This is by far the most commonly asked question.
Olive oil simply put, is juice from a fruit. Virgin is the accepted term for purity.
‘Extra’ Virgin is the first purist juice obtained from the fruit of olive trees.
Olive oils described as ‘virgin’ are those that have been obtained from the original fruit without aving been synthetically treated. Once the olives have been picked, pressed, and washed, no other process has taken place other than decantation, and centrifugation to extract the oil, and filtration.
The best quality of olive oil available is described as ‘extra virgin’.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil xtra virgin is the highest quality and most flavorful olive oil classification. In chemical terms it is escribed as having a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams and a peroxide value of less than 20 milliequivalent O2. It must be produced entirely by mehanical means without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil (less than 86°F, 30°C).
In order for an oil to qualify as “extra virgin” the oil must also pass both an official chemical test in a laboratory and a sensory evaluation by a trained tasting panel recognized by the SA Olive Association. The olive oil must be found to be free from defects while exhibiting some fruitiness.
Since extra virgin olive oil is simply pressed fruit juice without additives, the factors influencing its quality and taste include the varieties of olives used, the terroir and the countless decisions, production practices and the dedication of the producer.
There are many different kinds of olives, or varietals from which oil can be produced, and each brings a unique flavor and quality to the oil. It is the variety of olive, along with the maturity of the fruit, that contributes most to the flavor of the oil.