Styles of Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Their Different Characteristics

EVOO can be categorized according to three styles – those which are intensely fruity, those of medium intensity and the more delicate oils. The style of EVOO is largely influenced by the specific cultivar or blend of cultivars used, maturity of the fruit, area of origin, terroir and seasonal climatic conditions. Of the more than 200 olive cultivars grown around the world, there are at least 20 different cultivars used to make olive oil in South Africa.

The more well-known cultivars of olives used to make EVOO in South Africa are:

  • Leccino – produces an oil with soft, subtle herbaceous flavours.
  • Frantoio – a typical Tuscan varietal, with strong green overtones.
  • Coratina – can produce a rather bitter oil.
  • Favolosa – produces an intensely fruity oil.
  • Mission – a table olive which can be used to produce smooth delicate fruity oils, often contributing to roundness in a blend.

Many producers choose to blend different cultivars and batches to maintain a more consistent product every year, while others offer separate varietals which display differing characteristics with each harvest.

The olive harvest takes place between March and June/July every year and by August/September the fresh oils are available. Unlike wine, olive oil does not mature with age – it should be consumed as fresh as possible to derive most advantage from the culinary as well as health benefit.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Styles & Food Combinations

The best flavour combinations are obtained when using the most appropriate style of oil with a particular food. The more intensely flavoured foods are best complemented with more intensely fruity oil, whilst for a special dessert; very delicate oil will enhance the subtle flavours without dominating the dish.

Suggested combinations:

  • Use the more intensely fruity oils for grilling meat, sautéing garlic and onions, on toast with ricotta, swirled into hot soup and for ice cream.
  • Use medium style oil for baking fresh tuna, with chicken, on subtle salads and in baking.
  • Use delicate oil for mayonnaise, in desserts and over fresh fruit.
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