There are three attributes of extra virgin olive oil that are considered “positive”: fruitiness, pungency and bitterness. The last two are acquired tastes, and most people in this country prefer olive oils that are less pungent and bitter. Good producers will try to achieve a palatable balance.
In addition to the olive varieties chosen at time of planting, Mother Nature’s kindness plays a big role in the outcome. Rain, drought and frost can affect the quantity and quality of oil produced. Mendocino County has a great olive-growing climate, with somewhat chilly winters and hot summers. The county lends itself to growing well-known varieties like Mission, but also such popular Tuscan varieties as Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino, Maurino and Coratina.
Are you confused when buying extra virgin olive oil? That’s because there are so many factors to consider. Much like wines, olive varieties largely determine the flavor profile. Nevertheless, Spanish and Greek olives tend to produce oils that are fruitier than Tuscan olives, which are more pungent and slightly more bitter, in part because the Spanish and Greek olives tend to be allowed to ripen longer.
Air, light and heat can affect how long the oil lasts. Unopened good oils can last up to two years. However, once opened they should be consumed within a month, since air will begin to oxidize them. Keep several oils on hand for different purposes, but not so many that they will go rancid in your cupboard. It is important to store them in a cool dark place, but not the refrigerator.
At the Terra Sávia winery and olive mill on Mountain House Road in Hopland you can get a complimentary tour and olive oil tasting. They are always happy to share their experience and that of their olive customers with their guests. In addition, you can also taste some of their award-winning wines. Both their oils and wines are certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers.