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The Olive Basket Blog

Cooking With Extra Virgin Olive Oil

It is one of the biggest myths about extra virgin olive oil, and I can't believe I haven't written a post about it yet:

"You Should Never Cook With Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  It Can't Take The Heat!"

False.  False.  False.  A thousand times false!  Let us explain why:

It's Healthy

First and foremost, extra virgin olive oil is packed with healthy organic compounds! 

  • Biophenols have antioxidant properties to help rid the body of free radicals  
  • Oleic acid is the most prominent monounsaturated fatty acid found in olive oil and has been proven to lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels
  • Oleocanthal found in quality extra virgin olive oils is chemically similar to ibuprofen and acts as an anti-inflammatory

Most cooking oils don't have any of these properties, so already EVOO is ahead!

Heat Resistance

In addition to the heart health benefits listed above, monounsaturated fats are highly resistant to heat.  This means that even when heated, oils containing monounsaturated fats do not break down as easily.

Most cooking oils (canola, vegetable, soybean, etc...) are primarily polyunsaturated fats, which not only break down and oxidize under heat, but have been shown to produce harmful compounds when they do!

Smoke Point

This is the big one.  Everyone says EVOO is a poor cooking oil because it has a low smoke point.  

That is not only false, but it is misleading!

Smoke point is a difficult thing to determine, but is defined as the point that an oil begins to smoke, indicating that it is breaking down and producing harmful compounds.

However, when a cooking oil begins to give off smoke, it may not be an indication that chemical bonds are breaking.  This is for two reasons:

    • Free Fatty Acids - EVOO has a very low FFA content by law, but it does contain some FFA.  Oils with higher FFA content will appear to have lower smoke points because the fatty acids will "cook out"
    • Trace Nutrients - Because EVOO cannot be legally refined and can only contain oil from the olive, it also contains all of the nutrients listed above (and more!)

Refined oils that are typically used for cooking contain very little free fatty acids and almost no trace nutrients. 

EVOO on the other hand contains both, so it will appear to reach its "smoke point" long before the monounsaturated fats in the oil begin breaking down.

What all of this boils down to is that EVOO can have a smoke point between 375-400°F, plenty high enough for most cooking applications!

Takeaway

We're not going to lie and say that EVOO is impervious to heats involved in cooking.  Heat will make any oil degrade, but contrary to popular belief EVOO is actually very resistant to heat compared to several other popular cooking oils.

In addition, EVOO contains nutrients that simply cannot be found in refined oils.  While the application of heat to EVOO will "cook out" some of these nutrients, the fact that they are there to start with means that at least some of them will make it to your plate.

For cooking with EVOO, we recommend using an EVOO with a higher phenol count.  Starting with a high phenol count means that more biophenols (and other compounds) will still be in your food at the end of the cooking process.

Bon Appetit! 

Eric Gisler
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Agrumato Olive Oil - The Best Thing You've Never Heard Of

Agrumato Olive Oil may be the best thing you've never heard of, but we're about to change that!

In Italian, the word agrumi means "citrus" so, the term agrumato is an adjective meaning "citrusy" in Italian.

Blood Orange Agrumato Being Made

"Citrusy" makes a lot of sense considering the origin of agrumato oils.  In the Abruzzo region of Italy, farmers would crush ripe lemons or oranges in with the olives in their mill to produce a very special olive oil that had a beautifully balanced citrus flavor, thus inventing what is now known as the agrumato process.

Only today, the agrumato process is no longer restricted to citrus fruits.  Citrus still creates a wonderful agrumato oil, but so do peppers and herbs!

With an infused olive oil, oil extracts are mixed with olive oil (preferably extra virgin!).  It is relatively easy to experiment with proportions until the right mixture is obtained.  Not so with agrumato oils.

Because every agrumato oil is made by crushing the olives along with the produce, a small test batch isn't really feasible.  In addition, the ratio of olives to produce will be different for different agrumato oils, so the only way to get it right for a specific type of produce is trial and error over the course of years, even decades!

Blood Orange Agrumato Production

The trial and error involved in producing a quality agrumato means it is expensive, time consuming, and difficult to produce.  This, of course, means that it is rare and somewhat expensive.

But oh is it worth it!

The flavor that a quality agrumato gives is absolutely fantastic and really can't be duplicated.  Blood Orange or Lemon agrumato oils can be used in confectionery applications, on grilled vegetables and light meats, even over ice cream!  Pepper-based agrumato oils can take a salsa or intentionally spicy dish to the next level.  And, you haven't lived until you've drizzled Rosemary agrumato oil over roasted potatoes!

All of the Agrumato Olive Oils here at The Olive Basket are the product of decades of experience and fine-tuning and are produced by our supplier's mill in Tunisia, where they are careful to produce within hours of harvest, for both the olives and the produce.  The result is a collection of absolutely amazing tasting oils that we hope you will enjoy!

Eric Gisler
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Supermarket Olive Oils: What To Know

You've seen fancy bottles of olive oil in the supermarket all your life.  Some of the bottles can be really fancy, or conjure up images of Tuscan countrysides and Italian grandmothers assembling incredible delights that make your mouth water.  You've probably thought that olive oil is just olive oil and they are all the same, but that is definitely not the case!

Some of the earliest recorded writings in ancient Sumeria were merchants keeping tabs on their trade, one of which happened to be olive oil.  As long as there has been trade, there has been fraud, and olive oil is no exception.

In ancient Rome, olive oil was imported to Rome from all over the mediterranean empire, especially from olive growing regions like Greece and Spain.  Even way back then, quality was a concern.  Researchers have found amphora from the Roman empire with markings on them to record such information about olive oil shipments as:

  • who made the amphora (container)
  • who filled the amphora
  • the weight of the container and the oil in it
  • where and when the oil was produced

Even in the 20th century, olive oil fraud has been a problem.  It is part of the reason that the "extra virgin" designation was created in the 1960s.  Unscrupulous manufacturers have routinely either cut their olive oil with cheaper oils or treated less-quality olive oils with chemicals to remove taste imperfections and passed it along.  While the European Union and the US FDA have tried to implement safeguards against fraudulent practices in the olive oil industry, the truth is that those laws are rarely enforced and adulteration can be really difficult to detect, which can lead to fraudulent oils being sold in supermarket shelves even today.

Are all supermarket oils bad?  No, of course not.  Some of the largest olive oil producers in the world may sell real extra virgin olive oil in branded containers in supermarkets.  That said, those oils will never have the flavor of a quality oil bought in a boutique store like The Olive Basket.

The reason is simple:  Large olive oil producers aim for consistency.  Just like a Big Mac bought today is going to taste exactly like a Big Mac from a year ago in a different state, large olive oil producers want the bottle you buy next month to taste exactly like the one that you bought last month.  To achieve this, they acquire oils from multiple sources and blend them until they have the exact flavor profile that they are looking for.

Smaller producers, such as the producers of the oils we sell at The Olive Basket do not do that.  When the olives are crushed and the oil is extracted, it undergoes a decanting process and then it is packaged up and sealed for shipping.  Nobody touches it until it comes to our store, and we bottle it from there!

Since our oils are not blended to target a specific flavor profile, it is almost impossible for you to get the same flavor with every EVOO that you purchase from us, but we can guarantee that it will be fresh and authentic every time!

Eric Gisler
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Balsamic Vinegar Basics

Here in the United States, balsamic vinegar has been gaining popularity for years.  It can be found in vinaigrette dressings, marinades, sauces, pan reductions, and all sorts of recipes and culinary techniques.  Over the last 20 or so years, balsamic vinegar has indeed become a household term.

But what is balsamic vinegar, and what makes it different?

According to wikipedia, the Italian term balsamico has origins in ancient Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but it generally means restorative, curative, or balm.  

There is some evidence that suggests that balsamic vinegar does have some health benefits and we'll get into that in another blog post, but what really puts balsamic vinegar on the map is it's taste!  

Traditional vinegars are produced by a double-fermentation method, where sugars are first fermented to produce ethanol (yes, alcohol), then fermented again to produce acetic acid from that ethanol.  The resulting acid is diluted with water to produce the desired vinegar (white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, etc...).

The production of balsamic differs quite a bit.  Balsamic vinegar is produced by crushing grapes into grape must, which is basically just crushed grapes, including the juice, seeds, and skins.  The grape must is then cooked to the point of caramelization in copper pots over an open wood fire.  It is then placed into a series of old wooden barrels to age for at least 12 years, a process known as the Solera method.

This Solera method is truly unique and describes the process used to age the grape must in wooden barrels to produce balsamic vinegar.  The barrels are made from all kinds of woods:  oak, chestnut, acacia, cherry, mulberry, ash, and juniper.  Different producers use different woods in different sequences to produce different flavors!

The Solera method can be a bit complex.  Imagine these barrels of different woods arranged from largest to smallest.  The largest barrel contains the most recently cooked grape must, and the smallest barrel contains the balsamic that is closest to complete.  When the balsamic is ready in the smallest barrel, a portion of it (not all of it) is withdrawn.  That portion is then replaced with balsamic from the next larger barrel, which is replaced by balsamic from the next until the largest barrel is reached. Then the largest barrel is topped up with fresh grape must.

You may be asking yourself, why do the barrels get smaller?  If you've ever visited a whiskey distillery, you already know the answer.  During the aging process, there is a bit of evaporation, which reduces the volume of total product over time.  This is what's known as the angel's share, and it also helps to explain why balsamic vinegar is known for it's thick viscosity!

The process described above is how traditional Dark Balsamic Vinegar is produced, but the process for White Balsamic Vinegar is a little different.

White Balsamic Vinegars start out with the same grape must that Dark Balsamics do, but it is mixed with white wine vinegar before the cooking process.  The grape must is still cooked - though not for as long as Dark Balsamics - and the grape skins are filtered out prior to barrel aging.  The barrels themselves are a little different as well, as White Balsamic Vinegar is aged in new white oak barrels, the Solera process described above is not used, and they are not aged for quite as long.  This results in a less complex, thinner, and more tart flavor.

 Although traditional Balsamic Vinegar originates from Modena, Italy and the surrounding area, legally speaking it can be made anywhere, thanks to a 2019 court ruling.   There are also no real standards on aging.  While the traditional Solera method described in this post requires 10-12 years or longer and other traditional methods would require 3 years at a minimum, there are "balsamic" vinegars on supermarket shelves that is produced in a matter of days or months.

Here at The Olive Basket, all of our Balsamic Vinegars are produced in Modena, Italy using traditional Italian Albana, Trebbiano, and Montuni grapes and our Dark Balsamics are made using the Solera method.  In addition, our White Balsamics are aged for at least 8-10 years and our Dark Balsamics are aged for at least 12 years. 

This is why we can proudly claim that we offer authentic, aged Italian Balsamic Vinegars, and we invite you try them all!

Eric Gisler
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What Is Extra Virgin, Anyway?

Let's say you had a time machine and spoke fluid Latin, and you decided to take a trip to ancient Rome!

After taking in the newly-built Coliseum and wandering around the Forum in it's heyday, you might get a little hungry.  If you were to go into a restaurant and ask for some "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" to go with your meal, they just might look at you like you had a second head.

But, everyone knows that ancient Romans used olive oil, right?  Well, yes, but the term "extra virgin" part was unheard of until 1960 (AD)!

At the time, there were no distinctions in olive oil grades, so consumers didn't know if they were getting cold-pressed fresh oil or industrially extracted lampante oil (not fit for human consumption), so the European Parliament passed a law creating different grades, including Extra Virgin!

The original definition required EVOO be made solely from mechanical methods (no heat or solvents), included some chemical requirements (free acidity of no more than 1%) and that the oil "must not demonstrate disgusting odors such as rancidity, putridity, smoke, mould, olive fly and similar".

And thus, Extra Virgin Olive Oil was born!

This definition remained in place until the EU strengthened it in 1991.  As of 1991, EVOO must have no taste flaws and some perceptible fruitiness, and it lowered the free acidity requirement to no more than 0.8%.

The interesting thing about this law is that it makes olive oil one of the only foods in the world whose legal definition includes at least some references to taste!

The 1991 EVOO law is still in effect today.  The weakness of the law is that it doesn't really specify exactly how taste defects are to be detected, and that has largely been left to the International Olive Council (www.internationaloliveoil.org).  Visit their site for everything you ever wanted to know about olive oil (including their definition for different grades).

Here at the Olive Basket, we have laboratory and tasting panel results available on all of our Extra Virgin Olive Oils, and we post those right here on the website.

Although our Agrumato and Infused Olive Oils can't technically be called Extra Virgin (because they contain more than just olive oil), they are as close as possible to EVOO. 

Agrumato is a process in which fruits or herbs are crushed with the olives at the same time, so technically speaking, they never have the chance to be considered EVOO.

Our Infused Olive Oils do start life as an EVOO, but then the oil from whatever is being infused is mixed in with the olive oil, which technically violates the strict definition of EVOO.

Eric Gisler
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RECIPE: Tropical Shrub

Tropical Shrub
2 cups of Peach White Balsamic
1 cup of fresh strawberries roughly chopped- smashed
Ingredients when serving:
1 cup of fresh strawberries sliced
1 lemon thinly sliced
Fresh mint leaves
8 cups of chilled sparkling water or seltzer water
In a 1 liter mason jar or container add the strawberries, pour Peach White Balsamic and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to four hours. The longer it sits, the more pronounced the flavor of the infused fruit will be. Strain, keep in a tightly sealed container and refrigerated up to two months.
To serve, add 1-2 tablespoons of shrub for every 8oz of chilled sparkling water or seltzer water. Add fresh fruit, lemon and mint. Serve chilled over ice.
Eric Gisler
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RECIPE: Caprese Salad w/ Cilantro Pesto and Lavender Balsamic

Caprese with Cilantro Pesto and Lavender Balsamic
CAPRESE SALAD W/ CILANTRO PESTO AND LAVENDER BALSAMIC
Cilantro Pesto
1 large bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed, washed, and dried
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 green onions, white portion only, chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded, ribs discarded, chopped (optional)
1/3 cup of Chilean Picual
Juice from 2 small limes, about 1 tablespoon
sea salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup of Lavender Balsamic
Fresh Basil
16 oz Fresh Mozzarella – sliced
Place all of the pesto ingredients into a blender or a food processor. Pulse until no large chunks remain, and the sauce is pureed. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Arrange the tomato slices, mozzarella, and basil. Drizzle Cilantro Pesto with Lavender Balsamic.
Eric Gisler
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RECIPE: Caramelized Brussels sprouts & Mushrooms

1 -1/2 pounds small, fresh brussels sprouts, dried end trimmed, and cut in half
1/2 pound fresh Cremini mushrooms sliced in half
1 medium shallot thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
Heat a heavy-duty 12" saute pan, add the inused olive oil. Add the shallot and sauté over medium until translucent. Add the mushrooms and brussels sprouts and sauté over medium-high heat until the mushrooms and brussels sprouts begin to caramelize (about 6 minutes). Add the 2 tablespoons of pomegranate balsamic to the pan stirring and scraping to de-glaze it. (Make sure to scrape up the browned bits of mushroom and shallot at the bottom while evenly coating the brussles sprouts). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
Eric Gisler
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RECIPE: Grilled Halibut!

If you are looking for recipe ideas try this Grilled Halibut, featuring our Olive Wood Smoked Olive Oil.
Eric Gisler
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New Ownership Announcement

To Our Customers:

I am very pleased to announce that I have recently purchased The Olive Basket!

My family and I are very excited to continue offering some of the best olive oils, vinegars, and specialty items in the world to the Athens and Oconee communities for years to come, and we look forward to meeting you all!  

With this pandemic going on, we are pleased to announce that our website (this website) is fully functional so you will be able to order our wonderful products and have them shipped, pick them up, or request local delivery.

Thank you for your support and we hope to see you soon!

Eric

(New) Owner, The Olive Basket

Eric Gisler
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