Take two bottles of extra virgin olive oil. If they are both the same size, is there really a difference between a $20 bottle and the $4.50 store brand?
At a farmer’s market last summer, I was speaking with an Italian man selling imported bottles of olive oil and asked him the same question. He told me that in Italy they have one bottle of olive oil for everything: cooking, making salad dressing, finishing, dipping. In his household, they used the best olive oil they could buy. He didn’t understand why American’s would use different bottles.
I agree with my Italian friend in that there is a definitive difference between the two bottles in both taste and quality. I disagree that you should use one bottle for everything. Not to sound obnoxiously frugal, but using expensive olive oil for all applications is just not economical. Let me explain.
When using olive oil for cooking purposes like sauteing, roasting, or pan frying, the flavor notes of the oil burn away. So if you cook with an especially fruity tasting olive oil, that fruity taste does not transfer into the food. In this case, the less expensive oil does the exact same job as it’s Bourgeoisie cousin and makes much more economic sense to use for cooking purposes.
On the other hand, if the flavor notes will be tasted such as in salad dressing or used as a finishing oil, then the more expensive bottle will appease the taste buds much more. Yes, there is a dramatic taste difference between these two bottles, but you’ll never know until you get out and try some.
In my pantry, I keep two bottles of olive oil on hand at all times. The first is a 3L jug from the wholesale club that I use for all my cooking purposes. The second I buy from The Olive Tap and use for everything else.
In the end, it’s all about what tastes good to you and what you like. If you like the flavor on an olive oil, then it’s a good one to use. I will encourage you though, to get to an olive oil tasting somewhere and try some different brands from different regions. You will be pleasantly surprised at the experience.
Notes on The Olive Tap
If you look at the website and have no idea what to purchase, I recommend giving them a call and talking with their sales staff. Their customer service is wonderful and can make recommendations on what you might like best. I also recommend picking up a bottle of 18 year old balsamic vinegar while you’re at it. In a word – ridiculous!