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Getting the Lowdown on the Different Types, Varieties and Uses of Olive Oil

November 05, 1987|JOAN DRAKE | Times Staff Writer

Question: I would appreciate some information on olive oil. A recent recipe called for fruity olive oil. What is it and where does one buy it? Does this indicate that there are as many types and varieties of olive oil as there are of vinegar?

Answer: Diana and Paul Von Welanetz, authors of "The Von Welanetz Guide to Ethnic Ingredients" (Warner Books: 1982), say "Most favored among fine cooks is the dark green, fruity oil from the first pressing of the olives, called 'extra-virgin' or 'fine-virgin.' These superior-quality olive oils are imported from France or Italy. They are available in gourmet specialty shops and fine Mediterranean markets and are very expensive.

"Of lesser quality is 'pure' olive oil, from the second pressing of the olives, which is lighter in color and blander in flavor than 'virgin.' This is the best kind to use for most cooking purposes. They each have a slightly different taste, so we suggest that you buy small quantities of several brands to taste for yourself. Olive oil, like wine, should be chosen by personal preference. Avoid any so-called 'imported' olive oil with no indication of the country of origin.

"Light is harmful to olive oil so always store it in a cool, dark place. We decant our fine oil into a green glass, fish-shaped Italian wine bottle with a cork, which looks festive in our kitchen, but also prevents spoilage from ultraviolet rays. Stored properly, fine olive oils will keep for a year, but if you are a miser with your olive oil, go against the advice of experts and store it in the refrigerator. It will become cloudy, but will clear as it comes to room temperature; the flavor will be intact and you will not have to worry about having rancid oil.

"Olive oil is not recommended for frying because it has a low-smoke point. The finest 'virgin' oil is used solely in cold dishes, or is poured over hot dishes just before serving so that the rich flavor can be fully savored. Use the finest oil in dishes that feature it as a major ingredient, especially in salads and simple pastas, such as Aglio e Olio (literally 'garlic and oil'). Use lesser quality oils in robust dishes where the flavor will be dominated by other ingredients."

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