Long before it was a supermarket commodity, olive oil illuminated ancient civilizations, anointed pharaohs and kings, bathed triumphant Olympians, and of course, made food taste good. It’s a real workhorse, one of the few ingredients you’ll find in almost every kitchen, but not many people realize that it’s essentially a fruit juice, meaning that, unlike its hardy counterpart, vinegar, it has a shelf life—best used within 18 months of its harvest date.
This past fall was my fifth harvest of Wonder Valley olive oil. In October, the firm, green olives begins to flush with a light mauve hue. Over the next month or so, they’ll continue to ripen through a spectrum of reddish purple, then, if left on the tree long enough, to a final shiny black. At Wonder Valley, we barely let the fruit blush before we plucked them off the trees the first week of November because we favor a bracingly green, herbaceous, polyphenol-packed olive oil. The oil is left to settle for a few days, any sediment is filtered out, then it’s bottled and ready to go.
These first few weeks of the year is olive oil magic time. The new harvest oils are released into the world—buy direct from the producer if you can or be mindful of harvest rather than the expiration dates listed on the bottle. Taste alongside different varietals or regions, taste it against that old, oily bottle that’s been lingering in the back of the pantry. You don’t need professional training to taste the nuances of olive oil, the peppery intensity that comes from picking under-ripe fruit or the buttery soft flavors of letting them mature fully.
I have a bottomless supply of fresh extra virgin olive oil on hand, the most decadent job perk, and I’m constantly getting high on my own supply. While it’s at peak season, I use it in the most humble and simple ways: streamed into bowls of fresh beans and grains and pasta with nothing more than fresh herbs or grated cheese and cracked pepper, or blitzed into sauces like pesto or caper-heavy salsa verdes, or drizzled over sweet seasonal fruits and soft cheese like figs and Roquefort, and forever brightening a bowl of leafy greens. At my home here in Joshua Tree, we are able to cook outdoors over fire year-round. Sturdier vegetables like eggplant or squash get cooked in the embers, and we fold the caramelized flesh with chiles, olive oil, and tahini while a grill of peppers and carrots need nothing more than a glug of it and salt to shine. I even book-end each day with a small shot of olive oil for maximum polyphenols (free-radical fighting antioxidants), omega 3s, and digestive support, and I’ll take a shot before I start a night of drinking to prevent a hangover (it works!).
So, yes, you can use olive oil year-round, but now is the time to go all in. Get the best, freshest batch you can find, and follow my lead.