Extra virgin olive oil is sought after for its superior flavour, aroma and nutritional value, but if you’re buying imported oils labelled extra virgin, you may not be getting what you think. Studies have shown more than half of the imported extra virgin olive oil in Australian supermarkets do not meet Australian or International standards and these oils are often old and rancid.

Jiggi-based olive and olive oil producer Denyse Hodgson, who sells her Grumpy Grandma brand olive products at the New Brighton Farmers Markets, says that in Australia olive oil cannot be deemed extra virgin unless it meets strict criteria. For example, olives must be crushed within 72 hours of being picked (to stop them becoming rancid) and the oil must be cold pressed (extracted mechanically without heat) rather than chemically, as most vegetable oils are.

“It should have a beautiful smell and taste,” said Denyse.

“For me, it’s a lot of it’s like lucerne, or fresh mown grass.”

She says it you want a real extra virgin olive oil – with all of its goodness intact – Australian made is the safest choice, as imported varieties are not subject to the same standards as Australian oil.

Some of the awards won by Grumpy Grandma Olives.

Some of Grumpy Grandma’s award winning olives and olive oils.

For quality, extra virgin is your best bet, followed by virgin, but never buy an olive oil labelled ‘lite’ or ’pomace’ warns Denyse, as these are made using harsh chemicals.

“They take the waste from the (olive crushing) process and use solvents to extract the (pomace) oil.

“The lite oil is just as bad, we wouldn’t even use it on our tractor.”

Denyse and husband Alan, who have won hundreds of awards for their olives and olive products, have just finished their 2016 press of olive oil and say it promises a big flavour, thanks to the weather conditions: “If it’s a really dry year, it’s really robust, really peppery,” said Denyse.

From this fresh oil, Alan and Denyse will also produce their flavoured infused oils, including lime, lemon myrtle, chilli and garlic, lemon, and their wood-smoked oil, which took the Gold Award and highest score for any olive oil at the 2014 Sydney Royal Food Fine Show.

Dense says the wood smoked is particularly good with cous cous, quinoa, rice, and is great to add flavour to vegetarian dishes.

Her favourite way to enjoy oil, however, is straight up: “I love it for dipping – with balsamic vinegar and crusty bread,” she said.

* Find Grumpy Grandma Olives and Olive Oils at the New Brighton Farmers Markets.

•Story and pics by Kate O’Neill.