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 teach 100+ fraud and ethics

I teach 100+ fraud and ethics classes every year both live and online. I also have the only speakers bureau in the U.S. for white collar criminals....What auditors don't understand is that if a client sells fake olive oil the revenue is illegal and the CPA can't give a 'clean opinion'. Has anyone seen a fake harvest date? Pls reply to gzfraud@TheProsAndTheCons.com.

There prices ARE really high.

There prices ARE really high. Have you considered mail order from any of the specialty olive oil stores listed on the Truthinoliveoil website? Many carry award-winning oils that are significantly more affordable. Olive oil is a staple, and the best of it is becoming more and more available in North America. No club membership required.

By saying your list is "By NO

By saying your list is "By NO means complete" is an understatement. . .

You ONLY have 5 Markets listed in the USA. . .
How about a little more research into more USA based supermarkets-- on the East coast (at least)?
--- Like Walmart, Cosco, Sams Club, Sweet Bay, Winn Dixie, etc. . . .

Hi Tom,

Hi Tom,

Your site is wonderful. Thank you for providing all this important info. I recall from looking at your book that you have a home in Liguria. Have you tried Raineri oil? How about Olio Carli, not sure if that one is Ligure.
I'll be buying your book and returning to your site frequently!

Tom, I live in Canada and I

Tom, I live in Canada and I purchase my EVOO at a local Italian Supermarket. Can you comment on Colavita EVOO. It has the CERMET certified authentic logo on the can and a best before date. Thank you.

Tom, I have been reading you

Tom, I have been reading you for almost two years now and am indebted to you for leading me to good oils. Thank you, thank you, thank you! VF, Oil & Vinegar, and other stores of that type sell flavored oils that I enjoy. When using one recently I wondered if the flavored oil is the same high quality oil as the unflavored; never thought to ask that while shopping. If the quality is lacking I certainly want to stop using them and use only the most healthy oils I can find. What can you tell us about flavored EVOOs?

Tom,

Tom,
What do you think about Star Extra Virgin Olive oil?
Thanks,
Teresa

Question:on a bottle of

Question:on a bottle of Lucini Premium Select Extra Virgin, first cold press, I see no date, but
C232
129
Is that a date? Thank you!

As an educated consumer, I

As an educated consumer, I learned last year that the "C232" on the Lucini Premium Select label indicates that the oil is from the fall 2012 harvest. I haven't seen any fall 2013 harvest Lucini oil on store shelves yet. It might be available when ordered from their web site.

It's unfortunate that manufacturers are often unwilling to put the harvest date in language easy for the consumer to understand. I guess they have their "reasons".

Thank you for answering me

Thank you for answering me about the date of Lucini olive oil. It was given to me by a cousin from Milan! She picked it up in California on the way to see my new home. So, before I open it, it is 18 months in a small bottle on the shelf....
And, I've just decided to buy only Blue Diamond walnuts because, as a large buyer of the nuts from the orchards, they can probably afford to store and process them for optimum freshness. I do not know any better insurance. Perhaps the same applies to olvie oil, unless one gets it from the producer....

My olive oil (which is

My olive oil (which is probably terrible) has a label of C313 - similar style, so I assume that's the harvest date. How do I translate that? Is it 2013?

To begin with you should know

To begin with you should know that I am 89 years old, of Sicilian heritage, first generation American and proud of both. I was raised on all food Italian and especially olive oil. The oil bought by my parents was called MADRE SICILIA. They at first bought it from a private importer of Sicilian foods and many years later it was available in Italian grocery stores. It was always sold in 2 gallon cans -- never in bottles. I was raised on it and in turn so were my children. I have been told that it is a Sicilian oil whose olives were (are?) grown in a private grove owned by one family. It has always been an expensive oil but the flavor was worth the extra dollar or two. Recently the oil is sold in dark green bottles. There is an importer on Long Island who does the bottling. I miss this oil very much (I still do my own cooking and holiday meals for the family). I understand that Sicilian oils are finally being introduced to the American market. To my knowledge Madre Sicilia is not widely distributed and I wonder if you have knowledge of this brand and if so where can I purchase it. I currently live in New Jersey in Ocean County. Is this oil as good as I have believed all these years or with your vast knowledge of oils have I been deceived. I would appreciate a reply and with many thanks I remain Rosary

Trader Joes carries

Trader Joes carries supposedly a Sicilian olive oil called Selezione which is quite good. Why do I say "supposedly"? After reading Tom's book I am in a quandary of what is good or what is really olive oil virgin or not virgin. The Selezione brand from Sicily states on the label that it is a product of Italy which really does not mean much these days. About the only way for a person to know that Selezione is actually from Sicily is to have none Italians to watch the actual picking of the fruit, processing the fruit, using a special olive oil tanker ship made in America, and used exclusively between Sicily and California (not New York) for distribution a the docking area in California. This way it would be 99% certain that oil came from Sicily! Why skip the port of New York. Answer: Too many crooks in New York. Once a cooking oil arrives in New York no one knows what the hell they do with the oil. And if oil is shipped to New Jersey via the GWB, one never knows if it will get to Jersey let alone to California, Oregon and Washington states.

Go to Texas Olive Ranch's

Go to Texas Olive Ranch's site - and order/try their evoo. Unbelievably good! They sell it at our local Austin farmer's market, but also via their website.

Tom, I haven't seen mentioned

Tom, I haven't seen mentioned here the frequently-referenced 'paint' smell that is, as far as I know, a sign of rancidity in olive oils.

Is one of your adjectives when describing bad oils an alternate for that particular defect?

Thank you for helping us be

Thank you for helping us be alert to the quality of our olive oil. You are doing a great service.

I just bought a new olive oil, new to me and new on Trader Joe's shelves. It is:

Trader Jo's Tunisian Organic Ectra Virgin unfiltered Chetoui Olive Oil.

It comes in an attractive metal container, 33.8 fl. oz for $9.99.

Do you know anything about it? I hope it's the real deal.

Thank you for all you do for us.

Joanna

Pages

Add new comment