For those who deeply love olive oil, the coldest part of the year is a joyous time. Why? Because these months mark olio nuovo season. The excitement arises from what olio nuovo means: another olive harvest, another year of fresh olive oil. But the buzz also comes from the olio nuovo itself.
Olio nuovo, also known as olio novello, is the year’s very first olive oil, newly pressed and fresh as can be. It stays on the shelves of better grocery stores and specialty shops through the first months of the new year. A bottle of it can transform your cooking. It also delivers a higher level of polyphenols, or the antioxidants found in plants that may reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, than any other type of extra virgin olive oil. Translation? It's one of the healthiest bottles you can buy.
Olio nuovo, unlike most other olive oils, doesn’t go through aging to clear olive sediment. In skipping this step, a younger, fresher olive oil results. It also keeps those olive particles alive in the oil. Olio nuovo isn’t racked or filtered—common steps undertaken to clear olive sediment for a bright golden bottle—meaning that tiny flavor-packed particles suspend in green-tinted olio nuovo, like specks of dust in a sunbeam.
These solids give olio nuovo a bright but brief life. Olio nuovo stays pristine for about three to four months—November through February or so—after harvest date, which is usually listed on bottles. But these fine pulpy solids, together with uncommon freshness, give olio nuovo its magic.
Visually, olio nuovo is unlike other extra virgin olive oils. When shaken or agitated a bit, it is thickly cloudy, like farm-style apple cider but with a green-ish cast, a faint neon green hard to believe until seen. Some olio nuovo bottles look more like green juice than a fresh lipid with unreal pasta potential.
The flavor of olio nuovo varies based on many factors, such as type of olive pressed. Generally, olio nuovo is electric and grassy. From its rich oleocanthal content, it has an incredible peppery sizzle—peppery less so in the way of arugula, more so in the way of black pepper or a spicy edible flower. On a more foregrounded layer, olio nuovo has a lush butteriness and an intense freshness, almost calling to mind eating fruit bursting ripe off the branch, or tasting really fresh milk or cream.
How should you buy olio nuovo? Note its harvest date. Make sure you can use a bottle within three or so months of it. Olio nuovo is more expensive than other olive oils, true, but when you consider how many meals you can enhance with a bottle, the investment is sound. Especially when less than $20.
Be sure to store your bottle in a pantry or cabinet, away from ovens and sunlight.
The guidelines to using olio nuovo are simple. Use it often and generously—as it has a looming expiration date, as it goes well with so many foods.
Olio nuovo most separates itself when used raw. It is great on salads, both green and citrus. It is stellar drizzled on goat cheese, used to make bruschetta, or doused on savory yogurt. It excels as a finisher, seeming to pull food’s pleasant flavors into sharper focus. Added just before eating, olio nuovo enhances a range of foods, including fish, pasta, vegetables, and sandwiches. Draw a few quick circles with olio nuovo in just about any soup, and your soup will gain life.
You can cook with olio nuovo, though its quality and differences may not be as obviously apparent. If you cook with it, be sure to keep your heat to medium or below. Otherwise, you’ll risk burning the oil and leveling its admirable qualities.
But the chief thing to know about olio nuovo, beyond its rarity and goodness, is to use it liberally. Use it with a free hand. Use it to finish lunch and dinner. Use it so much that you forget why you ever used generic olive oil. Use it to seize the season while you can, before it’s gone until next year.
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