Best Bargain Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Costco Kirkland Organic
If you've been following our reports on the imported Italian olive oils that a recent U.C. Davis report claims are falsely advertised as extra virgin (in a nutshell, pretty much all staple supermarket brands, though there is still much debate), you're likely already a few pennies closer to saving $45 for a 500 ml bottle of Laudemio, hands down the best grassy Tuscan olive oil we've tasted lately. Or you could go with a bottle from one of the California producers on the U.C. Davis report, like the $20 McEvoy (375 ml) or the $28 (500 ml) Ascolano. Regardless, the study seems to indicate that if you want to know your dollars are truly going to honest extra virgins, you've got to shell out the big bucks.
J. Garbee Kitchen Window Essential
But look closely, and you'll see that four of the five brands with all-passing extra virgin grades were from California (notably -- or not -- two of the California olive oil companies on the list, along with the California Olive Oil Council, a trade organization dedicated to promoting locally produced oils, provided financial support for the study). But one Italian import, Kirkland Organic, did quietly infiltrate the ranks of the California extra-virgin elite.
It also happens to be the least expensive olive oil in the study, even less than the generic supermarket versions that supposedly failed miserably. Kirkland retails for about $14 for 1.5 liters. That's 51 ounces of grassy green, first-press olive oil to drizzle with reckless abandon on bread, pizza, salad, whatever your heart desires.
Compared to those $8 to $12, 750 ml (about 25 ounces) flavorless bottles you find at the supermarket, that's a crazy bargain. And this stuff is good. Screw it, you could even sauté with the good stuff it's so cheap. Of course, there is a catch (locavores, you might want to cover your ears).
Kirkland is Costco's house brand. Which means you'll have to spring for the $50 annual membership fee simply to buy olive oil. And deal with maddening crowds. And pretend you really didn't just support the Walmart of warehouse stores by buying three of these first-press wonders.
Flickr user Judi in Cal
Actually, we're guilty of doing just that. But it's not our fault. It was one of those only-in-L.A. moments, when the party chat turns to foods from a certain region, and there always seems to be someone at the party from that very spot. We were lamenting the price of Tuscan olive oil, the green, grassy, purely romantic stuff, when a lilting Spaniard (fine, close enough) whispered promises of Laudemio-worthy olive oil for pennies in our ear. Mr. Laudemio then told us how he used to stash olive oil in his suitcase on trips to visit his family in Madrid, as the olive oil here in the U.S. was utterly undrinkable. Until he met this particular olive oil, Kirkland Extra Virgin Organic. And did he mention the price?
He did, swearing us to olea europaea secrecy. This oil is big and grassy, first press stuff from Spain and Italy. (Not single vineyard, but does it matter? One giant bottle is the price of four lesser versions.) This oil is divine right after harvest, say in December or January, but even in July when the flavor has mellowed a bit it's good enough to convince us to sell out to the corporate abyss and buy a Costco card simply for olive oil. Good enough to break our promise not to tell you about it.
Mr. Laudemio has nothing to worry about, as it seems we are the only ones at Costco filling our cart with jugs of Kirkland extra-virgin olive oil. Everyone else, it seems, is pissy that the "yellow" oil is so grassy green.
Kirkland Extra Virgin Organic, about $14, 1.5 liters. Note that there is also a generic Kirkland olive oil for a few dollars less (skip it for the extra virgin), as well as a higher-end Tuscan oil sold in smaller quantities that we have yet to try.