How to buy olive oil
If you love Italian food, you've likely heard about the olive oil scandals that have unfolded over the past decade. Olive oil labeled and sold (at a high price tag) as a Italian is often an unverified mix of Tunisian, Moroccan or Spanish olives that are only packed in Italy. Much worse is so-called "light" olive oil is usually cheap nut oil that is only flavored with olives.
Labeling laws are part of the problem as is rampant corruption in this multi-billion dollar industry. Buy beyond the price you pay for bad olive oil, the worst part may be that you're missing out on the extraordinary health benefits of real extra virgin olive oil.
So which olive oil brands can you actually trust?
Most of the big supermarket brands don't deliver real Italian olive oil. Small brands are the way to go, but only when they are properly labeled with the oil's origin, a packaging date and the type of olives used. The trouble is, these bottles are often very expensive. A little bit of good oil goes a long way, but ff you're like me, you like to cook and fry with olive oil as well as use it to dress salads and pasta.
Thankfully, Teitel Brothers on Arthur Avenue, wholesalers and consiglieri to many New York City restauranteurs makes it easy to buy real Italian olive oil at a very affordable price. They source their olive oil directly from producers in Tuscany and Sicily and have them custom packed and shipped directly to their warehouse.
While they also sell Colavaita and other big brands, stick to their house brands for a guarantee of quality. In June 2017, Eddie Teitel gave me a tour of their line of custom packed olive oils named after members of his family. Here's how to navigate them and purchase the very best oils for both cooking and dressings.
This is the least expensive olive oil in the Teitel family olive oil line and should be used only for cooking and frying. It comes from Lucca in Tuscany. Normally I advise guests against buying any olive oil that isn't extra virgin but this brand is overseen by the Teitel family and is 100% Italian olive oil.
This extra virgin olive oil is also good for cooking and frying but has a richer, more intense flavor as the oil comes from the first pressings. This may also be used to dress grilled vegetables. Also from Lucca, the name Edda is named for Eddie Teitel.
Named for an uncle, this extra virgin olive oil comes from Sicily. They also sell the unfiltered version of the same oil. This is excellent for dressing raw vegetables and pastas.
Finally, the very best olive oil is one you'll need to ask for at the counter as it's not out on the regular display. It's also called Olio Don Luigi but it's a DOP from the Val Di Mazara in Sicily. The DOP designation is a true mark of quality and ensures that the olive oil was estate grown and bottled. Also look on the back of the bottle where you'll seen an expiration date, a map of the part of Sicily where it originates and the blend of olives which are included. It's only $14.99 which is an outrageously low price. Be sure to store this in a dark, cool place and only use it for dressing salads, pastas or for dipping.
Olive oil at Teitel Brothers is available in gallon tins or in bottles. When I asked Eddie why the bottles weren't a dark green he explained that it's simply a factor of the American retail market. Yes, olive oil should be packed in a dark bottle to prohibit sunlight from spoiling it, but the American customer likes to be able to see inside the bottle. And because he imports and sell these olive oils directly, the customer can be assured that the oil isn't exposed to sunlight or spoiled.
Want to meet the Teitel Brothers and explore their treasure trove of Italian products? Book your spot on our next Arthur Avenue Food Tour where we'll introduce you over a dozen Italian food artisans in New York's real Little Italy.