How to combine extra virgin olive oil with food

Just like a good wine, a good extra virgin olive oil makes the perfect accompaniment for a tasty dish, bringing out the full flavour of the food on your table.

A simple and effective way to familiarise yourself with the taste and character of individual oils is to dress and then taste small amounts of boiled potato. This makes an ideal base because of its neutral flavour and texture, and so can be combined with different oils without altering their character.

You can then learn how to choose the extra virgin oil that goes best with a particular dish. It’s advisable to keep at least two different oils in your kitchen, with contrasting characters and effects, which you can then try out raw on a variety of dishes.

Matching in terms of affinity and area of production

A general rule to follow when combining food with extra-virgin oil is to look for similarities between the type and the intensity of flavour. So one factor to take into account is the amount of fruitiness in the oil, which can be light, medium or intense. According to this principle, light fruity oils go best with food with a subtle and delicate taste, because they do not mask its flavour, while intensely fruity oils with persistent notes of bitterness and spiciness combine well with foods with more complex and decisive flavours.

Another useful guideline is to match by territory, combining typical dishes from a particular area with oils produced from olive varieties grown in that region. In this context, the PDO and PGI marks provide a guarantee of origin and quality.

Matching by contrast

A less intuitive but equally gratifying method is to combine by contrast. To use this method, you need to look for flavours, aromas and textures in the oil that are in direct contrast to those of the dish. For example, you could combine a creamy pumpkin soup with a sweet, delicate flavour with an extra virgin olive oil with rather bitter notes. 

And although it serves as a contrast, the oil should never distort the dish, but rather enrich it in terms of taste and smell. The result should achieve a perfect balance between the extra-virgin oil and the dish. 

From the dish to the dressing, in terms of the aromatic features of the extra virgin olive oil

The resulting combination is also affected by the typical aromatic features of the oil. The main aromas are bitterness, which can be more or less intense to the taste, and sweetness, a pleasant flavour and typical of oils produced from ripe olives. Then there are various herbaceous, floral and vegetable notes associated with different fruits and vegetables – such as tomatoes, almonds or artichokes – according to strict tasting guidelines.

Rich sauces made with meat and bitter vegetables like radicchio and chicory go perfectly with an extra virgin oil with a distinct bitterness, such as our Terra di Bari oil.

Cereal salads, raw vegetables with an intense flavour, bruschetta, soups, and summer salads such as “Caprese” can be combined with extra virgin oils with hints of green vegetables, including tomato leaves, fresh herbs, artichokes and aromatic herbs. Our PGI Toscano and PDO Umbria oils are ideal examples.

White meats, crustaceans, seafood, white fish, cakes, desserts, and even ice cream, go perfectly with extra virgin oils such as our PDORiviera Ligure and PDO Garda oils with their sweet, delicate hints of almonds, apples, and other fruits with white pulp.

Grilled tuna, swordfish, oily fish marinades, grilled vegetables and fresh cheeses combine perfectly with aromatic oils such as our PGI Sicilia and PDO Valli Trapanesi.