Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno Bee
We Olive store owner Zona Rogers has two simple questions when she helps people pick an olive oil: How you will use it? And what flavor do you like?
It's a guide that has served her customers well as the number of California producers keeps growing along with olive oil's heart-healthy reputation.
Rogers' Fig Garden Village store stocks 38 California olive oils, including several from the central San Joaquin Valley -- an up-and-coming olive oil producing region.
The California Olive Oil Council certified about 250 California extra virgin oils last year, up from 200 in 2010. The Valley is home to several producers such as Fresno State, the Bari Olive Oil Co. in Dinuba, and Cullen Creek in Sanger. The newest is the Enzo Olive Oil Co. in Clovis. With so many oils available, it's good to know how to differentiate among them, Rogers says.
MARK CROSSE/THE FRESNO BEE
We Olive is a store specializing in California olive oil and olive oil related items. These are just a few of the bottles of California olive oil. For starters, extra virgin olive oil is considered the highest quality. It is free of defects and it is processed without any heat. "The freshest oil and the one with the best flavor is going to be extra virgin olive oil," says Gino Favagrossa, a Fresno County olive grower and board member of the olive oil council.
Some non-extra virgin olive oil may contain refined oil, which means it has been heat-treated to remove defects such as rancidity, so he urges consumers to read the label. At We Olive, Rogers breaks down olive oils into three basic taste categories: light and buttery; grassy; and pungent/peppery. She asks her first-time customers how they plan to use the oil and she steers them to what works best. For example, a light and buttery oil works with light frying such as eggs or sautéeing vegetables, while a grassy tasting oil may work best on salads.
A bolder oil can handle grilled meats or pasta. "And once you know what you like, tasting oils can become lots of fun," Rogers said. The makers of Enzo Olive Oil -- P-R Farms of Clovis -- are hoping to appeal to people who like a more delicate-tasting oil with a buttery flavor. Enzo Olive Oil is also organic and is sold at the family's Bella Frutta fruit stand at Willow and Shepherd avenues in Clovis, and Sam's Italian Deli and Market on First Street and Clinton Avenue.
Vincent Ricchiuti, director of operations for P-R Farms, said the oil has many uses, from sautéeing vegetables to drizzling over food. "It is also great as a finishing oil," he says. "I use it on my mushroom risotto, right at the end. It takes the flavor to a whole other level." Ricchiuti is working on other products, such as oils flavored with garlic, basil and citrus, and a bolder-tasting extra virgin olive oil. He plans to be at the Fresno Food Expo on March 8.