While olive trees have been cultivated in the Mediterranean since around 3000 BC, just forty years ago here in the UK, olive oil would have been far more likely to be handed to you over the counter by the chemist than soaring past the self checkout scanner and into your Bag for Life. That said, we’ve more than made up for lost time in recent years, as evidenced by the quest for the best olive oil to perk up our pasta and spice up our sourdough.
With lots of press coverage over mislabeling and head-scratching over terminology, it can be difficult to find the right olive oil, so here are a few common concerns that can arise in the pursuit of the Nectar of the Gods, and how to get around them. First, what is extra virgin olive oil? When you see this on the label, it simply means that less than 24 hours have passed between the picking and pressing of the olives, and that they were pressed in one go, without heat or added chemicals.
Another thing that often leaves consumers confused is origin. Where possible, we’ve listed the specific region from which our oils hail, as those labelled, for example, ‘product of Italy’ won’t necessarily come from Italian-grown olives. Rather, the minimum requirements they need to meet on Italian soil are packing and shipping, so read carefully. For the most premium produce, look for oils that come from a single estate or have a PDO or DOP seal of approval, which indicate that they come from a recognised oil-producing region.
Finally, forget the old adage of ‘the greener the better’ — there’s an overwhelming variety of olive cultivars out there, all of which come out different shades. The best thing to do is read up on the flavours and range of uses to see what’ll tickle your tastebuds and become your new store-cupboard staple.
Far too beautiful to hide in the condiment cupboard, this single-estate Puglian olive oil comes in a handmade, hand-painted ceramic bottle that demands to be shown off, and makes it perfect as a gift for any discerning foodie friends. The included spout makes for a clean and easy pour, perfect for delicately drizzling that finishing touch over a pasta dish or tricolore, and most importantly, the oil itself is divine. A little fruity, a little spicy, and one hundred percent delicious. Use it with pared-back dishes to let it really shine.
This certified organic extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed from a blend of olive varieties right after picking for a really fresh flavour. Mild to start with and peppery on the finish, it’s a lovely smooth all-rounder for cooking, seasoning and dunking, and for those in favour of sustainable farming and responsible agricultural practice, it’s a real feel-good product that you can use again and again.
Get that pizzeria finish at home with this delicious and moreish garlic-infused olive oil. The already developed flavour saves time and effort frying off ingredients or marinating for long stretches if you’re short on time — just drizzle, dip or even toss with grilled meat or veg for a hit of unctuous flavour in seconds, without the faff of cleaning the garlic press or scraping burnt bits out of the bottom of the pan.
Avoid the minefield of potentially mislabeled Italian olive oil by heading straight for the West Coast. The California Olive Ranch makes a light, sweet and subtle oil with a fruity nose that’s ideal for everyday use, although as the most expensive olive oil on our list, it’s a pricey habit to get into. If you’re serious about the oil you use, however, its mild, almost buttery taste is a treat, making it perfect for bringing out the best in green veg and salads without being overpowering.
For a food gift set that really encapsulates the flavours of Italy, look no further. Nudo’s Three Tenors are a pure extra virgin olive oil, an oil stone-ground with bright, zesty lemon, and an oil infused with fiery Sicilian chillies — give as a gift, or keep for yourself as a versatile addition to your home-cooking arsenal. If you or a friend are of the tree-hugging persuasion, Nudo also offer an ‘adopt an olive tree’ programme, wherein you receive quarterly deliveries of oil from your own special tree, which we think is rather sweet.
From the heart of Spain’s rugged Córdoba region, this award-winning oil has repeatedly ranked among the best in the world, and no wonder. It has the most complex flavour of any on our list, with a sweet, almost almondy start, a spicy finish, and tons of herbaceous notes, so it’ll both hold its own against rich flavours in complex dishes, and elevate even the humble hunk of bread to delicious new heights.
Get some cooking inspiration with our guide to the best slow cookers.