Meet Alison Altomari, one of California's youngest olive oil experts. She served as the marketing director for the California Olive Oil Council and currently works with the Los Angeles organic produce delivery service Summerland [15% off first order with the code TOMBOY15]. Last week she invited me into her Franklin Hills tree house to school me on all things olive oil. We swirled, sniffed, and took straight swigs of olive oil while she talked sources, varietals, and what it really means to be an Extra Virgin olive oil. Of course I was just as interested in her ensemble, her Cobra Rock boots, Levi's 606s, and that Gitman shirt pinned with a Kapital brooch from Japan. Yum!
But back to the oil! As an olive novice myself, I asked for Alison to compile a little guide for understanding and buying the ubiquitous kitchen staple. And good news for us, Alison and her fiance Jay Carroll are producing their own olive oil debuting this November, so stay tuned for that!
First, like wine, there are all sorts of factors the can effect the quality of the oil: weather, picking methods, storage time, the milling process, exposure to heat, air and light, the colors of the bottle, and time. And like wine, the majority of domestic olive oil comes from California.
To know you're getting a good olive oil follow these tips:
1. Olive oil doesn't get better with age, it gets worse. Look for the harvest, milling, or bottling date, an extra virgin olive oil is best used within 18 months of milling.
2. Do not buy olive oil that's in a clear glass or plastic bottle. Dark glass, tin, or ceramic protects the oil from light exposure, which effects quality and shelf life.
3. Look for the California Olive Oil Council’s seal to ensure it is certified extra virgin olive oil (for California oils). 7 in 10 imported olive oils in the U.S. that are labeled "Extra Virgin" failed international EVOO quality standards (U.S. labeling law has yet to define or enforce what the term “Extra Virgin” means.)
4. Store the oil away from light, air and heat, inside a cabinet or pantry is ideal, not the refrigerator or next to the stove.
6. Buy it fresh and use it up! The olive oil harvest in California (where the vast majority of domestic olive oil is produced) is in October and November. Buy a new harvest oil and use it within a couple months from opening the bottle.
Alison's buyer's guide
From left to right: For an all-purpose consistent oil and great kitchen staple that's affordable, opt for Corto Olive Oil Co. For a finishing oil for salads and soups and the like, Ojai Olive Oil is really nice. And for a more unique single-varietal oil, Grumpy Goats from Capay Valley will not disappoint.