Find the most important etiquette rules on how to serve and eat olive oil and tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest at the dining table.

how to serve and use olive oil

What olive oil etiquette is

Olive oil etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve, use, and eat olive oil. Such rules help avoid behaviors that may disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.

If you are hosting, follow olive oil etiquette to serve it to your guests appropriately.

As a guest, respect olive oil etiquette rules to properly use it at the dining table and avoid offending your hosts.

What you should know about olive oil

Olive oil is a vegetable liquid fat used for seasoning. It is obtained from olives. Olive oil is one of the most popular food seasonings in cooking and dining etiquette. It is typical of the countries in the Mediterranean basin, most notably Italy, Spain, and Greece.

Olive oil can vary based on the region of production, processing methods, and olive variety and ripeness. Its aroma can have piquant, bitter, and fruity notes. In general, regions with hot temperatures tend to produce oils with a more robust flavor. Oil extracted from ripe olives tends to be more gentle, while less-ripe olives yield piquant and bitter aromas.

Etiquette rules to serve and eat olive oil

1) How to store olive oil

Store olive oil at room temperature and in a dry place. Olive oil does not expire. However, its quality deteriorates over time. Thus, it is best to consume it within one year. Avoid storing olive oil in the fridge or freezer. They do not extend the shelf life and cold temperatures can prevent the aroma.

Oxygen, heat, and direct light can spoil olive oil. Keep it in an airtight bottle or can, away from direct sources of heat and light.

2) How to clean olive oil

Most olive oil in commerce is ready for consumption.

Artisanal or semi-artisanal olive oil can contain impurities or olive remains. Oil with olive remains is perfectly fine for cooking. However, you may want to remove the remains before serving the oil at the dining table. You can remove the remains with a kitchen filter.

3) How to prepare & cook with olive oil

You can use olive oil to cook or as a dressing.

Extra virgin olive oil is suited for cooking below 210°C (410°F). Higher temperatures burn the unrefined particles in the oil, spoiling its taste. Thus, for deep frying or cooking at high temperatures, it is best to use refined olive oil, which has a smoke point of around 230°C (446°F).

As a dressing, olive oil fits almost any recipe. Salads, sandwiches, sauces, pasta, meat, fish, and even some desserts.

4) How to serve & present olive oil

Olive oil is an increasingly popular seasoning in dining etiquette. If you present olive oil on the table, you can present it with salt and pepper, vinegar, or solo.

It is best to serve olive oil in dedicated small bottles or jugs. Such containers can be made of glass or ceramics. Before setting them on the table, make sure that they are clean and not oily on the outside. You can place a small saucer plate under the container to prevent oil from pouring onto the table.

At the end of the meal, before serving a cheese course, fruit, or dessert, it is polite to remove olive oil and other seasonings from the table.

5) Foods & beverages to pair olive oil with

Olive oil goes well with many foods and aromas. It pairs well with most pasta recipes, meat, fish, vegetables, soups, or salads. You can add olive oil even to desserts or cocktails.

The ideal pairings depend on the variety of olive oil. Oil with more gentle aromas is easier to pair and can be served with most foods. Piquant and bitter olive oil go well with salads, vegetables, and most fish.

Avoid olive oil with fatty and oily foods. Such as cheese, dairy, fatty meat or fish, caviar, or foie gras.

6) How to use & eat olive oil

The best guest etiquette is to avoid adding olive oil to a dish. In general, adding seasoning to a dish risks disrespecting your host. Adding olive oil can signal that you dislike the flavor, or that the dish could have been prepared better. Thus, if you add olive oil to a dish, add it in small quantities.

The most polite way to add olive oil is by pouring a few drops directly on the food. Eating spoonfuls of olive oil is considered impolite. Mopping olive oil with bread is normally considered impolite too. When olive oil is served as an appetizer with bread or focaccia, it is most appropriate to pour a few drops directly on a mouthful of bread or focaccia.

Add seasoning only to the food on your plate. Never add olive oil to food on a shared dish.

Olive oil etiquette: the worst mistakes

Avoid the worst olive oil etiquette mistakes. 

  • 8/10. Adding olive oil in large quantities to your dish.
  • 7/10. Serving too-oily dishes.
  • 3/10. Not placing olive oil on the dining table.
  • 3/10. Not removing olive oil from the table before serving a cheese course, fruit, or dessert.

Additional information for properly serving olive oil

How many calories per serving?

Counting calories is important to stay healthy and to correctly plan a menu.

The calories in olive oil depend on the olive variety and production method. On average, olive oil contains about 119 calories per tablespoon.

How to buy the best olive oil

A crucial factor in olive oil etiquette is to serve the best product possible to your guests.

Availability

Olive oil is available all year round.

Choose the best

Extra virgin and virgin olive oils are the finest. These types are the most appropriate for dressing and being served at the table. Refined olive oil is the best for cooking. However, it is less rich in flavor, thus it is not ideal for dressing.

The highest-quality extra virgin olive oils tend to come from Italy. Italian olive oils largely vary by region of production. The regions renowned for their high-quality olive oils are Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, Latium, Apulia, and Sicily. Some of the best Italian olive oils are protected and guaranteed by regional quality consortia. Look for a DOP or IGP label on the bottle.

Oils from Spain and Greece tend to be very versatile but with less sophisticated aromas compared to the Italian ones.

Alternatives to olive oil

The most common substitutes for olive oil are vegetable oils or butter.

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