The very best extra virgin olive oil is so simple and so essential – just pressed olives. So the quality and type of olive literally makes the oil. We asked Chef Raymond Gillespie, a man who knows a lot about extra virgin olive oil, to connect the olive to the EVOOs we love.
Q. Let’s start with EVOO pressed from one variety of olive, such as Le Amantine’s Unico.
A. Unico, as its name suggests, is pressed from only Frantoio olives. Because of this, you get a very well-defined expression of the olive. The flavor of the olive oil is dictated by two things: The olive itself, and when and how the olives are harvested and pressed. In these Frantoio olives cultivated in northern Lazio, the olive flavor is dominated by volcanic rocks laid down millions of years ago. The flavor profile will be broadly described by its bright minerality. These olives will have been picked early in the season (all olives start green and, depending on when they’re picked, end up dark to black).
Q. What about olives picked later in the season? Can you give us an example?
A. Late-harvest olives (when the olives are allowed to mature on the trees) will have a very different expression. One example would be Terre Bormane from Liguria, which could be described as olivey, fruity, even buttery.
The terroir, or terra, affects the oil, too. In northern Lazio, the olive trees would be more exposed to the elements whereas in Liguria the groves would be more protected by the mountains and proximity to the sea.
Q. Terroir or terra in Italian – it sounds like you’re describing wine.
A. A comparison to wine tasting gives a measurement when thinking about EVOO. Take two blended EVOOs – G. Calogiuri Affiorato from Apulia (Leccino and Cellina olives) and Le Amantine Talea ( Leccino and Frantoia) Both blends using some of the same olives, but two very different flavors because it all comes down to soil, sun, and moisture, basically the land and its geography.
Q. Should you find an EVOO you like and stick with it?
A. No, you should never buy the same bottle twice in a row because you can get stuck in a rut. Try different EVOOs so that you can begin to understand the differences among them. Then you’ll have insight about flavors, textures, and terroir.
My motto: “May your thirst for knowledge never be quenched.”