A Regional Guide to Italian Olive Oils

A mind-boggling array of outstanding extra-virgin olive oils from around the world are available to home cooks nowadays. We highlighted a few of our favorites, from Spain, New Zealand, California, and elsewhere, in "A Cook's Guide to Olive Oils" (May 2010). But no country offers a greater variety than Italy, where oils from Tuscany, Liguria, Abruzzo, Sicily, and other areas offer distinct flavors and textures that lend themselves to different uses in the kitchen. Here's a guide to some of the best regional Italian oils available, and recommendations for what to do with them. Sicilian oils are known for their ripe, robust flavor. Made from olives handpicked in the Trapani region of Sicily, Fontanasalsa (pictured at left) is a full-bodied olive oil that smells faintly of fresh-cut grass and tastes of green vegetables and artichokes. This is the oil you want to drizzle over roasted squash or sauteed zucchini. You can buy it at DiPalo's; $24.99 for 750 ml. Zisola (center) comes from the region of Monti Iblei, a mountainous area in the southeast of Sicily that produces some of Sicily's most coveted, flavorful oils. Made from a mix of native olives, including the tonda iblea cultivar, the oil is fruity, spicy, and well-rounded and can be purchased from Olio2Go; $32.95 for 500 ml. Produced on a 5,000-tree olive farm, Titone (right) is available in very limited quantities every year. With a robust flavor that tastes like the essence of deep green olives, the oil is just right for garnishing steaks and swordfish. You can buy this Sicilian organic olive oil from Olio2Go; $29.95 for 500 ml.
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.
The olives for Monti Sabini's extra-virgin olive oil are grown on Italy's Sabine Hills, in the Lazio region near Rome. The low-acidity oil has a creamy texture and a rich, round, almost nutty flavor that makes it a great choice for drizzling into salads and soups. This oil is retailed in Italy and the United Kingdom only.
Villa Laura is a soft, buttery, beautiful olive oil that's also produced in the Sabine Hills region. (According to local lore, the largest olive tree in Europe grows there.) Made with moraiolo olives, the oil is faintly nutty, with hints of almonds; this is an oil to reach for when baking or making bruschetta. The oil is available at DiPalo's; $24.99 for 750 ml.
Culled from 100 percent taggiasca olives, Santa Chiara (pictured far left) comes from Costa dei Rosmarini, an olive farm on the Tigullio Gulf in Liguria, Italy. Its delicate, fruity, and peppery taste makes it an ideal choice for finishing seafood dishes and pastas. Available at Ciao Imports; $18 for 500 ml. The olives in Vittorio Cassini olive oil (pictured far right) come from century-old trees that are cultivated 2,000 feet above sea level in the Ligurian hills of Italy. The tree's taggiasca olives are cold-pressed, resulting in a vibrant yellow oil that smells like fresh artichokes and has a pleasant almond aftertaste. A 500 ml bottle costs $37.75 at Il Mercato Italiano.
Agrumato's flavored olive oils (agrume is Italian for citrus fruit) are made the traditional way: small amounts of organic citrus are pressed along with hand-harvested olives grown in Italy's Abruzzo region. The oils are outstandingly fresh and bright: Lemon Agrumato goes well with grilled fish or chicken; Tangerine Agrumato can be drizzled on fresh greens or roasted winter squash. Buy 200 ml bottles at Cyber Cucina for $26.50 each.

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