I've often wondered if there really IS a difference in brands and quality of olive oil. Virgin, extra-virgin?? What really is the difference?? According to 60 minutes, olive oil is now a 16 billion, yes billion with a B, dollar a year industry. Unfortunately, there seems to be a large amount of fraud involved in the sale/production of olive oil due to the corruption by the Mafia. So many oils are titled "extra virgin from Italy" when they may not be as pure as stated or may not contain any olive oil at all! They may in fact be sunflower oil or a mixture of oils that give the appearance of olive oil.
True extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olive harvest and contains no additives.I had the pleasure of visiting a gourmet olive oil & balsamic shop this weekend and was sincerely overwhelmed at the difference in taste and quality. We had a mixologist of sorts that made us various combinations of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and the difference was absolutely amazing. We also got to compare the gourmet oil with a store brand, Bertoli, which I have used regularly. The difference in taste, color and consistency was very noticeable.
There were fused and infused olive oils as well as dark and light infused balsamic vinegars. We left there with 12, yes 12 various bottles. I cooked with mild olive oil and the difference in flavor produced was actually shocking. I cooked a simple meal of chicken and vegetables and the quality oil enhanced the flavor of the meal so much. My family noticed and commented on the improved flavor and wondered if I had changed the recipe!
So yes, there IS a difference in olive oil brands. You must be cautious not to fall prey to fake or low quality brands though. Inspect your label carefully. Is the oil actually made in Italy? Or is it just a beautiful picture of an Italian background? If it is actually produced in Italy, where? Go for a well known olive oil producing city such as Sicily or Puglia.
You can also purchase online from Italian producers such as Nicolo Clemenza or Iannotta Oil.
There are also various producers in California, if freshness is a factor for you. Also look at cost. If you are paying $7-$8 a bottle, its probably not olive oil. I suggest visiting a gourmet store as I did this weekend when I had the pleasure of visiting Redstone. It was not just a store, it was truly an experience. (https://redstoneoliveoil.com)