Between bad weather and pests, olive oil did not have a good year in Europe. But California olive oils are doing really well. California olive oils may not be as familiar to us as olive oil from Italy, Spain and Greece -- but they should be.
It's helpful to know what determines the taste of an olive oil.
One factor is the type of olive, which is often mentioned on the bottle. Olives can range from the fruity and nearly sweet arbequina to the peppery and even bitter frantoio.
Another factor is the olive's ripeness when it is picked. If the olive is green and unripe, you get an oil that is brighter, tarter and more aggressive. When the olive is semi-ripe, the olive oil mellows a little bit. And when the olive is fully ripe, the olive oil can be buttery and soft -- or it can just be dull.
If the olives start to oxidize while they are going from the tree to the press, the oil can suffer.
Pour the olive oil into a short glass. Cover the glass with your hand to hold in the fragrance. Swirl the oil, opening up the fragrance. Partially uncover the oil, put your nose down into the glass and sniff.
Then slurp the olive oil; take it in your mouth, draw some air over it to open up the flavors and swallow it. After you swallow the olive oil, wait for the aftertaste.
I blind tasted six California olive oils that are part of the California Olive Oil Council 2015 Seal Certification Program. Managing Producer Sally Swift poured each into a clear plastic cup and labeled it with a number. I smelled and tasted each oil, then selected my favorite.
Olive oil 1: Bozzano Olive Ranch A2 Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($18.95, 375 mL)
This olive oil almost smells a little bit like tomatoes; it has a little bit of a flowery, fruity overtone. The aftertaste makes me cough because it's so peppery and aggressive. [Hear Lynne taste this olive oil at 1:50 in the audio.] This would be great on bitter greens.
Olive oil 2: Seka Hills Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($18, 500 mL)
This smells like fresh-cut grass. It's very gentle and very buttery. The aftertaste -- you have to wait a few moments -- is still catching in my throat. There is a suggestion of pepper, but it's very mellow.
Olive oil 3: California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($12.59, 500 mL)
This olive oil has a very subtle fragrance. It tastes like walnuts or hazelnuts, but definitely nuts. It's very subtle. The aftertaste is oily.
Olive oil 4: ENZO Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Medium ($17.99, 500 mL)
This olive oil tastes like grass with a suggestion of artichoke. This one is a little flat. It's so subtle, it's almost not there. With the aftertaste there is none of the catch in the throat. I would say this is in the buttery category, but a little on the dull side.
Olive oil 5: Bondolio Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($30, 500 mL)
This olive oil looks a little cloudy. It tastes like fresh-cut hay. It's an oil you can eat.
Olive oil 6: Katz Chef's Pick Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($26, 500 mL)
The aroma has a sweetness to it, then you get this bitter overtone of artichoke. It's really a nice oil.
Every one of these oils has something about it that's outstanding. These are all above average. But if I had to pick only one, it would be Katz Chef's Pick Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
It has that sweet fragrance, which means it would be great with very delicate things. You could put it over grilled salmon. It has that artichoke bitterness and a little bit of pepper at the end, which would mean it's great with more assertive things. Talk about a tomato oil -- I would love this on a tomato.
While Muir Glen is an underwriting partner, neither their brand nor the brands of their parent company are involved in the reviewing process, and their employees have no editorial input or oversight on the results.
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