Buying and Storing Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Whether you're using high-end or all-purpose olive oil, here are a few rules of thumb for buying and storing.

Oils produced in Tuscany are often characterized by their pleasing, peppery bite. Fattoria Il Peraccio (pictured at far left), made from a classic Tuscan blend of moraiolo, frantoio, and leccino olives, is no exception, and it boasts a rich, buttery texture to boot. With a slightly bitter finish that balances its robust character, it's perfect for serving with grilled steak or flavorful greens, like arugula. Buy it at DiPalo's; $36.99 for 750 ml. Oleificio Chianti's olive oil (second from left) is produced in the Siena region in Tuscany. This blended oil, made from various pressings of olives (including 40 percent extra-virgin oil), is delicate enough to be used in a¿oli and salad dressings. Stephen Singer Olio sells a liter bottle for $20. The Capezzana estate, operating in Tuscany's Prato region for more than 1,200 years, releases a vintage extra-virgin olive oil every year (second from right). The estate's 2009 olive oil is golden green and has a slightly bitter, fresh, and citrusy taste. It's sold at Olio2Go; $39.95 for 500 ml. Oleificio Chianti's Buonaspore (far right) oil is 100 percent extra-virgin and happens to be a great value at $27.50 for 750 ml. This piquant oil, which is also distributed by Stephen Singer Olio, tastes of green apples and artichokes; it's a wonderful all-purpose oil for frying, marinating, and garnishing.Anna Stockwell

Extra-virgin olive oil is the preferred choice of most Mediterranean cooks. As a rule, high-quality, high-priced, estate-bottled extra-virgin olive oil shouldn't be used for cooking, since its nuanced flavor can be destroyed by heat; use these high-end oils for garnishing foods, dressing salads, and the like. There are plenty of lower-priced, good-quality extra-virgin olive oils that are fine for sauteing, frying, roasting, and other cooked preparations. Whatever kind you're using, keep in mind a few rules of thumb for buying and storing the oil.

When shopping, look for a date stamp: the fresher the oil, the better. Many conscientious growers now put the harvest date on the label, or at least a "use by" date, which should be two years after harvesting.

The archenemies of olive oils are light and heat: don't buy olive oil that comes in a clear glass bottle or has been sitting in a sunny shop, and don't keep it next to the stove.

Refrigeration can help prolong the life of an oil; you can store a large quantity in the fridge (or just a cool, dark place) and keep a small amount at room temperature for everyday use. Lou DiPalo, the owner of DiPalo Fine Foods, an Italian specialty store in New York City, says that a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil should be consumed within three months of opening; beyond that, oxidation and rancidity can occur.

Also, buy from a reliable source, whether it's a local shop or a mail-order purveyor like DiPalo's, Zingerman's, Corti Brothers, or Formaggio Kitchen. The best importers and retailers track shipments to make sure the oil is handled with care.