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

Thank you so much for

Thank you so much for including info about oils sold in Canada--what a breath of fresh air :)I use the O-Live EVOO and really love the taste. We had a bottle of Bertolli still in the cupboard and did a taste test--wow--the Bertolli burned our throats, while the O-Live was fruity and deep--thanks again!

Hi Tom. Thanks for

Hi Tom. Thanks for enlightening me to the specifics of what constitutes a good EVOO. I typically have 6 or more tablespoons a day of the stuff. I have two questions for you: (1) What do you know about Pegasus EVOO and Partanna EVOO. I've seen both of these advertised on Amazon and other sites. The latter is supposed to be made in Sicily. My second question is this: I prefer to buy EVOO in 3-liter tin cans because it is more economical. As long as I use up the can in 2-3 months is there a problem with that? Remember, I consumer a lot of this stuff!
Thanks for any info. you can share, Tom!

Trying to decipher the

Trying to decipher the numbers on the Lucini Premium Select (750ML) bottle to determine its harvest date, i.e. freshness. Any help would be apprciated.

Hi Woody -- Back in April of

Hi Woody -- Back in April of last year I had the same question as you about Lucini Premium Select, and I phoned Lucini and asked them about it. I summarized their answer in a comment I made here on July 14, 2013 in response to someone else who had the same question. However I now see my answer was slightly wrong. Look at the lot code and see the first part of that. Oil from the fall 2011 harvest will say '211' (at the time in April 2013 I was still seeing a lot of that on the shelves). Oil from the fall 2012 harvest will say either '222' or '232'. So presumably oil from the fall 2013 harvest will say either '233' or '243'.

One thing to keep in mind when you do research about olive oil dates -- something I've learned through blood, sweat and tears: many producers will be interested in giving you the bottling date. But that's not nearly good enough for us; we're looking for the harvest date. The relationship between bottling date and the harvest date of the olives is often murky. Some producers will combine oils from two different harvests, and then bottle that and happily give us that date. Not good.

Hi,

Hi,

I saw your slide show in the NY Times so came here. Great site! Thanks so much for all this info.

Question: I've been using Grifo, which I buy in Whole Foods (it's not made by Whole Foods as far as I know.) Do you know if this is adulterated?

Also, will you be putting together a list of oils that aren't adulterated?

Many thanks again.

Somewhere, I learned that

Somewhere, I learned that "Made in Italy" and "Product of Italy" are two different things entirely, when it comes to food products. That "Product of Italy" in oils means that the olives in the oil come wholly from Italy, whereas "Made in Italy" could mean the olives came from other countries. Is there any truth to that?

I haven't seen "organic" EV

I haven't seen "organic" EV oil mentioned. This is what I usually look for . Any comments about how valid the labeling is and whether it really does ensure a quality product?

I am, obviously, olive oil

I am, obviously, olive oil ignorant. Except for olive oil I tasted in a Long Beach, CA restaurant many years ago (delicious and with just bread), I've never really liked its taste, and buy Star at Gelson's (okay, you-all are probably shivering) for just its oiliness to put in beans and/or rice, and the occasional salad w/vinegar, and I like the small size of bottle. There is no date of pressing, bottling, etc. however, or even where the olives were exactly grown for me to even compare re: freshness, et al. You have really excited my curiosity. What's an olive oil neophyte to do?

what about il Grezzo from

what about il Grezzo from Costa d'Ora? It claims to be EVOO and unfiltered thus a small amount of sediment found in the bottom, shake before use website oliocostadoro.com
I am interested to know, thank you for all the work you have done :o) Lois
I got it at Costco

I believe that refrigerating

I believe that refrigerating oils extends their expiration. There are four kinds in my fridge right now, including the roasted garlic infused Colavita, which is a real treat.

Are you familiar with the

Are you familiar with the Olave brand organic oil from Chile? I live in Costa Rica and buy it at the supermarket. Based on taste and visual cues it seems to me to be an excellent quality oil. Just wondering if you had had any experience with it. Their website is:

http://www.olave.cl/

Tom, please try Texas Olive

Tom, please try Texas Olive Ranch evoo. You can order online. texasoliveranch.com I've been to their harvest and witnessed the entire process, tasting the fresh hot spicy and beautifully green olive oil at the end. What a treat. thanks.

I "adopt" an olive tree

I "adopt" an olive tree yearly from what purports to be a family-owned series of groves located in Italy. This entitles me to a couple deliveries of fresh-pressed oil a few times a year - at least 1500ml (@ 500ml/ea) of regular cold-pressed oil, and several 250ml cans of flavor-infused oils. Have you tried any of their products? Are they the real deal or am I being hosed under the guise of a fun gimmick? I have to say, to my uneducated palate, it tastes amazingly flavorful in comparison to the random varieties stocked at my local grocery store.
http://www.nudoadopt.com/italia

Hello, I'm a newcomer to this

Hello, I'm a newcomer to this blog and so you may not be checking this post regularly, but just thought I'd go ahead and ask - have you checked out Bertolli? I'd like to support them since they are a local brand, but am curious. Thanks!

I suppose it goes without

I suppose it goes without saying that there are no gems among the infinite variety of cheap brands at Big Lots?

How about what you find at Safeway and Harris Teeter?

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,

I shop at Sobey's supermarket in Canada; I purchase the "Gallo" and "Colavita" brands of extra-virgin olive oil. Any insights on these brands or other brands available in Canada?
Thanks!

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,

I shop at Sobey's supermarket in Canada; I purchase the "Gallo" and "Colavita" brands of extra-virgin olive oil. Any insights on these brands or other brands available in Canada?
Thanks!

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,
I saw your name mentioned on Slate.com in regards to their olive oil article. I usually buy a large 3 liter tin of of Asaro Partanna EVO from Sicily, produced by Oleificio Asaro srl.
Their upline brand Paesanol, which I have also tried won gold at NYIOOC 2013.
I think this is the real deal just from the smell, and have used both products for quite sometime.
My only complaint is the Paesanol is not in a darkened bottle. However, it does let me visualize a dark green color, and a thickness consistent with EVO as well as residue at the bottom of the glass.
Have you tried either of these products?
Thank you for your insight!

Hey, I live in Costa Rica and

Hey, I live in Costa Rica and all of the approved brands listed above aren't available. I was wondering if the extra virgin olive oil from the brand Ibarra is consumable as a legitimate oil.

Thanks!

There is an excellent olive

There is an excellent olive oil at Whole Foods called Olivaylle.its made in australia and is very spicy and flavorful. It has a blue kangaroo on the label. It was apparently produced by a chemical engineer from M.I.T. who has passed away.There is a website where you can buy it by the case .it is expensive but is a nectar for dipping or using in snall anmounts . Definitely not for cooking as the heat apparently samages its uniqueness. Thats another aspect of extra virgin olive oil, using it in high heat seems to be a no no .

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,
Have you tested Wegman's grocery store's EVOO? They sell it in various sizes, the largest being 101 oz. for $17.99. Thanks for your reply!

If Whole Foods is still

If Whole Foods is still selling Canaan Fair Trade olive oil from Palestine, I have found that to be a reliable authentic extra virgin oil. It seems like Whole Foods has been less consistent in carrying Canaan's product but it's worth checking out if you can find it.

If you really want to get a

If you really want to get a very good and trustable olive oil you haver to look for a portuguese one. Perhaps it will not be easy, there isn't a large prodution, but if you find it you will confirm how fantastic it is.

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,
I love olive oil and try to purchase different brands to find best oil. Recently I bought an oil October Harvest from Mantova brand. This oil is best I ever have tried. Fruity, fresh and with lot of flavored. I would like to know if you have tried oils from Mantova brand as they have different profiles and if yes, would like to know your opinion.

I appreciate all your

I appreciate all your research! Having nut allergies, I need to be especially careful to avoid nut oils, so unlabeled ones mixed in are very frightening. I am not an Extra Virgin purist (perhaps due to tasting inferior stuff for so long) and am wondering whether other oils sold in supermarkets (e.g. Bertolli Extra Light) are really terrible. Many thanks!

Being a single guy can I buy

Being a single guy can I buy the bigger bottles and split it up into small bottles? Then only take one out of refrig at a time? Thinking to preserve the quality in the rest of the bottles?

I usually buy A brand called

I usually buy A brand called Gia Russa in Canton, Ohio. The can says it is made from olives grown in Italy, Spain and Turkey and packaged in Italy. Do you have any info on this brand and are there other brands sold in my areas that I might consider?

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