A timely, special, delicious message from the Test Kitchen tasting team.
What is olio nuovo? Every year at harvest time, Italians look forward to the olio nuovo, or “new oil.” It’s the first extra-virgin olive oil off the press—full of fine olive particles suspended in brilliant green oil. (Ordinarily, fresh-pressed extra-virgin olive oil is stored in steel tanks for about two months before bottling to give sediment time to settle to the bottom and let the oil’s flavor mellow and stabilize.) Italians use olio nuovo lavishly, relishing its fresh, intense flavor, because within several weeks that olive sediment begins to ferment into off-flavors, and it’s all over until next year’s harvest. (This is also why unfiltered oil in general has a shorter shelf life.)
Unless you’re lucky enough to have Old World relatives with an olive press, olio nuovo can be hard to come by. It wasn’t until one year in December, when I visited California olive oil makers in the middle of harvest season, that I had the opportunity to taste olio nuovo. (See which California olive oils we loved best; full review free through December 7, 2012.)
At The Olive Press in Sonoma, managing partner Deborah Rogers filled a small glass bottle right from the stream of oil trickling out of the press, and we sat down to sample it. The full, vivid, fresh flavor proved addictive. Back at home, I tried olio nuovo from McEvoy Ranch in Marin County and California Olive Ranch in Oroville, enjoying them daily until they ran out.
In California, olives are harvested from November to January, depending on what they’re trying to make. Early (more unripe, greener) olives make a very grassy/peppery oil, and later, riper olives (which are black) make a very mild, buttery oil. When it’s first pressed and those pieces of olive are suspended in the oil, it tastes fantastic, super intense, bright, lovely. Enjoy it while it lasts, because the flavors are at their best for only 3 or 4 months.
If you want to try a variety of olio nuovo, search for “olio nuovo 2012” or “olio nuevo 2012.” Many California oil producers sell olio nuovo on their websites; don’t dawdle if you’re curious, because it sells out quickly every year. And most oil makers will send their customers a reminder when the next year’s harvest of olio nuovo is ready.
(Top photo credit: Jessica Spengler)