Understanding about the differences in olive oil will help you use this Italian gold appropriately.
There are several grades of olive oil from Italy and other countries. Italy is the second largest producer of olive oil. Spain is number one, producing one-third of the world's olive oil. Italy produces one quarter of the world's olive oil. Italians export large quantities of olive oil, but this causes a problem. With the average olive oil consumption of 10 quarts per Italian per year, Italy must import olive oil from other countries.
Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the highest grade and pure is the lowest. Extra-virgin is obtained from the first press of the olives, without using heat. Look for the words "cold pressed" on the label. This cold pressing produces an oil low in acidity. Extra-virgin olive oil has only 1% acidity. I use extra-virgin for almost all my cooking. The quality and flavor can make all the difference in your dish.
Virgin olive oil is also from the first pressing. It has a higher level of acidity of between 1 to 3%.
Fino olive oil is a blend of extra virgin and virgin oils. In Italian Fino means "fine."
Learn to read the label. Many olive oils have been sold recently that contain other oils. "Imported from Italy" is not the same as using only Italian olives.
Take the time to learn what olive oil you like best. Just as with wine, many factors influence the taste of olive oil. French, Greek, Spanish, and Californian olive oils all taste different than Italian.
Many cooking stores will have samples of olive oils for you to try. Be aware that some have very short shelf lives, or may have been in the store for several months.
Bella Italian Food Recommends
An excellent way to try different extra-virgin olive oils from different regions of Italy. This beautiful set includes oils from three central regions: Toscana, Puglia and Umbria. The set includes three stackable bottles of 8.45 ounces each.