A selection of the world's best: Pleasantly bitter oil from California's McEvoy Ranch ($24 for 375 ml; 707-769-4122). Unusually rounded Tenuta del Numerouno from Tuscany ($20 for 500 ml; 212-974-8101). Andalusia's typically grassy Almazara Luis Herrera ($15 for 500 ml; 206-297-6713). Deliciously herbal Provençal Castelas ($35 for 750 ml; 707-963-8293). Sicily's fruity Olio Verde ($27 for 500 ml; 510-652-0462). Catalonia's lush Dauro de l'Empordà ($25 for 500 ml; 206-297-6713).
World Of Oil
The best-known high-quality, estate-bottled extra-virgin olive oils are from Tuscany and Umbria, but excellent oils from elsewhere in Italy and around the globe are increasingly visible in American stores, often at better prices.
ITALY Puglia (the heel of Italy's boot) produces more than half of the country's olive oil, much of it first-rate. Sicilian and Calabrian oils are round and fruity; central Italian oils are spicier.
SPAIN Andalusian oil, from the South, is made from a blend of olives, including the intensely grassy Picual. The strong flavors aren't popular with American consumers, but Nuñez de Prado and Columela brands are gentler. In Catalonia, Arbequina olives produce an exceptional oil with a rich, nutty flavor that's more agreeable to the American palate.
GREECE With its deliciously buttery aroma and fruity flavor, Greek oil is an excellent buy in 5- or 10-liter containers at Greek and Middle Eastern markets. Brands like Biolea, Morea and Greek Gourmet are fairly easy to find.
WHERE'S NEXT California oils are the (pricey) up-and-comers. As with California wine, there isn't a typical flavor profile, since there haven't been centuries to establish one. Meanwhile, large new plantations in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are starting to bear fruit.
The Good Fat
Olive oil is fat, right? So what makes it so good for you? That's easy. Olive oil is monounsaturated, making it a good fat--a fat that wipes out the wrong kind of cholesterol (LDL) and cheers on the good kind (HDL). There's also evidence that olive oil helps prevent the mental decline that can come with age. Another good thing: Because extra-virgin olive oil isn't refined, it retains antioxidants that help protect you against many different kinds of cancer. This doesn't mean that you should add olive oil to a diet that already has plenty of fat in it; the healthy approach is to substitute olive oil for other fats.
Spa Pit Stop
Olives nourish the body inside and out at the new spa at Auberge du Soleil. Local ingredients are a signature of the Napa Valley inn, known for its French-Mediterranean cuisine, so the spa incorporates grape seeds, herbs and olive oil in its treatments. In the three-hour "Olive View" package, you're coated from head to toe in soothing, smoothing olive oil: Included are a warm olive-oil hair-and-scalp treatment; an olive-leaf exfoliation with a blend of aromatherapy mineral salts, olive oil and olive-leaf extracts; and an hour-long foot massage using mineral salts, olive oil, lemon zest and peppermint (all treatments, $125 an hour; 180 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford; 707-963-1211).
Beauty Of Olive Oil
Products that beautify the skin you're in: The Body Shop Olive Body Butter contains both olive oil and a lighter oil from the Brazilian babassu tree, so the cream moisturizes without feeling greasy ($14 for 6.2 ounces; 800-BODYSHOP). The olive-oil and olive-leaf extracts in Durance Nourishing Foam Bath protect the skin from dryness ($18 for 13.5 ounces; 800-862-2311). Lather Lemongrass Olive Oil Soap gently softens the skin with a combination of olive-oil extracts and mildly exfoliating cornmeal ($1.75 per ounce; 877-652-8437). A blend of gentle cleansers, hydrating olive-oil extracts and skin-smoothing olive-pit grains goes into L'Occitane Exfoliating Shower Cream ($12 for 8.4 ounces; 888-623-2880).