On the Peloponnese, and throughout much of Greece and the Mediterranean, olive oil is flowing from the presses. Unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t improve with time, but is at its best when it’s fresh. New olive oil is a delicious, deep green elixir, with flavors ranging from grassy to nutty to peppery, depending on the climate, soil and variety.
In the States, just a trickle of fresh-pressed Mediterranean oil makes it to our markets. Most imported olive oils are shipped months—maybe even a year—after pressing. While it’s fine to eat olive oil that’s up to two years old, the flavors and nutrients are at their peak within six months of pressing.
If you live in the States, far from the presses of California and Oregon, and you want to taste fresh olive oil, you can, but it will take a little sleuthing. Start with the shelves of your local gourmet or import food markets; natural foods stores may carry fresh-pressed oils, too. While it’s unlikely you’ll find days or weeks-old olive oil, you’ll likely find oil that is still at its peak. And since olive season is upon us, now is the time to begin the hunt.
Once you find yourself facing the rows of bottles, here are a few tips for navigating them, as well as tips for storing and using olive oil, both the super-fresh and oil that is still good but beyond that six-month window:
- Look for bottles that are marked with a harvest date, not only a “best used by” date. (Most companies don’t reveal the harvest date, but some do–hold out for those that do.)
- Because olive oil oxidizes when exposed to light, heat and air, find it sold in dark glass bottles or in tins. Don’t buy it if it’s been displayed in direct sun.
- For the abovementioned reason, once you’re home, remember to store your oil in a cool, dark place, but not in the refrigerator.
- Consider keeping two olive oils on hand: the fresh stuff for dipping and for dressings, the other, less expensive oil for cooking (the finer, more subtle flavors of fresh-pressed oil will get lost in the cooking).
- Even after it has passed its peak, olive oil remains good (if properly stored) within two years of pressing, but no longer.
- If you’re using extra virgin olive oil, remember that it has a lower smoke-point than other oils: 375 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that if it reaches its smoke-point, the flavors and nutrients quickly break down.
- Last but not least, olive oil is packed with antioxidants and other nutrients. Use it liberally and enjoy it with gusto!