Whether you’re looking for a high-quality bottle to give as a gift for a culinarily-inclined loved one or want to splurge on something that will take your dressings and pestos to the next level for holiday season hosting, there are plenty of reasons to find yourself on the hunt for better-than-average olive oil.
Although you probably recognize that your go-to budget bottle from the grocery store doesn’t make the cut, understanding what makes one olive oil better than another can be intimidating. Should you choose a bottle from Italy or California? Are terms like “pure” or “refined” on the label important indicators of calibre?
We’re demystifying every gourmand’s favourite liquid gold with this guide to everything you need to know to buy an olive oil you’ll love.
Which olive oil is considered the highest quality?
Extra-virgin olive oil (AKA EVOO) is the top designation of quality an olive oil can receive, so it’s a solid starting point when shopping for top-tier liquid. EVOO goes through minimal processing and refinement, which helps it to retain peak flavour. By contrast, bottles labelled simply “olive oil” are often made with subpar, processed oils and while these can be perfectly adequate for many cooking purposes, they lack the nuanced flavour you’re likely looking for in your fancy bottle. EVOO is also a great all-around oil that can be used for everything from cooking and baking to drizzling and dipping, making it a more versatile choice for gifting or adding to your pantry.
What type of bottle is best for olive oil?
Light and heat can degrade olive oil’s flavour, so steer clear of anything packaged in a transparent container. An opaque bottle — most often made of glass or metal — not only means that the olive oil you’re buying will retain its optimal taste for longer but it’s a good sign that you’re buying from a brand that cares about the quality of its olive oil and knows how to bottle it properly.
How can you tell if olive oil is good quality?
Mediocre bottles often contain a blend of lower-grade olive oils sourced from numerous areas, so a single origin bottle is a better bet when you’re looking for something high-quality. Watch out for terms like “bottled in,” “product of” or “packed in,” which don’t actually mean that the olive oil was actually grown and processed in that country, only that it was bottled there.
Small producers who grow and press their own olives often include their estate name on the bottle, which lets you know the oil comes from one place. It’s a bonus if the label also includes an official seal, such as PDO (the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin), which adds official endorsement that the oil was made in a specific region.
Related: A Definitive Guide to Vinegar
Where’s the best place to buy olive oil?
You can’t go wrong shopping at a specialty olive oil store, where you’ll have the opportunity to try different samples before committing to a bottle and ask questions about the flavours and origins of various oils.
Di Oliva Tasting Bar in Vancouver, for example, offers small batch olive oils with taste profiles ranging from mild to robust. All olive oils carried at Toronto’s Olive Oil Emporium are single origin and come labelled with their harvest date to communicate their freshness. Liquid Gold Olive Oils & Vinegars, which has locations in Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick, also puts an emphasis on high-quality olive oil, sharing detailed tasting notes and crush dates for all of its stock.
What’s the best olive oil to gift?
If you prefer to shop online or want to skip the search and stick with a well-known brand, here are a couple of surefire bottles:
A woman- and minority-owned company, Brightland’s olive oil is made from olives grown on small, family-run farms in California. With its grassy flavour with notes of almond, the Alive blend is lovely in salads, marinades, baked goods and for dipping fresh bread.
Graza Drizzle: A favourite of food personalities and influencers, Graza’s Drizzle is packaged in a handy squeeze bottle made from recyclable plastic. Produced using hand-picked Picual olives from Jaen, Spain, Drizzle is a finishing oil that’s ideal for adding extra oomph to ice cream, salads and sandwiches.