best natural foods

Premium olive oils - the best tasting

How good are premium olive oils that can cost tens to hundreds of dollars per liter.

In terms of health value, they may not be all that much better to justify the higher price. But in terms of taste, I decided to find out recently. I was shocked at how different premium oilve oils can taste compared with regular good brands.

I had the privilege of trying out quite many different brands of olive oil, having worked as a journalist for the Food and Hotel Asia exhibition.

There were literally scores of olive oils, from Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere, for visitors to sample. But not knowing what to look for, I could not really tell much differences between them.

Olive oil tasting

Then my friend and I attended an olive oil tasting session at Huber's Butchery, conducted by the owner of Lakelands Olive Oil, a brand of biodynamic oilive oil from Australia.

This is an olive oil that has won several medals, at both Australian and international tasting sessions. At about S$30 for a 500ml bottle, I consider this one of the premium olive oils.

Under expert guidance, I discovered it was not difficult to pick up the various fruity, spicy, bitter and other tastes, as well as smoothness and other qualities, that make a good olive oil. The first oil we tasted seemed ok but was not great. The second one was very much better and I realised immediately that the first was "Brand X" while the second was Lakelands. The third and final sample, another Lakelands blend, was even better.

When it came to buying, both my friend and I wanted something different. We had already tasted Lakelands and were curious about others. We were looking at other olive oils at about the same price range but then the boss of Huber's recommended another of his premium olive oils - Laudemio Frescobaldi, from Italy's Tuscany region which is famous for its premium olive oils. This cost the "same price" for only half as much, 250 ml.

The first impression was one big WOW! It was just bursting with flavors and my friend later read a review that described this burst as "fireworks of flavors". All the things we learned during the olive oil tasting session just came to life.

And I experienced them without having to go through the oil tasting rituals - warming it in my palm, swirling the oil to release its fragrance, inhaling. coating the palette and so on. All I did was eat it with a bit of HImalayan pink salt, to dip with bread.

I am not rich - in fact, more often broke. I had to be very careful with my little bottle of Laudemio olive oil, using it only to eat with bread or drizzle over pasta and salads. But I was hooked - poisoned as my friend and I would say - by premium oiive oils.

Second bottle

It took me over half a year before I again checked out premium olive oils. This time, again on the recommendation of Huber's, I bought a bottle of Quinta do Zambujeiro from Portugal. This, too, is an award winning olive oil. It does not have as strong a first impression as the Laudemio Frescobaldi but I still liked it a lot. I found it more understated and refined tasting.

Portuguese olive oils are generally not as famous as Italian and also not as costly. The Quinta do Zambujeiro cost only about 1/3 as much as the Laudemio Frescobaldi and so the good thing is that I am not as stingy with it. I even cook with it sometimes.

My experiences with premium olive oils are so far restricted to two bottles, plus one tasting session. So I am no expert in this. But this is precisely why I write on the subject of premium olive oils - because my great discovery is that one does not have to be an expert to appreciate them.

All you need to do is to taste something really good, something that is a quantum leap above the regular brands of olive oils that you might find at the supermarket. Some of these regular brands are good, certainly good enough for everyday use.

But when you want to treat yourself, then go for something special. I am lucky to have a good fine foods grocer like Huber's Butchery whose recommendations have so far proven excellent.

But even without the benefit of such recommendations, it is possible to pick out some of the better olive oils. Click here for some tips on choosing premium olive oils.

UPDATE JANUARY 2012: My current bottle, bought some months ago, is Frantoi Cutrera. I was attracted by an additional label that proclaimed it "The best olive oil in the world." I know this is marketing, but it was not without basis, for it listed several major awards the the oil won in 2011.

Frantoi Cutrera cost me approx S$36 for 500 ml at Huber's Butchery at Dempsey Road.

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