Brochure Copy for Napa Valley Extra Virgin

What makes an olive oil extra virgin?

Why is extra virgin so healthy?

What should we look for when purchasing extra virgin oil?

These are questions we hear again and again from our customers, so out of compassion for olive-oil-loving foodies everywhere, we’re documenting these golden answers in writing.

What makes an olive oil “extra virgin”?

According to the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), an olive oil must possess three key attributes in order to qualify as extra virgin:

1. The oil is mechanically extracted without the use of chemicals or excessive heat.
2. It must contain less than .5% free oleic acid.
3. It has positive taste characteristics and no taste defects.

What does this mean? We’re getting there…

Low heat is the best heat

In the U.S., olives are always heated during the pressing process.

Yes, that’s right – always heated.

The type of “cold pressing” that doesn’t use any heat at all is an uber-traditiona, labor-intensive process that’s only used now by a handful of small villages in Greece and Italy. It’s completely different from modern production methods.

These days, “cold pressing” implies that the olives are monitored so as not to heat above 77°F. This helps preserve the molecular structure of the oil in its purest form, which maximizes flavor and health benefits.

It follows suit that when it comes to cooking, low heat is the best heat.

It’s really ideal to use your olive oil for finishing and drizzling, but the occasional light sautéing is fine.

Oleic what? – Why olive oil is so healthy

Oleic acid is an Omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid that contains high levels of anti-oxidants. In other words, it’s a good fat.

Oleic acid actually helps to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise good cholesterol (HDL). It does this by softening artery membranes, which in turn prevents build up of bad cholesterol and allows for increased absorption of beneficial fatty acids.

Olive oil consists primarily of oleic acid, which makes it one of the healthiest sources of fat in the human diet. (Whoo hoo!)

But not all kinds of oleic acid are something to smile about. (Wah-wah…)

The level of free oleic acid signifies molecules of oleic acid that have broken off from their molecular chains. In olive oil, free oleic acid levels rise when the olives are roughly handled or spend too much time off the tree before pressing.

A low free acid content means longer shelf life, higher smoke point, and all around happy olive oil.

“Is it supposed to be spicy?” – What to look for in an extra virgin olive oil

Tasting fresh olive oil is really a unique culinary experience. (Even somewhat mind-blowing if you’re a first-timer.)

Fresh oil has three positive taste characteristics: fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency.

Fruitiness comes in the form of many flavors – grassy, buttery, nutty, green apple, kiwi, and banana to name a few. (The nuances vary according to the types of olives used, ripeness at the time of pressing, and terroir.)

Bitterness is pretty self-explanatory, and pungency is the peppery finish that you feel in the back of your throat. Pungency often times comes as a surprising after-kick, and yes, it can actually make you cough.

Both bitterness and pungency denote high levels of polyphenols, which are packed with antioxidants.

This means a strong, spicy oil is a healthy oil.

Perhaps that’s why the Italians say, “A three cough oil is the best oil!”

What’s time got to do with it?

After about one to two years, olive oil loses the powerful flavors that make it such a culinary delight.

Grocery store oil, even top-tier organic oil, is generally way past this time frame and is technically rancid. You won’t get sick from eating it, but it no longer contains the wonderful taste, light consistency, and health benefits of fresh oil.

The varied spice and flavors of high quality olive oil add brilliant finish to simple dishes and accommodate a wide range of discerning palates.

And across the nearly infinite varieties of oil, one thing remains certain: there’s nothing like fresh, pure olive oil…especially when it’s from California!