There are 4 different classifications of olive oil.

  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the highest quality.  It is first, cold pressed juice from harvested olives and non-refined.  It also meets high standards regarding taste and acidity among other things.
  • Virgin olive oil  is first, cold pressed olive juice but does not meet the specifications of extra virgin, and usually the acidity is higher.
  • Olive oil  denoted "olive oil" "light" "pure" "extra light" can included some refined olive oil, as well as cold pressed.  The quality is much lower than EVOO
  • Pomace oil Is usually made with remainding pulp after the olives are cold pressed, and then it is refined to produce pomace oil, the lowest quality product related to the harvesting of olives.

 

Tips for Preparing Food and Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

Gayle Povis Alleman wrote a nicely succinct article entitled Ultimate Guide to Olive Oil. In it she clarifies that the primary use of extra virgin olive oil is to enhance the taste of food and spices. The highest quality EVOO is usually for used with uncooked dishes to develop, harmonize and build flavors.  EVOO is great for balancing acidity in high-acid foods. A great example is tomatoes. Liberal application of EVOO on freshly cut tomatoes, with a pinch of salt, provides a mouth watering flavor, and enhances the taste of the tomatoes. EVOO can be wonderful with other dishes involving vinegar, wine and lemon juice, that are higher acidity foods.

In her article, Gayle gives some traditional examples on how to use extra virgin olive oil:

  • Drizzle it over salad or mix it into salad dressing.
  • Use in marinades or sauces for meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables. Oil penetrates nicely into the first few layers of the food being marinated.
  • Add at the end of cooking for a burst of flavor.
  • Drizzle over cooked pasta or vegetables.
  • Use instead of butter or margarine as a healthy dip for bread. Pour a little olive oil into a small side dish and add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar, which will pool in the middle and look very attractive.
  • For an easy appetizer, toast baguette slices under the broiler, rub them lightly with a cut clove of garlic, and add a little drizzle of olive oil.
  • Replace butter with olive oil in mashed potatoes or on baked potatoes. For the ultimate mashed potatoes, whip together cooked potatoes, roasted garlic, and olive oil; season to taste.
  • Make a tasty, heart-healthy dip by mixing cooked white beans, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor; season to taste with your favorite herbs.
  • Use olive oil in your sauces -- whisking will help emulsify, or blend, the watery ingredients with the oil in the sauce.

Source: http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/how-olive-oil-works4.htm

For stovetop cooking, a less expensive virgin olive oil is fine in many cases. Grilled and broiled meats are enhanced by olive oil brushed on it. Receipts the include  any sort of slow, low temperature preparation will be greatly enhanced by olive oil.  

Personally, I love to prepare baked veggies with extra virgin olive oil.  I cut up potatoes, onions, carrots, green peppers. etc and garlic, and then coat them liberally with olive oil, and then I cover and bake at a very low temperature for approx 1.5 hours. I usually use salt and cumin as spices, and many times I mix in slices of cooked chorizo sausage also. The slow cooking releases flavorful juices and mixed with the organic extra virgin olive oil, the "gravy" turns out wonderful. Really delicious! 

Extra virgin olive oil is wonderful for many, many dishes.  Let me know your favorite!