Oiling Up

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Eataly’s Nick Coleman says nothing’s slicker than choosing the perfect olive oil.

By: Kelly Mickle, Q by Equinox

Photography by James Wojcik/Art Dept./trunkarchive.com

Olive oil may be the most cultivated cooking ingredient. Called “liquid gold” by the ancient Greeks, refinement pours from a perfectly chosen bottle — and the one who did the choosing. What’s more, Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, and author of The O2 Diet, says, “Healthy fats and antioxidants in olive oil provide a host of body benefits such as lowering your risk for heart disease, boosting brainpower, warding off wrinkles and more.” 

Related: Why Eating Fat Makes You Lose Fat

But for such an essential element, most of us know far less about olive oil’s finer points than, say, a good Cabernet. So we turned to Nick Coleman, chief olive oil specialist at Mario Batali’s Eataly, for advice. Click through the gallery below for his favorite labels and top tips for stocking and cooking with the viscous liquid.

1. ROI: Cru Riva Gianca

Made from Taggiasca olives, this light, sweet and delicate oil from the commune of Poggi, a province of Liguria, offers “superb fluidity with an elongated finish and slight nip of pepper towards the end,” says Coleman. It’s ideal for cooking fish or vegetables, when you don’t want the flavor of the oil to dominate the dish. ($50, available at williams-sonoma.com).

Tip: Buy in the New Year
When buying in the U.S., bottles are freshest and in most abundant supply near January. It takes about two months to import and stock the oils after the fall harvest.

2. La Mola

Made by one of the few female olive oil producers in Italy, La Mola is a clean, crisp and pristine oil with soft undertones of grass and a mid-bodied peppery finish. Incorporating Raja, Frantoio, Leccino and Pendolino olives north of Rome, its balanced structure pairs well with both meats and soups, yet remains light enough for grilled fish and fresh vegetables. ($18, available at agferrari.com).

Tip: Labels Matter 
The more information, the better. Look for a harvest date, a specific region (as opposed to only “product of Italy”) and the extraction process (first cold pressed or cold extracted). The best are hand-numbered, like this one, and describe even the most seemingly minute details.

Related: Eat Like an Italian

3. Frantoio Franci: Villa Magra

Composed of 50 percent Frantoio, 35 percent Moraiolo and 15 percent Leccino olives, this oil from Montenero d’Orcia, Tuscany, has qualities of freshly cut grass and a robust peppery finish, which lends itself to bread dipping and salads as well as cutting through rich sauces, meats and soups. ($36, available at oliveoilmerchant.com).

Tip: Keep 3 Oils on Hand
Every pantry should have at least 2 finishing oils on hand: one light, delicate oil and one grassy, robust oil (like this one). Plus one clean extra virgin workhorse olive oil for everyday cooking.

4. Frantoi Cutrera: Primo

This Sicilian oil is derived from Tonda Iblea olives hand-harvested early, which accounts for its robust fruity and peppery flavor profile. It’s frequently used at Mario Batali’s restaurant OTTO and is a favorite for David Pasternack, executive chef at Esca, since it pairs well with seafood, vegetables, pizzas and pastas. ($35, available at lario.com).

Tip: Choose Dark Bottles
It helps preserve the health benefits and the taste. And store oil in a cool, dark place like a cabinet — never on a windowsill or by the stove.

Related: Get Food52’s Kitchen Essentials

5. Lungarotti

Composed of 70 percent Moraiolo, 10 percent Frantoio, and 20 percent Leccino olives, this Umbrian oil has a broad and balanced spectrum of sweet grass with a delayed and elongated peppery finish. It has distinct similarities to Tuscan oils: remaining light and elegant, yet still assertive. “I pair it with tomato sauces, meats, soups, and vegetables,” says Coleman. ($34, available at Eataly).

Tip: Heat Oil Slowly
If the oil gets too hot too fast, you lose healthy antioxidants. And when you can, drizzle oil onto your dish after cooking. Raw, unheated oil boasts the most health benefits.