05 Feb

Finding the good oil

By Philip Johnson,

JUST as the quality of olives can vary from year to year, so too can the quality of olive oil.
I’ve recently sampled quite a few olive oils from around the country which I found quite fascinating, firstly due to the sheer volume of oil now being produced in Australia, but also to be able to compare them with the Italian and Spanish oils that have dominated our market for some time.

Italy and Spain are the top two producers in the world, with oils from Tuscany in Italy considered some of the world’s best. However, Australia, as well as other countries and states such as New Zealand, South Africa and California, notably all wine regions as well, are now also producing first-rate olives and oils.

Like good wine, regionality and climate play a big part in the quality and flavour of olive oil. Unlike wine, the first run or new season oil is usually the best, both for taste and longevity.

Extra-virgin oils are best used in most recipes, extra-virgin referring to the first press of the olives, giving the oil its distinctive flavour and colour. These also have a good shelf life and should keep for a reasonable period of time if stored in a cool place, preferably in a dark glass bottle to avoid sunlight affecting them.

Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers of London’s River Cafe fame are so fanatical about what oils they use they travel to Italy each year to taste various producers’ offerings before deciding what they will buy and use for the next year.

While I’m not that particular I do insist on the using one of Australia’s best quality oils in the kitchen at e’cco, Joseph “First Run” extra-virgin olive oil produced by Joe Grilli of Primo Estate in South Australia, when available, or his green label extra-virgin olive oil for the remainder of the year.

As for the imported ones, I prefer the Italian Tuscan-style oils that are quite fruity and have a little pepper on the back of the palate. Some of the Spanish oils are so peppery they literally grab you in the back of the throat they are so sharp.

Whatever your preference might be, quality is quite often dictated by price, so I strongly recommend using the best quality oil you can afford.

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