Great ingredients make for great meals. Whenever you can, use the highest quality supplies for your recipes. The flavor difference will always come through in your finished dish.
If there is an ingredient that you are not familiar with, check our Ingredient section. There are pages and pages of information about the ingredients used in my recipes.
There are whole books written on how to choose olive oil. The Italian Culinary Institute has a course on tasting olive oils that is modeled on wine tasting. You can even join an Olive Oil of the Month club.
Oil is pressed in most temperate countries, but those around the Mediterranean Sea dominate with over 90% of production. There is great variety in olive oils based primarily on the climate where the olives are grown. Much of the oil imported to the U.S. comes from Italy, so I will use it as an example of how the differences in climate can affect the pressed oil.
Tuscan olive oils have been the gold standard for Italian olive oils. Because of the cooler northern climates, olives are picked before they are ripe, giving them a younger, herbaceous flavor. It is, however, the slight pepper undertone that is most characteristic of these oils.
In the south of Italy, the longer season offers an olive that can be fully ripened and is less bright and green in flavor. Traditionally, the growers in the south sold olives that were overripe and were made into lesser quality olive oils.
Sicily produces excellent quality olive oils. Many of these are grown, pressed and bottled in Tuscan style, but the southern oils are generally softer in their flavor with mellow buttery characteristics.
The Greeks have almost 20% of Mediterranean olive oil production. Spain is the largest producer of oil at almost 30% of total world production.