1. Extra virgin olive oil is perishable: Producers will list the date the olives were harvested. In Italian it will say “Raccolta (harvest or crop)” followed by the date. A “best by” date is usually two years after harvest. Purchase a small amount, or an amount that you can easily consume – as once the oil has been exposed to oxygen, the quality begins to deteriorate.
2. Check for the city or area of production on the label: “Packed in Italy” or “Bottled in Italy” do not mean that the oil was made in Italy, or from Italian olives. This label alone can mean that the oil was produced in another country, blended, and then imported and bottled in Italy. Look for a label that denotes where the oil was produced – for example “produced and bottled by” followed by the Producer and their location or address.
3. Certification: PDO is the acronym for “Protected Designation of Origin” or “DOP” in Italian. It is a legal definition for foods (including extra virgin olive oil) that are produced or processed in a specific region using traditional production methods. Organic certification can offer further assurances of quality and healthfulness.
5. Taste the difference: Extra virgin olive oil’s flavor characteristics include:
Fruitiness – having pleasant spicy fruit flavors characteristic of fresh ripe or green olives. Ripe fruit yields oils that are milder, aromatic, buttery, and floral. Green fruit yields oils that are grassy, herbaceous, bitter, and pungent. Fruitiness also varies with the variety of olive.
Bitterness – Creating a mostly pleasant acrid flavor sensation on the tongue.
Pungency – Creating a peppery sensation in the mouth and throat.
Bitterness and pungency are indicators of the presence of healthful antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and other healthful “minor components” of top-quality olive oil – unless one of these characteristics is overwhelming and disproportionate to the others. The oil should be well-balanced, and taste fresh. Avoid tastes or odors such as moldy, rancid, cooked, greasy, meaty, metallic and cardboard. Also pay attention to mouthfeel: prefer crisp and clean to flabby, coarse or greasy. If possible – taste the oil first! Check your suppliers or local markets for dates that they demo their oil.
6. Take the price into consideration: Producing genuine extra virgin olive oil is expensive! The average price of quality EVOO on the market is $30 – $55. A low price point strongly suggests that the oil you’re buying is inferior.