Olive oils come in many flavors, depending on the variety of olive or blend of olives that go into them. The most popular flavor in the United States is middle-of-the-road — not assertive enough to offend anyone, nor dynamic enough to be very interesting. This is OK for applications in which heat might destroy the flavor nuances anyway, such as high-heat sautéing. If, on the other hand, the oil’s flavor has the chance to come through in the finished dish — such as in salad dressing or the tapenade recipe above — you might consider seeking out one of the following single-varietal olive oils: ‘ascolano’ (fruity),‘koroneiki’ (fruity), ‘kalamata’ (juicy), ‘manzanilla’ (assertive), ‘coratina’ (fruity), ‘frantoio’ (assertive), ‘mission’ (lush), ‘farga’ (peppery), or ‘castelvetrano’ (spicy).
Varietal olive oils are easy to find via the Internet, and they’re becoming more widely available in specialty markets. Excellent olive oils come from Greece, Italy and Spain. Search Local Harvest for North American producers, many of whom are certified organic.
Want the important basics on olive oil? Check out All About Olive Oil: Cooking, Tasting and Buying.
Photo by Fotolia/Sebastian Duda: When choosing olive oil, it’s best to think of how the various flavors can accent your dish.