To make sure you’re getting the good stuff, check your olive oil’s label carefully.
It’s no secret that, in addition to being the delicious foundation of most Italian cooking, olive oil is remarkably good for you. Packed with health-boosting antioxidants and fatty acids that help lower bad cholesterol in the body, it’s easy to feel great about drizzling this liquid gold on our pastas, soups, and salads!
But the sad truth is that not all olive oils are created equal. As olive oil has exploded in popularity over the last two decades, moving from specialty import stores to supermarket shelves, many companies have attempted to profit off its good name with mediocre products. The biggest culprit? Blended oils that don’t make it clear where (or what) they’re from. You’ve probably seen these in stores, using language like “Mediterranean” to give consumers a sense of authenticity while blending low-quality oils from multiple countries. Some are even blended with other vegetable oils and contain only a small percentage of actual olive oil. Those other oils lack the health-boosting qualities of olive oil—and might even be detrimental to your health.
And even when they’re 100% olive oil, these industrial oils could be mixed from leftover pressings. They’re less likely to be extra virgin (the first oil pressed from the olive, which contains the most good stuff), and may have been sitting in warehouses or on store shelves for years, losing the fresh quality that makes olive oil special. Many people don’t know olive oil has a relatively short shelf life! After 24 months at most (sooner if it is exposed to air or sunlight), olive oil will turn rancid, developing off flavors that won’t do your cooking any favors. That’s why when you’re shopping for olive oil, it’s so important to take a close look at the label.
Not only does having a sense of your olive oil’s provenance mean you can trust it’s the good stuff, it can also give you important clues about its flavor before you crack open the bottle. As a general rule, olive oils from the north of Italy tend to be mild in flavor, becoming more intense with spicy and bitter notes as you move south.
These are a few of our favorite trusted Italian olive oils, from north to south:
Giadzy olive oil, from Liguria, aka the Riviera of Italy. On the northwest corner of the country, sharing a border with France, this region is known for soft, buttery oils with almond notes. Our Giadzy olive oil is made from taggiasca olives grown by a trusted farming family hand-picked by Giada.
Fratepietro’s extra virgin olive oil is an example of a good blended oil, using oil from bella di Cerignola and coratina olives grown on their estate in Puglia, on the heel of Italy’s boot. By blending spicy coratina with mild bella di Cerignola oils, they create a well-balanced middle ground that is boldly flavored enough to drizzle as a finishing oil, but won’t overpower your everyday cooking. Fratepietro is a fifth-generation business that has been growing and pressing their own olives since 1890.
Centonze’s DOP Valle del Belice is a single-varietal oil from Sicily with an intensely fruity, green flavor. Made with nocellara de Belice olives, it’s characteristic of the southern island’s bold, spicy oils—this one will give you that prickle at the back of the tongue that tells you it’s especially high in healthy polyphenols. Since the 1950s, Centonze has been growing their olives on the beautiful Case di Latomie estate in southwestern Sicily, an historic ancient Greek quarry-turned-olive grove.