The quest

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Olive oil is sold at the organic store at the Mt. Olive Organic Farm store in Paso Robles, California.
Phil Klein/Corbis

Marcia Horting and her husband, Marc Marzullo, who visit Italy regularly, are on a constant quest for great olive oil. "We look for oils produced by single vineyards, co-ops in small towns like Volpaia, or high-quality Tuscan producers that are grassy and spicy," said Horting, a consultant in Gaithersburg, Md. She has noticed that in the bigger stores in Paris and Rome serving tourists, "older olive oils are sold at the same prices as the more recent harvest."

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Luckily, you no longer have to travel to Italy for high-quality extra virgin olive oils, as they are now being produced in the United States. They're more likely to be fresh — and with a price you can afford. California is the leader of the olive oil-producing states, but Texas, Oregon, Arizona and Georgia are producing a small amount.

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It's tricky to know if the olive oil you're buying is high-quality, fresh extra virgin olive oil. In most U.S. stores, I have found olive oil with harvest dates on perhaps one out of 20 bottles. Some have "sell-by" dates, which are usually two years after harvest (already too old!), though there are no standards for a sell-by date, so there is no guarantee how old your olive oil is unless there is a harvest date. Olives are harvested once annually, usually in the fall/winter, depending on the region. Look for a harvest date within the past year.

Even if it has a harvest date, you still won't know whether an olive oil has been harvested and handled to maximize polyphenol content.

The way I handle this is by going to a specialty shop where the owners are familiar with the olive farm from which the olives were harvested and the oil processed, or somewhere that I know sells California or Texas olive oil. I make sure the container is opaque. It has to have a harvest date within the past year. I keep it in a cool, dark cabinet at home, and use it up quickly. I save expensive olive oil for drizzling on salads and use canola oil for cooking, especially with high heat.

The more consumers demand harvest dates and proper handling, the more these products will become available.

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