What truly extra virgin olive oil should taste like

I went on on an olive grove tour, and my eyes were opened to truly phenomenal olive oil.  Here’s what I learned.

Olive oil grove


One of the perks of having a blog is that you sometimes get invited to amazing, behind-the-scenes experiences of really cool shit. For me, the most recent was this tour of Corto Olive Co.’s olive groves and processing facility in Lodi, California.

An intimate group of bloggers and journalists spent a couple days and nights in this little-known wine region, exploring the oil making process from tree to bottle and learning what differentiates “extra virgin olive oil” from truly extra virgin olive oil. I can honestly report back that Corto’s product is absolutely delicious and unequivocally one of the best olive oils I’ve tasted.

During our tour of the groves, Corto explained that new(ish) harvesting equipment has revolutionized the way olives can be harvested — picking the fruit at its peak ripeness when it’s green, when you’re able to extract the most flavor and nutrients. All those other olive oil brands out of Europe still harvest in an ancient way, and have to rely on chemicals to extract the oil from the fruit.

Olive harvesting
Olive harvesting equipment
Olive oil harvester.jpg
Over-ripe olive
At olive grove.jpg

Immediately after harvest, the fruit it goes to a processing facility, where Corto has a rigorous system of sorting, testing and blending the fruit to get the perfect flavor and spice. Overripe or old fruit gets tossed, and bad batches (of which they have few) get shipped off to companies that that don't care as much about quality for repackaging and sale.

The fruit at the facility is ground, strained (essentially), stored and bottled. There are no other ingredients or preservatives that enter the process. It's purely and simply pressed fruit — that's what makes it extra virgin. 

While Corto mostly focuses on selling to restaurants, there are a few select retail outlets that carry small bottles of it extra virgin olive oil (one of which happens to be down the block from me). But that way, the product is always fresh, as restaurants go through it extremely quickly. 

Olives being processed
Olive oil processing facility.jpg
Fresh olive oil.jpg

The result is an oil that actually tastes like olives and has all the nutritional benefits we often read about. Conventional oils don't. Most of them are rancid — and it's a taste we've become accustomed to.

True fresh extra virgin olive oil should sting a little when going down your throat (apparently that's the antioxidants working their magic). It's spicy and smooth, and won't leave any oil residue on your lips or tongue. At a luncheon that followed the tour, we got to taste the oil in action, with a three-course meal the included a white bean soup, braised fish and olive oil ice cream. It was heavenly, and the flavor of the olive oil enhanced each ingredient to the fullest extent. 

Olive oil lunch
Bruschetta in olive oil
Good Food PR

If you can't find Corto at your local store, here's what you should be looking for when buying olive oil:

  • A dark, glass bottle. Anything else will compromise the quality of the oil and signify lesser quality. 
  • A harvest date. This is when the olives were picked. If it has a harvest date, keep in mind that olive oil does expire and should be consumed within 6 months. Most low-quality brands don't have a harvest date.
  • Price. Unfortunately in this industry, lower price does signify lower quality. Simple as that. Good olive oil is expensive. But it's sooooo worth it. 
  • Taste. Here's where you can really tell. The flavor should be spicy. It should burn a little going down when eaten on its own. And it shouldn't leave an oily residue in your mouth.

While I've been aware of a lot of these things for some time now, I never thought about how under appreciated good olive oil is. It's the foundation for so much of our cooking. And it should be prioritized alongside all other ingredients you care about, if you care about that kind of stuff. Because good cooking isn't complicated. It's all about your ingredients.