Olive oil. It’s one of the most basic and highly-touted ingredients in your kitchen. Passed down to us by the ancients, it’s a staple of cooking around the world—but there’s more to olive oil than meets the eye.
Marisa Bloch Gaytan is a Level Two Olive Oil Sommelier and General Manager at Pasolivo. She knows just about everything about this nectar of the gods, and she shares that knowledge with enthusiasts who come by for a tasting at Pasolivo’s 130-acre property in Paso Robles, California.
For more than 20 years, the company has crafted award-winning varieties of extra virgin olive oil, filling 45 acres of its massive estate (formerly owned by The Wizard of Oz director King Vidor) with more than 7,000 olive trees and hand-picking the best fruits for milling.
The Pasolivo Olive Orchard in Paso Robles, Ca.
Among the 12 different types of olives Pasolivo grows, eight are Tuscan, three are Spanish and one is French. Each is picked and tasted independently, so the very best of each crop may be chosen for each variety of oil.
“We do it like the wineries do,” Gaytan says, “because they do change every year in their flavor profile, depending on the ripeness of the fruit when you pick it, and the growing season in general.”
Each year, Pasolivo makes four plain extra virgin olive oil varieties ranging from very mild to quite robust. The company then creates exciting flavor profiles, milling their olives directly with fresh basil, hot chilies, lime juice and more.
Chances are, you use olive oil is nearly everything you cook, but one tasting sessions with Gaytan is sure to change the way you use this base ingredient forever. Here are just a few of her expert tips and tricks to getting the most out of your olive oil, from taste to health benefits and more.
Pasolivo Level Two Olive Oil Sommelier and General Manager Marisa Bloch Gaytan
Check for EVOO Certification
Extra virgin olive oil is the least-processed type of olive oil on the market, and it’s been proven to offer a myriad of health benefits. The olive’s natural phytochemicals help fight cancer and heart disease, lower blood pressure, fight inflammation and come packed with antioxidants. The more the oil is processed, the more of these benefits get squeezed out in the process.
While the FDA does not regulate the authenticity of the olive oil market, there are regulating bodies, such as the California Olive Oil Council, that certify the virgin-quality of oil produced by Pasolivo and others.
“They have a panel of tasters that blind taste everybody's oils and they'll pick up the flavor defects,” Gaytan says. “Common flavor defects are fusty or musty. Those will come about from the olive sitting too long before being processed. You can also get a burnt taste in your oil. If you're adding heat into your process to extract more oil, it lowers the quality. We can’t exceed 86 degrees at any point in the process in order to get certified Extra Virgin. Some producers will also add chemicals to extract more oil, and once again, that can be picked up in a taste test, which would lower the quality.”
When You Can, Go Direct to Producer
Just because an olive oil at the grocery store says its extra virgin doesn’t mean it’s been certified as such by one of these regulatory councils. A study in 2016 even found that 70 percent of olive oils from grocery store shelves were mislabeled, meaning customers weren’t getting all those EVOO health benefits. Gaytan suggests checking for certification on producer websites, since official seals are changed every year and aren’t necessarily represented on each bottle.
“Like a farmer's market, it's best to go direct to the producer whenever you can,” Gaytan says, “just to make sure that you're getting the health benefits that you're looking for.”
Go By Harvest Date
“A lot of bottles of olive oil will give a bottling date, which actually tells you nothing because you want to consume olive oil typically within two years of the harvest date,” Gaytan says. “Depending on the quality of the oil and the storage of the oil, it can go a little bit longer, but around that two year point is when you want to start paying attention to the flavor profile of olive oil.” Of course, if you’re cooking with olive oil as you should be, it doesn’t usually last anywhere near as long as that!
Blends Aren’t Always Better
If you see a blend of oils from Spain, Greece and Italy, you might be inclined to think it’s international flavors add to the profile. Think again.
“That sounds great in theory, but it had to sit on a boat to go to those places and then be combined together,” Gaytan says. “I always recommend one country of production for oil.”
Store in a Dark Glass Bottle
Whenever you can, buy an olive oil that comes in a dark glass bottle, or transfer your store-bought plastic bottle olive oil into a dark glass container. It turns out light is one of the key factors in turning olive oil, as is oxygen and heat.
Don’t Store Your Oil Next to Your Stove
Speaking of heat, that spot next to the stove where you keep your olive oil might not be in your best interest. Each time the flames heat the bottle, your olive oil flavor changes. ”It’s great to bring it out while you're cooking with it, and then put it away,” Gaytan says.
When cooking: Use Classic
While you may think olive oil inferior for stove-top cooking, certified extra virgin olive oils keep a very high smoke point. Pasolivo’s EVOOs don’t smoke until 420 degrees Fahrenheit, and its classic variety is of a medium body that’s perfect for fish, sauteed vegetables and more. With fresh grassy and peppery notes, it does well as a simple salad dressing with balsamic vinegar, or just as a dip for bread and herbs.
For Tomato-Based Sauces and Meats: Use Tuscan
Pasolivo’s Tuscan variety is its most robust in flavor. It’s got more of those polyphenols that are packed with health benefits, and that also gives it more of that peppery spice. This variety does very well with acid-forward ingredients such as tomato or pasta dishes, and it’s also a great meat tenderizer. Gaytan likes this option for making marinades.
“That's my personal favorite of them all,” she says. “It did win best in show in the Los Angeles international olive oil competition. All four of our extra virgin won gold in the New York international competition this past year.”
Experiment With Natural Flavors
Pasolivo’s mildest EVOO is called the Cucina, and this is the oil the company uses as a base for flavorings. The Basil variety is the most popular. With a hint of green, it tastes just like biting into a basil leaf, though all the herb particles have been strained.
“That's really important when you're producing in bulk, because your herbs and your oil are going to decompose at different rates,” Gaytan says, though she encourages at-home cooks to create their own herbal blends with Cucina, no straining necessary as long as you enjoy your DIY oil soon.
Lime is another popular flavor, with a bright tang well suited to salad dressings, fish tacos or Mexican cuisine. Gaytan suggests roasting tortillas in a bit of the oil for an extra flavor punch. Pasolivo lists a number of recipes on its website for those looking to get creative.
Other flavors include garlic, red jalapeno, tangerine and more. Pasolivo also offers an array of vinegars enhanced with natural flavors, from fig or blackberry balsamic to sparkling citrus vinegar and raspberry basil.
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Did you try the TikTok olive oil cake recipe? Gaytan says that’s just the beginning. “[Olive oil is] a really great substitute for vegetable oil or butter,” she says. “Although olive oil is a higher fat, it's a good fat for you, so it actually lowers your bad cholesterol.”
“We've been doing a lot of experimenting with cocktails lately,” Gaytan says. “You can rim a margarita glass with some lime olive oil and put some salt on the rim. Some people will do a floater of olive oil on the top of cocktails, which totally changes the mouthfeel. We have started a whole new category on our website of drink recipes.”
“One of the newer uses that's come to our attention that our club members are going nuts over is that it’s actually really good for your dogs,” Gaytan says. “It's really good for their coats if you just put like a teaspoon of olive oil over their food.”
You don’t have a coat, but olive oil is great for your hair and skin as well. You can put it on directly (albeit not too much in that hair of yours), or you can check out some of Pasolivo’s bath and body products, like grapefruit lotion, sandalwood patchouli bar soap, or gel sanitizer.
Visit Pasolivo online to learn more about the benefits of olive oil, buy products direct, read recipes, book a physical or virtual tasting and more.
Photography by: Courtesy of Pasolivo