If there’s ever an ingredient to splash out on, it’s got to be olive oil. The cheap stuff doesn’t even begin to touch the sides of a slightly more expensive counterpart – in flavour, taste or texture. I’m a firm believer that oil quality can make or break a dish.
But while it’s true that you can get good-grade olive oil in some supermarkets, it’s always best to move away from the mass-produced brands you see every day wherever possible and opt instead for the products that put a face behind the name.
You probably already know that olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet and that studies have shown that people from those countries tend to suffer from less heart disease than those in the UK.
However, you may not know that olive oil has also been proven to reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol, reduce inflammation through its antioxidant properties, and may also improve mood and brain function. All of which seem like pretty good reasons to make it a central feature in your diet, right?
But, I hear you say, how do you know which of the myriad of olive oils on the market to choose from? And is there much of a difference between them?
The simple answer to this is, yes. There are around 867 million olive trees growing in the world, 95 per cent of which are in the Mediterranean. Most oils are made up of three or more varieties, which in part is what makes each so distinctive.
Back to the point, and whilst I get lost in the multitude of fun facts, here’s a list of the best olive oil brands which are worth every penny.
Two Fields extra virgin olive oil
What began as an unlikely story as any gave way to an olive oil filled to the brim with love and care in the form of Two Fields.
The company was started by two brothers, Harry and Will, after they visited Zakros (where Harry then met his wife and moved) and discovered the beautiful craft of olives but realised it was suffering under conventional farming methods and wanted to do something about it. And do something they did.
The boys set about learning from those around them, honing their skills and reconnecting with nature as regenerative farmers, which eventually paved the way for their olive oil business to take off, a business which prioritises quality and harmony with the earth over yield.
Today, they produce exclusively small-batch extra virgin olive oil from their 200 trees in their Two Fields, maintaining the core value that brought them here in the first place that you reap what you sow and that by truly listening to and respecting nature and giving it what it needs, you will get back.
This very ethos flows into their olive oil, which truly sings with flavour, offering a light, fruity taste with aromatic undertones.
Organic Kitchen extra virgin olive oil
Organic Kitchen offers a range of good-quality, wholefood store cupboard essentials (from beans to pasta) and its olive oil is no exception.
The company sources the finest ingredients under their carefully created organic label and not only are their products free from GM, additives, preservatives and pesticides where possible, what I love about the brand is that they believe in cutting carbon footprint by supporting shopping locally.
Unlike regular olive oil, which is a blend of both cold-pressed and processed oils, in order for olive oil to be classified as extra virgin it must be extracted below 27C and made solely from pure, cold-pressed olives. It is this that gives it its distinct fruity aroma.
Organic Kitchen’s extra virgin olive oil is raw, vegan, unrefined and made from high-quality Spanish olives. Its rich taste makes it perfect for stirring into a dressing or drizzling over salad.
Oliveology organic extra virgin olive oil
In the middle of a buzzy Borough Market, and only if you’re lucky, it is possible to get sucked into a little pocket of Greece in the form of Oliveology. This company offers a host of mouth-watering Greek goodies – from honey to halva – but their best offering (in my opinion, anyway) is their olive oil.
Made from olives that are hand-picked from their family-owned farm in Sparta, Oliveology’s olive oil forms part of the ancient heritage of the area where olives have been cultivated for 3,000 years.
Unlike many producers who use high temperatures and added water to maximise yield, all of Oliveology’s olive oils are cold-extracted at low temperatures, resulting in higher quality oil and nutrient levels.
Their organic extra virgin olive oils comes in 18C and 22C extraction – the 18C is the first of the season, made from unripe olives for a more intense flavour, and the 22C is from semi-ripe olives, giving it a more mellow taste.
When it comes to putting quality above quantity, Oliveology is top of the radar.
BellaTerra Mt Etna extra virgin olive oil
The prize for olive oil feel-good factor goes to BellaTerra – their story of a cross-border friendship tied up in a passion for quality produce is enough to restore anyone’s belief in humanity.
The company was formed by Gianluca, who is Sicilian, and David, from Australia, who both share a long affection for Italy and a desire to share that affection with the world.
Their extra virgin olive oil is made from olives grown on the mineral-rich slopes of Europe’s highest volcano, Mount Etna, where the hot summers and mild winters provide the perfect climate for garnering good results.
BellaTerra also have a range of flavoured oils that can accompany a myriad of dishes and are simply delicious. Whilst the Sicilian lemon, chilli and garlic are both exceptionally aromatic, it is the Sicilian basil oil that gets my vote. Its beautifully subtle taste adds real pizazz to any meal.
Belazu early harvest olive oil
Beginning its life as The Fresh Olive Company in 1991, Belazu has since expanded their offerings beyond the humble olive to include more than 300 product lines and a range of top-notch ingredients, from the basics (pesto) to specialist (preserved lemons).
Despite now being stocked in supermarkets and hotels, they have not lost sight of their original vision – to respect and bring the most out of ingredients and the people who source them.
Their early harvest extra virgin olive oil is stone crushed and made from the first Arbequina olives of the season by a man called Eduard and his family in Catalonia. At the peak of production season, Eduard tastes 70 oils a day and can pick out varietals blindfolded.
Usually Arbequina oil is made from black olives but this oil is made when the olives are not fully ripe, lending it a heartier, full flavour.
Belazu also do a range of flavoured oils including olive and fig, and olive and lemon, which is absolutely divine as the zestiness of the lemon cuts through the rich oil perfectly.
Olive Branch extra virgin olive oil
Olive Branch was founded by Greek native Maria Koinaki in 2011 after moving to the UK and finding she missed the fresh taste of her homeland Crete, so looked to recreate it.
The extra virgin olive oil is a single varietal made from Koroneiki olives which are grown in the Lasithi province of Crete – the less industrialised southern end of the island. The olives are handpicked from their farm and then cold pressed within hours to allow them to maintain their nutrients and fruity flavour.
The oil itself is deliciously refined in flavour, with nutty undertones and a peppery finish. It’s the perfect thing for pouring over fresh tomatoes and feta.
Odysea PDO Kalamata extra virgin olive oil
Odysea describes itself as offering “slow food for a fast world, with Mediterranean products steeped in Greek tradition”, and boy do they deliver on that.
Their extensive range includes everything you need to bring the most authentic Greek feast straight to your table (think meze dips and pita bread). However, it is their olive oil that truly brings the star quality. But with 14 to choose from, you’d be forgiven from feeling a little overwhelmed with which to opt for. My advice? Follow your nose.
Kalamata and Crete are known for producing excellent olive oils due to the climate of hot summers and moderate winds, which makes perfect growing conditions, and Odysea uses this knowledge as their starting point.
If you’re after a good all-round olive oil, I’d recommend their PDO Kalamata extra virgin olive oil which has a delicious full-bodied flavour that is neither too fruity or overwhelming but leaves behind a powerful, aromatic aftertaste.
Grand Brahis AOP Vallee des Baux de Provence extra virgin olive oil duo
It’s time to up your game and welcome to the stands the double trouble of olive oils: Grand Brahis. Unlike the other standalone olive oils, this olive oil works best as a combo as both offer a completely different and distinct taste sensation.
The first thing you should note is that the oils are from Provence. Olive oils from Provence tend to be much softer in flavour than Italian ones, making them the perfect accompaniment to vegetable-heavy French dishes.
Part one, the Noir, is amazingly olivey, which may sound like a strange thing to say about an olive oil, but you’d be surprised at how many don’t actually taste much like olives. It is hearty in flavour and has a rich, tapenade taste to it.
On the opposite end is the Vert. This oil is much more complex in terms of the different layers of flavour it provides but its grassiness stands out in particular.
Tom and Jerry, Mario and Luigi – Grand Brahis certainly goes down as an iconic duo if I ever saw one.
Nicolas Alziari Provence olive oil
Another Provençale favourite, Nicolas Alziari’s olive oil is what made the brand a household name in the region. It is a blend of oils from a variety of European olives but you’ll have to fight them for any more information than that as the recipe has been a secret for 100 years.
The oil is made from young, green olives, lending it that distinct fresh and fruity flavour, whilst also being delicate.
Alziari uses the Genoese method of cold extraction that involves slowly grinding the olives for two to three hours to release the oil into a stone basin, which is then filled with cold water and left until the oil floats to the top and it can be collected.
From the hand-numbered bottles to the attention and care given to every tree in their crop, Will and Harry at Two Fields demonstrate pure devotion to their craft and the proof is there for all to see. Their olive oil ticks all the boxes in terms of flavour and consistency; I’m struggling to find a reason not to pour it on everything.