Both Greece and Italy are known for having some of the best extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in the world, their products are unique, especially the way they taste. From the type of soil and olive trees found in the countries to the processes to regulation, these two countries take two very different approaches to the production and sale of EVOO. While people tend to want to know which is better, that is mostly a subjective question. The one that is best ultimately depends on your personal tastes because the flavor of Greek EVOO is distinctly different from Italian EVOO.
The Primary Differences between Greek and Italian
The arrival of the olive in Europe occurred in Greece about 3,000 years ago. They were the first Europeans to cultivate and use olives as a major part of their diet. But the Italians were the second country to realize just how versatile and important the olive could be in improving their diet. The time that elapsed between Greece cultivating the olive tree and Italy creates one of the primary differences between their different EVOO.
The trees that are common in Greece are a different species than the ones that dominate the Italian market. You can tell by looking at the color of the EVOO to see just how different the final product is. In addition to the differences in the species, the soil in Greece is different than Italy – in fact the soil changes from the north of Greece to the south, and the north of Italy to the south. Even if the countries used the same olive tree species, the soil affects the taste of the final product. The nutrients and properties of the soil can change the flavor of the EVOO that the olives make.
EVOO Exports and Imports
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between Greek and Italy when it comes to olives and olive products is that Italy does not have as strict regulations over their market, and it has led to companies outside of Italy intentionally misleading their customers into thinking that their EVOO is Italian, when it isn’t. Though this is an international problem, Greek EVOO does not suffer as much as most other countries, largely because of the way they regulate it.
Italian actually exports more EVOO than they consume, so they end up importing EVOO form other countries, like Greece. Italy may be the largest exporter of EVOO, but the food that you eat while you are in the country may not have Italian EVOO in it. It is possible that you are eating a traditional Italian dish with Greek or Spanish EVOO. It is also possible that the EVOO you get with Italian on the bottle is a mixture of Italian and EVOO form another country. They cannot make enough within the country to meet the demands for it outside the country. This could mean that the taste you associate with Italian EVOO is actually not from 100% Italian olives.
However, Greece consumes more EVOO than almost any other nation in the world, and they use EVOO from Greece in their food. If you go to Greece and eat, there is very little chance that you are eating food that has EVOO from another country.
The Smell and Taste
This is what most people want to know about the difference between Italian and Greek EVOO, and on a surface level, it is fairly easy to tell them apart. If you have two shot glasses, one filled with Italian EVOO and one full of Greek EVOO, you can generally tell where the two originated by the smell.
Italian EVOO smells and tastes the environment, and they tend to be described as reminiscent of a summer meadow. When added to food, it has a very strong flavor that is difficult to miss.
The smell of Greek EVOO can be described as grassy and more complimentary. Depending on the region, it may also have a bit of a peppery taste. Greek EVOO is perfect for complimenting food instead of driving the flavor of the food.
Determining which type you want to use is really up to what impression you want to make with your food. Italian EVOO is more assertive, acting as one of the main flavors of the food, a defining aspect. In comparison, Greek EVOO tends to be less intrusive, working with the flavors of the other components of the food to create a holistic taste. Both EVOO are delicious and have similar health benefits, so it is up to your personal preference which is better.