Pairing Olive Oil with Food
Climatic conditions, olive varietals, harvesting methods and production processes are key to the particular quality of each extra-virgin olive oil. Like all products of nature, extra-virgin olive oils are marvelously varied and show distinct organoleptic (taste, color and fragrance) characteristics in different regions.
In general, olive oil from Liguria and the Lake Garda region in the Veneto is light, probably the lightest of all Italian olive oils; olive oil from Tuscany and Umbria is fruitier, more robust; and olive oil from Sicily, Sardinia and Calabria is milder yet more full-bodied. Different producers from the same region offer widely different olive oils; factors such as when the olives are picked and how, as well as the processing method, play a significant role in what the final product tastes like. Part of the pleasure of selecting an olive oil is tasting the different varieties that can be found on the market to determine which type you prefer and how you want to use it in the kitchen. However, there are general criteria that you can follow in your kitchen to ensure that cooking or dressing your food with olive oil yields consistently good results.
Think of olive oil as you would wine. If you use a poor quality olive oil it will give your dish an off-taste, just like a bad wine would. As with wine, olive oil should be carefully paired with food. Consider the olive oil's flavor and aroma characteristics, making sure that these complement rather than overwhelm the food. As we have mentioned before, there are three broad flavor categories: mild, fruity and fruity-spicy, each suited to different preparations. When dressing delicate dishes and sauces without garlic, use a mild olive oil (which is also good for baking sweets). A fruity olive oil is ideal in pasta sauces with garlic, herbs, spices and salads. For grilled meats and roasts, aged cheeses, or dishes with generous amounts of garlic and spices, a fruity-spicy olive oil works best. Always taste an olive oil before cooking with it to decide what dish it will enhance most, remembering that when used raw, the oil's flavor is more pronounced.
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