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The olive is the symbol of the Mediterranean. You cannot have one without the other. Olive oil is used in everyday cooking throughout the Mediterranean. It was even used as currency in the ancient days. It has been used as medicine and for heating. But today, olive oil is a culinary staple. If you cook Mediterranean food, you must have a good olive oil. It is a requirement! But are all olive oils created equal? Of course not. The most highly prized olive oils come from Greece, Italy and Spain. That is where the growing conditions are ideal. But there are subcategories even within these:

Extra-Virgin: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is what I refer to as “liquid gold”. It is made from the first cold-pressing of olives which means it is the most flavorful. Cold-pressing refers to a mechanical pressing involving only pressure and is chemical free. It is also the more expensive, due to its quality and the production limitations for each growing season. It is gold in color with a slightly greenish tone. Its taste is fruity and spicy. Contains no more than 1% acidity.

Virgin: Virgin Olive oil is also cold pressed, but the color and flavor is much more subdued than the extra virgin. Usually contains 1.5-2 % acidity.

Semi Fine: This is a blend of Virgin and Extra Virgin Olive Oil and contains 3% acidity.

Pure: The quality of this oil is such that is should be used as an ingredient when you do not want an over powering taste.

For me personally, I only use extra-virgin. I really don’t see the need for the others, and there are plenty of inexpensive extra-virgin olive oils out there!

But which country has the best olive oil?
This is a question best answered by personal taste and dish. It is good to have a variety of olive oils, from different regions, for different dishes. Italian oils tend to be robust and peppery. Greek oils tend to be fruity with a peppery afterglow. Spanish oils are more subtle and sweet. Try them all out and have fun! Pick what you like.
I have my two favorite olive oils for sale on the store page

Filtered vs. Unfiltered?
Most olive oils are filtered through a cloth; however some are available unfiltered giving the oil a cloudy look. There is no real difference in the flavor of the oil, whether it is filtered or unfiltered.

Using Olive Oil to Bake and Fry:
Many people don’t know this, but you can most certainly fry and bake with Olive Oil. It is high in antioxidants and monounsaturated “good fats” so it is better for you than frying and baking with other oils. Many bakers use it in traditional Italian breads, foccacias, etc. Olive Oil can easily replace butter in recipes – but it could also affect the texture and flavor, so be sure to experiment first, before you serve it to other people! Some Italian cake recipes specifically use olive oil for the taste it brings to the dish.

Conversions:
1 tsp Butter = ¾ tsp Olive Oil
1 TBS Butter = 2 ¼ tsp Olive Oil
2 TBS Butter = 1 ½ TBS Olive Oil
¼ Cup Butter = 3 TBS Olive Oil
½ Cup Butter = 1 Cup+2 TBS Olive Oil
1 Cup Butter = ¾ Cup Olive Oil
(Thanks Trader Joe’s for this nifty chart! Copyright 2003)

Storage tips:
Store Olive Oil in a cool dark place like a pantry or like my grandfather did, under the sink! (Be sure to keep it away from chemicals, though). It is ok to refrigerate mild everyday oils, but the good stuff should be stored in a pantry, as condensation may affect the subtle tastes. Olive oil should be used within the first year of purchase. Once opened it should be used within 3 months. So if you don’t tend to use it a lot, buy in smaller amounts. Never store olive oil in plastic – it will change the taste to…plastic. Yuck.