Taking Issue with “Extra Virgin Everything”

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Ridge Evers is perturbed. The founder of California’s DaVero olive oil is tired of the argument that “extra virgin olive oil” is the only olive oil that matters. “If you think high-end chefs are using extra virgin olive oil when they cook, you’re wrong,” says Evers. “Even Mario Batali?,” I ask, who is a good friend of Evers and has promoted DaVero olive oil in the past. Evers: “Oh, definitely.”

Evers, who imported Tuscan olive trees in 1990 and co-founded the California Olive Oil Council, says the extra virgin argument is an academic issue; i.e. pursuing the absence of defects in an olive oil. “But at the consumer level,” he says, “this really has no meaning. Olive oil is a flavor and a fat, and what matters is if it tastes good in relation to the dish.”

But what about the healthful properties associated with extra virgin olive oil versus an inferior “pomace,” “pure,” or “refined” olive oil? Evers says that any olive oil is going to be more healthful than a seed oil, like corn oil. The important thing is to buy olive oil that is fresh in order to obtain the most healthful properties. “If you tell people they must use extra virgin olive oil for everything,” continues Evers, “they will likely end up buying a mid- to low-priced olive oil, and at that price point they’re most likely getting old oil.”

That said, Evers is not discounting the use of extra virgin olive oils, and says the difference lies between cooking and finishing a dish. He recommends having several varieties of extra virgin olive oil on hand–of various intensities that will match food in the best way–in order to finish, or drizzle over, a dish just before serving. But when it comes to cooking with olive oil, says Evers, “As soon as you apply heat to extra virgin olive oil, you lose what you pay for. You might as well burn a five-dollar bill over the stove.”

Apr. 21 2010 |
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