Frequently Asked Questions
QUESTIONS ABOUT OLIVE OIL
What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Extra virgin olive oil is made simply by crushing olives and extracting the juice. It is the only cooking oil that is made without the use of chemicals and industrial refining. It is the juice of fresh, healthy olives which contains, more than any other grade, the health-promoting nutrients that olive oil is famous for.
Good extra virgin olive oil is:
FRUITY: Look for pleasant fruit flavors characteristic of fresh ripe or green olives. Ripe fruit yields oils that are milder, aromatic, buttery, and floral, while green fruit yields oils that are grassy, herbaceous, bitter, and pungent. Fruitiness also varies with the variety of olive.
BITTER: Fresh olives oil will have a mostly pleasant acrid flavor sensation on the tongue.
PUNGENT: A peppery sensation in the mouth and throat is a sign of abundant nutrients in good, fresh extra virgin olive oil
What Does “Extra Virgin” Mean?
How do I buy olive oil?
Buy from retailers who know the producers, growers and importers. These experts also know how to care properly for the oil. Ask for a taste. Specialty retailers are generous with sampling, as they want the customers to know what they are buying.
How To Taste Olive Oil
Which olive oil is the healthiest?
One of the few fats that most people agree is healthy is extra virgin olive oil. This oil, part of the Mediterranean diet, is a traditional fat that has been a dietary staple for some of the world's healthiest populations.
Health & Nutrition
Olive Oil Health Benefits
Is extra virgin olive oil good for cooking?
You can cook with extra virgin olive oil! Our versatile extra virgin olive oil is perfect for cooking, frying, sautéing, poaching, dressing and baking. It is a heart-healthy fat, high in polyphenols, that lends a little extra something special to your favorite dish.
Which olive oil should be used for cooking?
Extra-virgin olive oil: Derived from the first press of olives, this oil boasts the most full-bodied flavor. It can be used for all forms of savory cooking, including sautéing, stir-frying, roasting and marinating, and is the best choice for bread dipping and salad dressing.
How long does it take for olive oil to go bad?
It's important to remember olive oil is a perishable food–all bottles will go rancid eventually–but it is said when properly handled, sealed and stored in a cool dark place, olive oil will be 'good. Extra virgin olive oil is best used within 18 months from harvest. However, some bottles are labeled with a 2- or 3-year expiration date, which is why knowing the harvest date is so valuable. Also, read the fine print on the back of some bottles: the bottle may be advertised as coming from one specific region, but the fine print on the back may tell you it comes from multiple countries, which makes it impossible to trace the actual harvest date.
How do you know if olive oil has gone bad?
- Pour a small amount of olive oil into a cup so you can get a good sniff.
- If the oil has an unpleasant sweetness, "like fermenting fruit or fruit that's just gone completely bad," it's rancid.
How should I store olive oil?
Store extra virgin olive oil away from light, air and heat. These elements accelerate the process of oxidation which leads to rancidity. As oxidation occurs naturally over time, it is best to use the oil up once it is open within the first 6 months.Olive oil should not be stored next to the stove as this exposes the oil to consistent heat. It is also not recommended to store oil in the refrigerator because condensation within the bottle may lead to off flavors. Store your oil in a cool, dark cabinet or pantry.
QUESTIONS ABOUT BALSAMIC VINEGAR
What is Balsamic Vinegar?
Balsamic vinegar is a very dark, concentrated, and intensely flavored vinegar made wholly or partially from grape must, originating in Italy.
The two traditional balsamic vinegars are made the same way from reduced grape must aged for several years in a series of wooden barrels, and are produced exclusively in either the province of Modena or the wider Emilia region surrounding it. The names of these two vinegars are protected by the European Union's Protected Designation of Origin, while the usually less expensive Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Aceto Balsamico di Modena) is made from grape must blended with wine vinegar, and produced exclusively in either Modena or Reggio Emilia, with a Protected Geographical Indication status.
What is Traditional Balsamic Vinegar?***
Traditional balsamic vinegar begins with grape must —whole pressed grapes complete with juice, skin, seeds and stems. The must from sweet white locally grown and late-harvested grapes —usually Lambrusco or Trebbiano varieties— is cooked over a direct flame until concentrated by roughly half, then left to ferment naturally for up to three weeks, and then matured and further concentrated for a minimum of 12 years in a "batteria," or five or more successively smaller aging barrels. These barrels are made of different types of wood such as oak, chestnut, cherry, juniper, and mulberry, so that the vinegar can take on the complex flavors of the casks.
Once a year the vinegar is bottled from the smallest cask in the sequence. Each cask is then topped up with vinegar from the next cask up, with the largest cask getting filled with the new yield. None of the casks are ever completely drained.
The vinegar gets thicker and more concentrated as it ages because of evaporation that occurs through the walls of the barrels—the vinegar the smallest barrel will be much thicker and more syrupy than the liquid in the successively larger barrels.
Because of the multi-barrel process, it takes complex math to gauge the average age of the bottled product, so instead a tasting commission of five expert judges convenes to taste the vinegars and determine an appropriate grade, and no age is printed on the label.
In Reggio Emilia, traditional balsamics are graded affinato (fine), with a
RED cap, which roughly corresponds to a 12-year vintage; vecchio (old), with a
SILVER cap, which roughly corresponds to a 15-20 year vintage; or extra vecchio (extra old), with a
GOLD cap, which roughly corresponds to a 20-25 year vintage.
In Modena there's just affinato, with a white cap, or extra vecchio, with a gold cap.
Color and Texture: Traditional balsamic vinegar is glossy, viscous, and dark brown, though it captures light beautifully. It moves like syrup, and has a velvety texture on the tongue.
Flavor: A rich, complex sweetness that explodes in the mouth with notes of fig, molasses, cherry, chocolate, or prune. Traditional balsamic should pick up the flavors of the wood it matured in, and may have a slight smokiness. Traditional balsamic offers a mellow tartness rather than a strong acidity.
Identification: Traditional balsamic vinegar is always labelled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and carries a D.O.P. ("Denominazione di Origine Protetta") stamp — a European Union certification that guarantees an ingredient's quality, production, and place of origin. The only ingredient is grape must. Traditional balsamic contains naturally occurring sulphites; none should be added.
Traditional balsamic is sold in wax-sealed bottles with unique identifying numbers. Traditional balsamic from Modena is only sold in a bulb-shaped 100ml bottle. If it's from Reggio Emilia it's only sold in a 100ml bottle shaped like an inverted tulip. If it's from anywhere else, it's not traditional balsamic vinegar.
Use: Traditional balsamic is not a cooking ingredient — heating it will kill its distinctive bouquet — and it would be wasted as an ingredient in a salad dressing. Instead, use it where it can shine. Try putting a few drops on fresh berries, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or creamy desserts like panna cotta, or vanilla ice cream. Traditional balsamic can be used at the end of cooking. It's excellent drizzled over traditional veal scaloppine, a rich risotto, or the Italian stew bollito misto. It's also great over grilled meats and seafood. Add about a teaspoon per person just before serving to get the best of its flavor. In Italy really good balsamic is also drunk as a palette cleanser, aperitif or digestif, especially on special occasions such as weddings.
The name "balsamic" connotes the vinegar's original use as a tonic, or "balm."
Storage: Traditional balsamic vinegar will keep indefinitely, but store in a cool dark place to best preserve the complexity of its flavors, and keep away from other pungent ingredients. Balsamic vinegar will not continue to mature in the bottle.
What is Condimento Balsamico?***
"Condimento" is a term that exists to cover balsamic vinegars made in the traditional manner that can't receive the "traditional" designation, usually because they weren't produced under appropriate supervision or because they didn't meet the standard for maturity. Often they're excellent balsamic vinegars made outside of Modena and Reggio Emilia, or vinegars made by tradizionale producers that have only been aged for three or five or seven years.
These products are generally much cheaper than tradizionale balsamics, but often still excellent quality, so they may represent better value for money. However, because the title "condimento" is not a protected designation the term can be found on lower grade vinegar as well, and some version of "condimento" or "condiment" may appear on balsamic-like products.
Color and Texture: Because balsamic is cooked down and then further condensed by maturation, it tends to have greater viscosity and depth of color the older it is and the richer its flavor. A good condimento should really coat the walls of a glass.
Flavor: Condimento lacks the woody notes and lingering complexity of traditional balsamic, but should still offer a wonderful mix of acidity, sweetness, and leathery, cherry flavors.
Identification: Condimento will not have D.O.P. stamp on the label, but it should carry an I.G.P. stamp — "indicazione geografica protetta," or protected geographical indication. Condimento may also carry the seal of the Consorzio di Balsamico Condimento, a body set up to monitor condimento grade balsamics, and a good indicator of quality. Condimento should be relatively expensive — around $40 for a good size bottle.
The most important thing to check to be sure of a good condimento is the ingredients list. If grape must is the only ingredient, that's a great sign. Some condimentos may contain a little wine vinegar to balance the acidity, but if wine vinegar is the first ingredient, you're looking at generic vinegar sweetened with balsamic must, not balsamic must balanced with a little vinegar.
If there's a family name and a real address on the label, that's a good sign, because it suggests small scale production. Some condimentos are made by tradizionale balsamic producers, and that's a very good sign.
Usage: Condimento should be used exactly as a traditional balsamic is used, with the advantage that you can use it more liberally because it's much cheaper! That also means that you can use it for a salad dressing, though you should make it the dominant note.
Storage: As with traditional balsamic, condimento will last forever but should be kept away from strong flavors and strong light.
What is Balsamic Vinegar Of Modena I.G.P.?***
Introduced by the European Union in 2009, I.G.P. guarantees that the product is made from grape varietals typical of Modena (Albana, Ancellotta, Fortana. Lambrusco, Montuni, Sangiovese, and Trebbiano), though the grapes can be from anywhere and only need to be processed in Modena. This is the only way balsamic vinegar of Modena can be produced in volumes sufficient to meet demand.
The vinegar is cooked in pressurized vats and aged for at least two months in large wooden barrels. There is no fermentation stage. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. must contain wine vinegar to bring its acidity to at least 6%, and can contain up to 50% wine vinegar, often both aged and young. It may contain thickening agents, caramel, or other colorants to make it more like real balsamic. The balance of ingredients can create balsamic vinegars as cheap as $5 or as expensive as $50.
Color and Texture: The appearance of balsamic vinegar of Modena I.G.P. is hugely variable both because additives are permitted and because the ratio of wine vinegar to grape must is variable. If the label doesn't list any thickeners and the vinegar seems thick, it probably has a high percentage of grape must.
Flavor: I.G.P. balsamic has a higher acidity, and that's strongly reflected in the taste. This isn't a complex condiment, but closer to a standard vinegar with a touch of sweetness. These vinegars vary substantially in quality, which may be reflected in the price. Darker vinegars ought to be sweeter. Expensive vinegars ought to be more complex.
Identification: Other than the I.G.P. designation and yellow-and-blue I.G.P. stamp (which shows two furrowed hillsides in a ring of stars), there should never be too much shown on the label of an I.G.P. balsamic. The EU banned the use of potentially misleading language and numbers on these labels, to stop producers from fooling consumers into thinking they were vintage products.
The word "aged" can appear on an I.G.P. balsamic label if the product has matured in wood barrels for more than three years. Some producers use their own rating systems to distinguish between balsamic vinegars in their own line. For example, the four-leaf system uses leaves to represent the density and sweetness of the vinegar, but the quality indicated by these ratings is not consistent from one producer to the next. I.G.P. certification also appears on most condimento balsamics, as mentioned above.
Usage: This grade of balsamic vinegar is also known as salad balsamic (balsamic insalata), which gives you a clue as to how it's used; it's the go-to balsamic for a flavorful salad dressing. It's also a great flavor enhancer for soups and stews, and ideal as a marinade. Unlike fancy balsamics, it's actually perfect for cooking with, because it can reduce down. In fact, one of the simplest things to do with salad balsamic is to boil it in a saucepan with some sugar to create a cheap balsamic syrup.
Lighter salad balsamics are especially tart, and ideal for vinaigrettes and dips.
Darker salad balsamics are sweeter and make better marinades and finishing drizzles.
The darkest varieties are the ones to experiment with on ice cream or berries, though they won't offer the same rapturous pleasure as the real thing.
Storage: This grade of balsamic also keeps indefinitely.
What are the health benefits of balsamic vinegar?
Folk healers used balsamic to cure body pain and as energizer. Balsamic vinegar contains powerful antioxidant called polyphenols which fight cell damage and boost our immune system. The antioxidant in balsamic have also the potential to protect against heart disease, cancer, and other inflammatory conditions.
***sourced from Everything You Need To Know About Balsamic Vinegar, Andrew Wheeler