Twenty years ago, your average American was about as likely to use freshly-rendered beef tallow for cooking as he was to use extra-virgin olive oil. Unless you grew up in a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean household, the green-golden elixir was an expensive and, frequently, a poor-quality purchase.
Times have certainly changed; even the Jell-O™-loving Utahns use olive
oil for cooking these days, and the quality of the oil available to Americans has never been higher. While most of the olive oil in the United
States is still imported from Europe, California with its Mediterranean
climate is making heavy inroads into the oil industry.
Many of our farmers' markets have olive oil vendors now; my market of
choice, Irvine's Saturday morning market, has Petrou Foods, presided
over by a woman named Lina who is generous with samples and justifiably
proud of the products she sells.
Petrou Foods, based in San Diego, sells California olive oil made from
Greek strains of olives. While the flavored oils (blood orange, garlic,
lemon, etc.) are good in their own way, the standout product is the
unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil. Cloudy in the bottle, it is one of
the most olive-y California oils I've ever tasted.
This isn't an oil for frying in (extra-virgin smokes at too low a
temperature for frying anyway); this is what you put in your salad
dressing, what you make your hummus with, what you add to a giant pan of
pasta that's been simmering in sauce.
Petrou Foods also sells olives, olive oil products (e.g., soap), California black vinegars
made in the balsamic tradition and feta and manouri cheese; this last is
a soft, slightly springy cheese that goes perfectly on a piece of
crusty bread that's been rubbed with garlic and olive oil.
Petrou Foods sells at the Tuesday morning market in Mission Viejo,
the Wednesday afternoon market in San Juan Capistrano, the Thursday
morning market on the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, the Friday morning
market at the Laguna Hills Mall, the Saturday morning markets in Irvine
and Laguna Beach, and the Sunday morning market in Laguna Niguel. You
can also order their non-perishable products (i.e., no cheese) from