Queen Creek Olive Mill near in Queen Creek, Arizona, produces the only extra virgin olive oil in the state. Despite many wine and olive oil tours and tastings in Italy, I never understood when a bottle of olive oil could be called 'extra virgin' instead of plain old 'virgin' or just olive oil.
Fortunately, staff at this family-owned business speak English and were happy to enlighten me over an elaborate snack of artisan bread, a selection of their latest olive oils, cheeses, and other Italian "bites."
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade of olive oil obtained only from the olive using mechanical means that do not alter the oil in any way. The olives undergo no treatment other than washing, grinding, mixing, gentle separation, and filtering. Solvents and high heat are not employed. Extra virgin olive oil has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, which must not be higher than 0.8 grams per 100 grams or 0.8 percent.
I failed the quiz, but Queen Creek Olive Oil passed the taste test, including the need for variety:
Delicate Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a light mellow taste with floral overtones and is best paired with seafood, salads, and mild cheeses.
Balanced Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a fruity start with a peppery finish without bitter overtones and is best used in everyday cooking, pastas, and soups.
Robust Extra Virgin Olive Oil has green apple flavor notes with a peppery finish and is best used in hearty dishes and with vegetables, red meat, and wild game.
The robust oil is the most difficult to find, because the olives are from the early harvest. It is the most sought after because of its high polyphenois and antioxidants.
Who knew that this oil used by the ancients is so complex? I did not go on vacation to study, but this learning went down easy in Queen Creek's tasting room surrounded by shelves of their products, an Italian snack bar, and even an espresso bar. I found myself patting my pocket for my passport. But no, I was in Arizona, not Italy. And now I can teach those Italians a thing or two.