In partnership with our friends at Domenica Fiore
We often think of olive oil as a building block in cooking—a foundational element, not the star of the show. We toss vegetables and meat with olive oil before roasting or grilling. It’s the base of most dressings and vinaigrettes. And just about every sauté recipe cites two tablespoons to start.
This is all fine of course, but using olive oil solely as a building block—and using just any olive oil—could be a bit of a missed opportunity. High-quality olive oils can have a wide range of flavors depending on the olive varietal and growing region. They can be buttery, peppery, fruity, bitter, or grassy. And they can help balance and add nuance to your dishes when used in different ways.
There are a couple reasons why you might not already be using top-quality olive oils. One is that it can be hard to navigate what’s what when you’re staring at a wall of bottles in the supermarket. Another is that olive oil can be pricey because olives are a labor-intensive crop to grow, harvest, and process. So some olive oils are more of an investment. To get the most out of each bottle, do a label check, store with a little thought, and use recipes that let the olive oil shine.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The first thing we look for: extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). This means it’s higher-quality and cold-pressed.
If possible, find a bottle with both a harvest date and the specific names of the olive varietals used to make the oil. When producers share that level of information with consumers, it’s usually a good sign (similar to when top-tier coffee companies include a roast date on the bag).
Look for oil that’s packaged in very dark glass, aluminum, or ideally stainless steel. These materials help block light from the oil, which preserves it.
CURRENTLY IN OUR KITCHEN
The organic olive oils from Domenica Fiore are something special. Not only are they delicious but every part of the process—from harvesting to packaging—is intentionally designed to preserve the flavor and health benefits of extra virgin olive oils.
The Reserva is a blend of olives grown on Domenica Fiore’s estate in Umbria. It’s smooth with a long peppery finish, and we’ve been using it to dress salads or drizzle over grilled fish.
The Novello di Notte is one of the most innovative products we’ve encountered. It’s an early-harvest olive oil (“novello” means “new” in Italian)—historically a favorite of the olive pickers that was traditionally enjoyed with bread under the trees. What’s different about this oil is that it’s harvested at night—hence the name Novello di Notte (“notte” meaning “night”). Because the early-harvest season can be quite warm, Domenica Fiore harvests and presses the olives at night, protecting the product from light and heat through every step of the process, making for the purest and most potent novella olive oil. It tastes bright, grassy, and almost herbaceous. It’s outstanding over burrata, grilled steak, and honey gelato.
WHERE TO STORE YOUR BOTTLES
When it comes to storage, olive oil has four enemies: light, heat, air, and time. These elements have a negative effect on the flavor of the oil, hasten rancidity, and can lower the levels of some antioxidants present in your oil over time.
If you get olive oil that’s bottled in very dark glass, aluminum, or stainless steel, your oil should be protected from light. Even with the protective bottles, though, it’s best to store your olive oil bottle away from the sunnier parts of your kitchen, like windowsills. Many of us store olive oil right by the stove, which is convenient but detrimental to the oil itself. Protect the oil from the ambient heat your stove and oven give off by keeping it away from your cooktop entirely and in a cool, dark place.
Air and time both have a hand in oil spoilage. Olive oil isn’t meant to age like wine—it should be used generously in a timely manner, so don’t feel like you need to save it. Some producers use high-tech bottling processes that can extend the life of your olive oil. Domenica Fiore uses nitrogen to seal its stainless-steel bottles. This means that unopened and stored in a cool space, they can keep for years, and once opened, they’re good for eight to ten weeks.
HOW TO USE OLIVE OIL
The best way to experience the flavor of high-quality olive oil is in simple applications where it can really shine. Start by dipping some crusty bread in it or drizzle it over some heirloom tomatoes with flaky sea salt. You’ll probably notice its flavor is more pronounced than that of the everyday oils you’ve cooked with before. It might be grassy and vegetal, peppery, fruity, even slightly bitter. The bitterness is usually a sign of polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidant (you might have experienced a similar sensation from the tannins in red wine, another source of polyphenols). While this is one of the most prized health attributes of extra virgin olive oil, it can take a minute to get used to. Instead of fighting that bitterness, embrace it and use it to balance rich foods like meat, cheese, and beans or sweeter foods like fruit.
Our favorite way to use olive oil is to finish with it. “Finish” sounds like a chef-y term, but you probably already finish your food with a final drizzle, sprinkle, or squeeze of something before serving: flaky sea salt, cracked black pepper, or fresh citrus, for example. And almost anything can be finished with olive oil. Try it on anything grilled—the char and that grassy olive oil flavor go so well together. Olive oil is a wonderful final flourish for soups, stews, beans, and pasta. Even a bit over something as simple as soft scrambled eggs can be revelatory.
Also: It’s a common misconception that you shouldn’t cook with olive oil, but you absolutely can, even the fancy stuff. It’s not the most direct way to taste the flavor of an olive oil or get its health benefits, but olive oil has a smoke point of 500°F, so you can get some major cooking done.
These dishes are creamy, fatty, and rich and are beautifully balanced when finished with a grassy and peppery extra virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil in a dessert: It’s bright and fruity, and that slight bitterness cuts through the sweetness.