Saturday, January 24, 2015

Tuscan Tea

Many posts ago, I referenced a site which featured oils as possible uses in one's beauty regimen. In my own home, I often use coconut oil in my hair as a conditioner or mix it with some sugar to create a soothing exfoliation for the lips or skin. Now, however, most of my posts deal with food and are beginning to round a corner from spices and veggies to oil and/or vinegar. As you may have noticed, I glean many bits of information from the Williams Sonoma website. While I sometimes take issue how the U.S. seems to place healthy eating and elitism in the same realm (and I'm not sure how accessible Williams Sonoma is to the average customer) their blog often provides helpful clues for ways to eat better and more naturally. Today, they featured a helpful formula for homemade salad dressing, found here, and spoke of how it's beneficial to use a high quality oil in this procedure. While studying the methods and philosophies of various "epicurean authorities" such as Ina Garten, etc., I have repeatedly identified an emphasis on quality olive oil. This generally, has left me confused. To me, there are a few categories of olive oils:

Low Quality Olive Oils: Low quality olive oils, which are often the most affordable ones (this oil does not come cheap, hence the title Tuscan Tea) are often found on the bottom shelves of the grocery store. They often do not taste pleasant and there was a large scandal several years ago claiming that many olive oils, save for the "high quality" ones weren't actually produced from olives at all. (If you wish to read more on this subject, read Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, by Tom Muller.)

Basic Olive Oils: In a word, Filippo Berrio. Many connoisseurs might rightfully scoff at this suggestion, but for me, a girl on a budget and someone who uses olive oil for basic cooking procedures (not so much as a pure dressing, etc.) Filippo Berrio is relatively affordable and tastes good. I also heard it was one of the brands which survived the aforementioned scandal. Filippo Berrio works for me but for the likes of Ina Garten or people who have a bit more discretionary income, other oils may be a bit more subtle but just as dynamic to fit in the "basic" category. From my readings, I believe Ina Garten uses Olio Santo EVOO which will generally set you back $30 a bottle. In my experience, Oilo Santo tastes good and yet is neutral enough that it may be used comfortably in baking and cooking, essentially meeting my qualification for a basic olive oil. Some olive oils might be produced in small batches on private farms in Italy and set you back quite a bit but I would continue to place these in the basic category. As long as the olive oil is produced well with few fillers, tastes relatively neutral and can be comfortably applied to a range of recipes, it is a basic or good olive oil in my book.

Fancy Olive Oils: In one word: a ripoff. At the top of grocery shelves, I have found an array of small olive oil bottles at big prices. These olive oils don't strike me as being small batch or particularly good tasting. Perhaps like a good wine there are small subtleties to their flavoring but when used in cooking are barely noticeable. Additionally, I often find that when a bottle of olive oil is expensive, I'm hesitant to use them in sauteing and baking, reserving them for dressings and drizzling. In short, regardless of one's budget there are good olive oils that can take you from drizzling to sauteing to baking making for less clutter in the kitchen and happier cooks. I would suggest to anyone to stay away from the fancier brands seeing as they're often of limited use and overpriced in relation to taste.

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