Olive oil has been a staple ingredient in kitchens for thousands of years. In ancient Greece the olive was a symbol of wealth and peace, playing a role spanning culture, cuisine and the economy. Homer himself called olive oil “liquid gold” in the Iliad, a reference to its importance in the daily lives of those living around the Mediterranean. Today it continues to be a staple of beauty, health and food across the world.
There is a dizzying array of olive oils on most grocery store shelves in the U.S., probably because we’re the largest importer of olive oil globally, according to the North American Olive Oil Association. It’s easy to see why we can’t get enough of it: Extra virgin olive oil is ideal for both hot and cold dishes, and it has healthful benefits inside and out. While Spain is the biggest producer of the golden elixir, with Italy and Greece pulling a close second and third, a ton of the stuff is produced right here in America.
Why is EVOO, to steal a Rachel Ray term for “extra virgin olive oil”, all the rage? The Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods, whole grains, legumes and nuts, healthy fats like olive oil and a limited amount of red meat, has grown in popularity. With olive oil a cornerstone of the diet, it’s been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Thank oleic acid and oleocanthal. Studies have shown the monounsaturated fat and compound have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may contribute to lowering cholesterol or helping prevent myriad diseases and even strokes.
But not all olive oil is equal. According to Marisa Bloch, general manager of award-winning olive oil producer Pasolivo in Paso Robles, California, to be called extra virgin, the highest grade, no chemicals or excessive heat can be used during the extraction process. “The olives only go through the mill one time. Some producers will run the paste through the mill a second time to extract more oil, but that lowers the quality,” she adds.
That’s why seeing “cold-pressed” on the label is important. Olive oils labeled “virgin” or “pure” are generally blends. The less-expensive “virgin” olive oil isn’t as green, peppery, fruity and pungent as EVOO, but some of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties still exist; not so with “pure” olive oil. In the end you pay more for EVOO because there’s more testing involved, and it’s a lengthy process to be certified by professional panels, such as the California Olive Oil Council.
At Pasolivo, which took home Gold Medal awards in 2018 from both the New York and Los Angeles International Olive Oil Competition, the sustainably farmed olives are handpicked and pressed at its Paso Robles olive mill. This ensures freshness, says Bloch, which is imperative to the flavor and integrity of the oils, as well as capturing the naturally occurring polyphenols found in healthy olives.
The end result is everything when it comes to cooking. Roasting vegetables, drizzled on salads and bruschetta, baked in granola, cakes and cookies, whirred into cocktails—its uses are many and varied. But EVOO has also been prized in beauty regimens, especially for its moisturizing qualities. “It’s wonderful in natural beauty products, but can also be applied directly to your skin,” says Bloch. And don’t forget your four-legged friends. “Put a little olive oil on your dogs’ kibble, and watch their coats start to shine.”
In addition to its top-tier EVOOs, Pasolivo also makes wonderful, flavored olive oils with fruits and herbs. Here are two simple recipes—both great for entertaining. Many more ideas are available on the Pasolivo website.
Olive Oil Cocktail
Makes 1 serving
2 ounces navy strength gin (a stronger 57% alchohol)
1/2 ounces Pasolivo Citrus Olive Oil or Pasolivo Lemon Olive Oil
1/2 ounces lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Pinch of kosher sea salt
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a chilled cup.
Basil Feta Dip
Makes 6-8 Servings
6 ounces cream cheese
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2-3 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced (enough to cover the top of the dish)
1/4 cup Pasolivo Basil Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Pasolivo Spicy Italian Blend
French Baguette, cut into slices
Set the oven to broil. In a 8-inch to 10-inch ovenproof serving dish, spread the cream cheese evenly across the bottom, followed by the feta cheese. Layer the sliced tomatoes to cover the top. Drizzle half of the Pasolivo Basil Olive Oil over the tomatoes and sprinkle the Pasolivo Spicy Italian Blend. Broil on high until the tomatoes are browned on the edges, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle with the remaining Pasolivo Basil Olive Oil. Serve with pita triangles or sliced baguette.