Tom's Supermarket Picks: quality oils at good prices

Since launching Truth in Olive Oil, many people have asked me which oil they should buy at their local supermarket, warehouse club or mass merchandiser. This is a vital question, and deserves a good answer. One of the critical factors in improving olive oil quality in North America is to raise the bar in supermarkets, where the vast majority of Americans get their oil. As the level of supermarket offerings improves, it will be a rising tide of quality that floats all boats, ensuring a supply of real extra virgins to consumers, acting as “gateway oils” to point people towards premium, “grand cru” oils, and at the same time, selling more good oil that supports honest oil-makers out in the groves.

While most of the very best oils are available in olive oil boutiques, delicatessens, and other specialty shops, it’s important to know that good, even very good oils can sometimes be found supermarkets. (And as I’ll be writing soon, some very pretty boutique stores actually sell low-grade, even adulterated oils – so caveat emptor!) Helping people find quality oils at good prices – in addition to celebrating the very best olive oils on the planet – is a vital part of Truth in Olive Oil’s mission. Think of Beaujolais nouveau and first-growth Bordeaux. The former compliments and spreads appreciation of the latter, and vice versa, in a virtuous circle that expands consumer knowledge and discernment. That’s exactly what should be happening in olive oil.

What’s more, fine olive oil needn’t cost an arm and a leg, as the supermarket oils listed below, and others I hope to identify soon, all prove. Some producers reduce costs using highly mechanized “super high density” and “medium high density” production models. Others can maintain low prices because their groves are located in areas where labor, land and other costs are relatively modest, such as Chile and parts of North Africa. And even in the heart of the Mediterranean, certain producers and oil-merchants know how to grow and source quality oil at modest prices. So while ultra-low prices (below, say, $8 per liter – but ultimately a store sets its own retail prices, and can even choose to take a loss in order to draw customers to the store, so retail price isn't always a good indicator) can call what’s in the bottle into question, some modestly-priced olive oils – like those below – are better than many premium-priced products, whose price is actually the only “premium” thing about them.

The key to good oil is freshness, so check the label for best by date, or ideally for harvest date, to make sure you're getting the freshest oil possible. 

The oils listed below are my own choices; I’ve tasted them all myself. Some I’ve run across on my own, others have been pointed out to me by visitors to this website, by friends & family, by producers, and by other oleophiles. THIS IS BY NO MEANS A COMPLETE LIST! In fact, it will only contain a fraction of the honest extra virgin olive oils available in supermarkets throughout North America. The good news is that more and more good olive oils are available in mass-market stores, and this list should grow rapidly. Please write a comment with your reactions to these oils, and share your thoughts on which oils should be added to the list.

Tom’s Supermarket Picks (in alphabetical order):

  • California Olive Ranch – good fresh extra virgin olive oil, mainly from the arbequina and arbosana cultivars, grown in super high density groves in northern California. Available at a wide range of stores throughout the US (see the store locator).  Note that their Limited Reserve is the highest-quality oil, unfiltered and from olives picked during the first 2 weeks of harvest (reviewed here).  "Everyday" is the company's best-seller, with a flexible flavor profile.  Arbequina, Arbosana, and Miller’s Blend oils, part of the company's "gold medal series," have actually won more medals in olive oil competitions than COR's other oils, thanks to their distinct flavor profiles.
  • Cobram Estate – extra virgin olive oil from a range of cultivars, grown in Australia with the medium high density agronomic model, which has won olive oil competitions including best of show at the 2011 Los Angeles County Fair. Available here:
  • Corto Olive – good, fresh super-high-density arbequina oil available at Costco (occasionally), HEB, Zabar's under the Zabar's label, Kroger as a specialty label called “Private Selection.” I profile Dino Cortopassi, founder of the company, in Extra Virginity.
  • Costco Kirkland Toscano – Kirkland is the Costco store brand. I’ve been disappointed by Kirkland Organic EVO (not to mention the “extra virgins” in multi-liter plastic jugs), but the Toscano signature oil is the real deal.
  • Lucini – since their purchase by COR last year, things may have changed at Lucini - more on this soon.  In the meantime, I'll leave the review I wrote before Lucini changed hands:  a wide range of fine oils, led by the top-of-the-line Limited Reserve Premium Select oil. I quibble with the clear glass bottles, which impair the shelf life, but as long as the oil is fresh it’s first-rate, and is widely available across North America. See the store locator.  Lucini Premium Select is their finest oil, made on a a single estate near Bolgheri, in the Maremma region of Tuscany.  Their Estate Select oil is made from olives grown in various estates in central Italy; since it's sourced from a wider group of farmers, it costs less.  
  • Oleoestepa – just entering the US retail market, this Spanish cooperative produces excellent oils at competitive prices. Keep an eye out for their oils arriving in shelves near you soon!
  • O-Live – available at stores across Canada, and in selected US stores (including HEB in Texas). See the store locator (which sources tell me isn’t always 100% reliable).
  • Ottavio and Omaggio – in terms of value for money, I don’t know better oils than Ottavio and Omaggio: a fine balance of fruit, pungency, bitterness that will appeal to a wide audience, at rock-bottom prices. Ottavio is available at HEB and Central Market, and Omaggio is available at Sam’s Club. (Note: In the past, Valco Enterprises, producer of Ottavio, and Axiom Enterprises, producer of Omaggio, have both supported Truth in Olive Oil. Read here for what this means.)
  • Trader Joe’s – 3 out of the 6 extra virgin oils I tasted in August, 2013 were the real deal.  One of these, the Premium 100% Greek Kalamata, was very fresh, spicy, complex at an extremely competitive price (1 liter for $8.99).  The California Estate Olive Oil was also a good choice, while the Premium Extra Virgin was decent and defect-free, if a bit uninspiring.  The 3 other Trader Joe’s “extra virgins” I tasted were defective.  (See here for details.)
  • Whole Foods California 365 – The Whole Foods store brand from California is good-quality extra virgin olive oil at a great price. In my experience, the other members of the 365 lineup are poor – an odd situation from a company like Whole Foods that preaches quality über alles.

As mentioned above, there are likely to be many more good supermarket oils not included in this list. Please suggest some, and I’ll try them out as soon as I can.

Comments

I find Pompeiian EVO to be a

I find Pompeiian EVO to be a good oil at a very reasonable price. It used to be all Spanish, but is now a blend. Fruity. Also Trader Joe's Spanish EVO. Sharper than the former, but also a good value.

I buy half my olive oil at a

I buy half my olive oil at a supermarket, and half at a specialty olive oil store (a VF store). The former, I have been buying at Costco (the Toscano version). Unfortunately, the last three times I've visited (so going on 3-4 months now), the stores in my area have not had the Toscano stocked, and it looks like they won't be anytime soon. Instead, I bought a new oil carried at Costco called: Tasso's. The label claimed the oil was award-winning, estate bottled, and it did have a date of harvest. But, my palate isn't developed enough to taste if this oil is the real deal. Has anyone tried it? Their website is www.tassos.com

Just finished your book and

Just finished your book and had to get on the computer and do some more research. I was not aware of a lot of the things you mentioned in your book-nor all the history-I found it fascinating. Thank you for the education on EVOO and I cannot wait to taste test all the different kinds out there. It is unfortunate that along with other industry's, it all comes down to the mighty dollar. Why do we sacrifice our health and the health of future generations?
Thanks again and may all your EVOO be true to it's name!

Could you please check the

Could you please check the Saporito brand (non-organic) extra virgin first cold press olive oil, from the "Saporito Foods" and comment on it - packed in Italy, says on the bottle. Very mush appreciated, thank you. Regards: Bob

I'm answering this question

I'm answering this question about Lucini olive oil eight months after it was posted. I contacted Lucini a few months ago with this very same question, asking about the Premium Select. They told me that oil from the fall 2012 harvest is stamped with 222 above the lot number on the label, whereas oil from the fall 2011 harvest (of which there's still a great deal on retail store shelves) is stamped 211.

It's sad that so many producers make it so difficult or impossible for consumers to find out the date of harvest. But this is excellent oliive oil, with the "classic Tuscan flavor profile". The varieties in the blend are: Leccino, Frantoio, Moraillo and Pendolino - the Tuscan classics. Really wonderful stuff.

Hi Tom, have you tried the

Hi Tom, have you tried the Trader Joes Italian Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil? I would love to know what you think of it. It's a great price and Organic, which were my original reasons for purchasing it. Now I'm wondering if it's a good quality oil b/c until I was given the link to your page I thought Organic meant it was top quality. Very interested to hear your opinion!

Armed with some new insight,

Armed with some new insight, I went to TJ and checked all their EVOOs for harvest date. Not one had a date listed! So I tried the California Olive Ranch EVOO recommended on Tom's list (harvest date clearly marked). What a difference! It was far better than any of the TJ oil that I've been buying for years.

> So I tried the California

> So I tried the California Olive Ranch EVOO recommended on Tom's list

Kate, can you specify which California Olive Ranch you're referring to -- i.e., the 'everyday' (green & blue label), or one of the others (Arbequina, Arbosana, etc. - tan labels)? Thanks.

Are such 'Limited Reserve'

Are such 'Limited Reserve' offerings as Lucini's and California Olive Ranch's worth the price premium, when compared to the 'Premium Select' (Lucini) and 'Everyday' (C.O.R.)?

The Lucini is $40/liter and the C.O.R. about $4 less, which is twice or more what I normally pay, so I'd expect something truly exquisite at those prices.

Also, is it the 'Everyday' (blue/green label) California Olive Ranch that was recommended? If so, any opinions about the 'tan' label varieties -- Arbequina, Arbosana, Miller's Blend?

Thanks.

I would like to know if

I would like to know if Koroneiki, 385 everyday value,is included in the Whole Foods oil that you recommend. I like its flavor, but would switch if its nutritional value were questioned.

Thanks for the update. Was

Thanks for the update. Was it the "Everyday" version that your California Olive Ranch recommendation (the one at the top of this page)* referred to?

* ("California Olive Ranch – good fresh extra virgin olive oil, mainly from the arbequina and arbosana cultivars, grown in super high density groves in northern California.")

I live in New York City, I

I live in New York City and I frequently see Zoe, a Spanish EVOO brand, in stores. It's so competively priced that it's hard to resist, but is it the real deal? Also, have you heard of Casa Pareja, I believe also from Spain? Thanks!

just found out Kirkland

just found out Kirkland Toscano is back at my local Costco (central New Jersey). The harvest date is October/November 2012. Wonderful oil. As an aside, concerning olive oil, it is the oil of a fruit as orange oil is the oil of an orange. Comparing olive oil to orange juice as in an above comment doesn't make sense to me. While oranges have plenty of juice and only a little oil is the opposite true for olives, ie, do olives have a lot of oil and only a little juice ? Is there such a thing as olive juice ?

> I haven't tried the oil

> I haven't tried the oil that Farchioni exports to the USA, but can tell you that
> the oils I've tasted in Italy are very poor, always fusty and once, at least, quite rancid.

Thanks. Any chance of adding a list of 'stay away froms' here? It would, in my view, be a useful counterpart to the list of recommended brands.

Thanks. Could not those

Thanks. Could not those reservations be circumvented by abstaining from any criticism not based on actual personal experience and by amending any prior criticism/praise when such improvements/deterioration as those you refer to occur?

My impression is that so many bad olive oils continue to be sold in the U.S. because of a lack of critical reviews by people who can distinguish good from bad, combined with misrepresentation in marketing that’s directed at a largely uneducated (re: olive oil) public.

I understand, of course, that you may have reasons not to want to be overly-zealous about this.

This is completely

This is completely unsolicited advice, but one thought would be to provide a list of all/ most of the olive oils that you have tasted, and highlight ones you consider to be your favourites/the real deal EVOO/ recommended buys or whatever. Readers can make their own inferences about the oils that didn't make the cut ... Perhaps this is too vague an approach... just a thought.

Fiona

<< one thought would be to

<< one thought would be to provide a list of all/ most of the olive oils that you have tasted, and highlight ones you consider to be your favourites/the real deal EVOO/ recommended buys or whatever >>

That list already exists, at the top of this page.

Trader Joe's sells an EVOO

Trader Joe's sells an EVOO labeled California Estate Olive Oil. I've just read your book and am still learning, but the oil seems to feel fresh and tastes good. Do you know anything about this one? Thanks

I'm so glad to have this

I'm so glad to have this thread. I am curious if you have tested Barianni olive oil from California. Many of the hard core health people and raw foodists I know use this olive oil.

Thank you Tom!

> one thought would be to

> one thought would be to provide a list of all/ most of the olive oils that you have tasted,
> and highlight ones you consider to be your favourites/the real deal EVOO/ recommended > buys or whatever.

That list exists, at the top of this page.

Hmm.. not sure if I sent a

Hmm.. not sure if I sent a reply or whether I deleted it, so apologies if this is a double reply.

I should have been clearer with my original post. What I meant to say is that Tom's fantastic list of Top Pick's (at the top of the page) is a great resource. It would be even more informative if it listed the oils that Tom has tasted and that, for whatever reason, didn't make the cut.

Regardless, I am sure he will come up with a system that allows him the flexibility of re-evaluating brands that increase or decrease in quality year to year.

Ta, Fiona

p.s. the list really is fantastic. I used it to help buy oil for Christmas gift baskets for family and friends.

Tom, I just wondered (and if

Tom, I just wondered (and if you have any opinion at all) about using high quality EVOO for cooking at higher temperatures (sauteing, etc). I have read that high temperatures destroy the benefits of high quality EVOO and that they should only be used for salads, drizzling, dipping, etc, and never heated. If this is so, are there good EVOO's that are less expensive but could be used for high temp cooking? I enjoy the taste EVOO imparts to my recipes but I do not want to destroy the health benefits of an expensive oil if I use it for cooking.

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