I am on a constant quest to find the best possible and most affordable products. It doesn’t take much to make a great tasting dish if you’re using quality ingredients.
A few weeks ago I was invited by Villa Gabriella to try their extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This is a company that is dedicated to offering certified organic products, crafted in limited quantities by small, family-run Italian artisans.
This company sounded like it offered everything I value about good quality products, so naturally I was exciting to give them try...and they didn’t disappoint.
The balsamic vinegar was packaged in a dark glass bottle. The label indicated 100% organic balsamic vinegar of Modena. Certified by Suol e Salute SRL, USDA Organic and IGP Indicazione Geografica Protetta. Produced and bottled in Modena, Italy with a best before date of August 2017. The balsamic vinegar was deep brown in color with an intense aroma and a balanced sweet and sour flavor.
The oil too came in a dark glass bottle. The label stated extra virgin olive oil, hand harvested exclusively from Italian organic olives, cold pressed, 100% natural and bursting with flavor. The bottle also indicated 2014 harvest with a best before date of December 2016 and certified ICEA organic, accredited control body IT BIO 006 Italian agriculture. The oil was green-yellow in color. It had a mild and fruity aroma and a great full-bodied flavor with a peppery sensation.
I’ve learned that finding a good olive oil can be tricky. There is a lot of fraud in the olive oil industry. By definition, extra virgin olive oil is produced from the first pressing of the olive fruit, which results in a high quality oil with a great nutritional profile. However, some companies pass lower quality oils for extra virgin olive oil, or add in vegetable oils.
Extra virgin oil is perishable. Its flavor and aroma deteriorate after milling and bottling, and the process accelerate once the bottle is opened. Since most common at-home tests are unreliable, it is recommended to buy olive oil as close to the source as possible. Since there are no mills in the Midwest, I have been relying on a trusted local specialty grocery store.
Olive oil should be bottled in dark glass to protect it from light. Once at home, store olive oil in a cool, dark place to protect it from rancidity.
Good oil comes in many shades, so color is not necessarily an indication of quality. Bitterness and pungency indicates the presence of antioxidants and other healthy components found in quality oils. However these characteristics should be balanced. Oil should smell and taste crisp, vibrant and lively.
The label should read “extra virgin.” Other terms such as “pure”, “light” or simply “olive oil” may indicate the oil has been refined, which diminishes the product's flavor and health benefits.
A “best by” date or a date of harvest is a great indicator of freshness. It is advised to only buy oils from this year’s harvest. The “best by” date is usually two years form the time the oil was bottled. Quality control certification can offer further assurance of quality.
Finally, avoid bargain prices because genuine extra virgin olive oil is expensive. Though a high price doesn’t always guarantee quality, low prices strongly suggest on inferior product.
Bottom line: the best way to find a good oil is to find a company that you trust. Consider Villa Gabriella.
Here is a simple, yet unique, salad dressing that I made used Villa Gabriella extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A friend of mine, Irina, shared the recipe, which I modified slightly.
Mango Mint Salad Dressing
½ champagne mango
1 Tbsp coconut oil
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
Few mint leaves
Sea salt/pepper, to taste
Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and process until smooth. If too thick, dilute with additional olive oil. Try it over a salad of fresh greens and strawberries.