely satisfied customer of theirs, so much so that I really want to the whole world to enjoy their olive oil.  Every now and then the tins will arrive in the mail pretty beat up, despite the companies best efforts to protect the tins during shipping.  Olea has always, always backed up their products and they have re-sent me shipments and/or offered me discounts the few times that has happened.  Their customer service is just as good as their olive oil so you can rest easy knowing they've got your back covered should something happen during shipping.

2nd Important Note:  Olive oil can also be a good, mild laxative.  If your internal plumbing gets a bit clogged, have a spoonful of olive oil for a day or two and that will be cleared up in no-time at all!  Which is a bit gross and not necessarily something I want to mention on this blog but it's really good general knowledge to know so you are welcome!

3rd Important Note:  If you get a few empty glass bottles to fill with olive oil then you can have one bottle with normal olive oil and a second with even fancier olive oil.  I'll generally fill the spare bottle with garlic and/or peppers which kicks everything up a notch when you want to make your very own fancy meals at home.  Plus I basically have an unlimited supply of garlic that I grow myself and a large supply of peppers when they're in season so it all works out great!

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