Choose California Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

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In 1997, Ridgely Everss DaVero extra-virgin olive oil, produced in northern California, won a blind tasting in Italy. This triumph was a result of a revival of the American olive oil industry that began in the 1980s. Producers started reviving old trees they found on their properties, imported new trees from Italy, and began to focus on producing olive oil that would be world class. Each year, more acreage is planted in olive orchards and more oil produced. The California Olive Oil Council, a trade organization started in 1992, developed a seal certification program to set standards for extra-virgin olive oil. If an oil passes certain laboratory tests and is deemed defect free and fruity by a panel that tastes the oil blind, the producer can affix a seal to the bottles stating that it is extra-virgin. This helps the shopper, who is confronted by numerous bottles of olive oil on store shelves, make a choice.

Unlike olive oil producers in other parts of the world, the Californians mix and match olive varieties to make oil. Some pairings might include Tuscan and Spanish varieties in the same bottle, or oil from the old Mission trees blended with oil from Italian or French varieties. This innovation gives rise to oils with interesting flavor profiles.

There are styles of olive oil and each style has a different use in the kitchen. All extra-virgin olive oil is fruity, but the degree of bitterness, perceived at the back of the tongue, and pungency, a peppery sensation in the throat, can vary. Delicate oils have just a little bitterness and/or pungency and can be substituted in dishes instead of butter. Medium oils are pleasantly bitter and pungent and very versatile in the kitchen. Robust oils are the most bitter and pungent of all and pair well with spicy or garlic-flavored food. They are surprisingly good in some desserts, especially those with chocolate.

Any California extra-virgin olive oil will make your food taste better. Ideally, the taste of the oil and the taste of the food will add up to a sum better than the parts.

RECIPE: Caramelized Onions and Balsamic Vinegar Bruschetta