Happy Wednesday. Care for a cocktail? Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan steps behind the bar this week to talk to women bartenders about the particular struggles they face in the workplace. Lots of reader comments on this one: See it all here.
Also in Food, Tom Sietsema samples the food at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, which served about 8,500 patrons during its debut weekend. And Bonnie S. Benwick rounded up recipes for three of the dishes served in the museum’s cafe, so you can make them at home. She also has suggestions for updated menus for the Jewish High Holidays, which begin Sunday at sundown.
With gloomy weather ahead, I recommend staying indoors by your computer and taking in the weekly Free Range chat. Bartending, the new museum, High Holidays food: Everything is on the table during this freewheeling hour. It starts at noon sharp, so be there. I’ll kick things off with this leftover question from a previous chat:
Here’s a pet peeve: I see recipes that call for “good olive oil,” which implies a writer who is discerning about buying olive oil vs. the rube reader who just buys crappy olive oil. The bottle of oil in my cupboard is labeled “extra-virgin” and further says it is bottled in Italy and is a product of Italy, Spain, Greece or Tunisia. A code on the cap indicates that this particular oil is from Spain. It smells and tastes like . . . olive oil. Am I missing something, or can we dispense with this bit of snobbery?
This, my friend, is not snobbery. This is olive oil reality.
Well, most of it, anyway.
There are different grades of olive oil, but let’s limit our discussion to the extra-virgin variety, which is what a lot of us buy and use. It should have no hint of rancid or off flavors or smells. Beyond that, there’s no one “right” flavor; good oils can be mild or peppery, tart or sweet, buttery or spicy or nutty or fruity, and more.
A number of factors can determine the quality of the extra-virgin olive oil you buy, and one of the most important is age. Freshness counts. So when shopping for a “good” olive oil, you want to check the bottle for a date. And you want a harvest date, not a best-by date, which can be meaningless.
Let’s look at your cupboard bottle. Your oil was bottled in Italy, but before that, it journeyed all the way from Spain — and was probably not overnighted. So when bottled, it was already not super-fresh. I prefer to look for oil that has been grown, produced and bottled in the same country.
But, you say, despite its travels, your oil tastes perfectly fine. Does it really? Try this: Go to a good supermarket or to a specialty store and buy a bottle of harvest-dated olive oil that’s less than a year old. If you can, find one that has a certification on the label (examples: COOC for California, DO for Spain, DOP for Italy, AOC for France) — not an ironclad guarantee of quality, but a good bet. And look for one that has been highly rated in one of the major olive oil competitions. Taste it head to head against yours and see which one you prefer. If your cupboard bottle comes out on top — well, you are a rube reader who buys “crappy” olive oil.
Kidding! Kidding! It shows that taste is subjective, and your personal taste buds are happy with what you have.
As to snobbery, there is certainly a bit of it at the super high end of the extra-virgin olive oil spectrum. I’m talking about the bottles that cost almost $15,000. But award-winning hand-harvested olive oil from organically grown olives can be had for $20 a bottle, which is not outrageous.
The Olive Oil Times proclaims that “once you have tasted a high quality-olive oil, your life will never be the same.” That may be overstating it a tad, but there’s no question that the “good” stuff you’re so skeptical about can make you see olive oil in a whole new light.