A good friend of mine lives in Los Angeles, and recently she was asked out by an attractive gentleman she met at her local dog park. He said that he would love to take her out that coming Saturday for a...olive oil tasting. The date never happened -- for a variety of reasons -- but it occurred to me that olive oil, a humble cooking staple, has achieved a culinary cult status formerly reserved for fine Bordeaux or Beluga caviar. In a tight economy, many would be hard-pressed to splurge on designer EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil), but we decided to take a look at some of the more revered -- and pricey. Plus, we've matched these tippity top-end bottles with budget-friendly varieties paired with great BHG.com recipes.
For more olive-oil friendly cooking inspiration, check out our latest recipes, creative chicken salads, and fast weeknight meals.
Fattoria Montecchio ($38)
This is a traditional Tuscan olive oil with a smooth nutty flavor. Harvested, produced, stored, and bottled in a four hundred-year old countryside estate with the help of a stone olive crusher, there are no chemical treatments or filtering to interfere with its earthy flavor. Great for seafood or roasted veggies, try Fattoria Montecchio with BHG.com's Shrimp Scampi (or substitute with Colavita Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $14.99).
Moulin Jean Marie Cornille ($66.95)
Produced in Côte d'Azur, France, this buttery golden oil has developed a passionate following -- and is subsequently hard to find. Complex yet light, it's perfect for marinades and grilling, or for drizzling on fresh rustic bread. For a similar Provencal flavor profile that's less of an investment, try Moulin St. Michel AOC Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($18.99) with BHG.com's French countryside-inspired side dish, Sauteed Green Beans with Shallot Crisps.
Pasolivo Olio Nuovo Estate Tuscan Blend ($30)
Not too much of a splurge, this vibrant, grassy-flavored olive oil is bottled immediately after it's pressed ("Olio Nuovo" translates to "new oil"). This intense, peppery oil is produced in Paso Robles, California and is just perfect for a fresh pasta or as a finishing oil on grilled meats. California Olive Ranch Everyday California Fresh EVOO has a similar smooth, slightly peppery flavor for $10.49. Try it with BHG.com's Pasta Primavera With Asparagus.
Colonna Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($48)
Harvested and produced in Molise, south of Rome, this luscious and fruity oil has a lightness typical for the region elevated by a deeply intense olive flavor that makes it a real palette pleaser. Drizzle this decadent oil over BHG.com's Easy Bruschetta, or substitute with Verdolio Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil ($5.99), a wallet-friendly Umbrian import.
This "ultra premium" Greek olive oil has been embraced by celebrities and the foodie crowd. From the Critsa region of Crete, a limited-edition batch provides an intense, low-acidic oil with a vanilla aftertaste. The modern, hyper-stylized bottle makes a perfect gift if you're ever invited onto someone's yacht or private jet. If not, try BHG.com's Greek Lamb With Spinach and Orzo with Iliada Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($16.99) a richly layered organic oil from Greece.
Manni (Market Rate, about $80 for 3 oz.)
Known as "The world's most exclusive olive oil", this lush, herbaceous organic extra virgin olive oil from Tuscany is only distributed to elite restaurants (The French Laundry, Jean Georges, Charlie Trotter's, Fat Duck). At Quatrro in the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto, executive chef Alessandro Cartumini offers diners tastes of Manni at $3 per pour -- or you may buy a 3-ounce bottle for $80. Sounds crazy? Instead, pick up a bottle of Olave Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($14.30) for a similar mouth-feel and flavor. Try it with BHG.com's Olive and Arugula Flatbread for a (more affordable) taste of Tuscany.
SUPPER CLUB PICK
My after-school snack was a sacred ritual. I sat on the carpet in my parents' bedroom at a low table, the television turned to "I Dream of Jeannie," and ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich cut into neat squares. I wasn't fussy about crusts. I just loved the sticky pairing of creamy peanut butter with syrupy golden sweetness drizzled from a honey bear in diagonals across the soft white bread. Nothing else--save for maybe apples and peanut butter in a pinch--could have made for as sweet an