There are scores of high-quality, premium olive oils on the market, and many of them are readily available in better supermarkets and specialty stores, as well as online. Unfortunately, only a few of these olive oils are regularly included in taste tests. While some of the more adventurous publications -- such as gourmet magazines and hard-core foodie sites -- will branch out to include small-harvest boutique olive oils in their reports, most review sites tend to focus on the familiar, so the roster of brands featured taste tests becomes almost predictable. Nevertheless, in a broad spectrum of tests that include familiar as well as esoteric brands, Columela Extra Virgin Olive Oil (*Est. $19 for 17 oz.) appears regularly, garnering consistently high marks among taste testers.
Made in Spain from a blend of Picual, Hojiblanca, Ocal and Arbequin olives, Columela Extra Virgin has gained a legion of fans among connoisseurs and foodies, who praise it for its robust olive flavor, which the experts tell us is the olive-oil standard for excellence.
With all the review sites we found, testing methods are pretty basic and involve slurping from a spoon or dunking with good bread. Flavor is the primary judging criteria, though secondary factors are aroma and color. To balance out any subjectivity, given the highly individual characteristics of taste buds, review sites employ a panel of connoisseurs -- some even trained in International Olive Oil Council standards -- to do the tasting.
Tasters from one highly respected review source give Columela top honors for its "big olive aroma, big olive taste" as well as its buttery flavor and peppery finish, with one taster calling it fantastic. Several other review sites concur with this assessment. Posters on Amazon.com cite its smooth and delicately floral flavor, while Chowhound.com foodies also give it high marks on several message boards. Laura's Cooking Journal devotes a blog entry to its Columela tasting (with enthusiastically positive results). Among our top review sites, only TheNibble.com adds a voice of faint dissent, judging Columela to have a strong but flat olive taste. It's worth noting, however, that several inexpensive supermarket brands, notably Trader Joe's Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil (*Est. $6 for 33.8 oz.) and Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value Extra Virgin Olive Oil (*Est. $8 for 33.8 oz.), also receive high praise and are considerably less expensive than Columela.
1. Cook's Illustrated Magazine
In this roundup of readily available olive oils, the experts at Cook's Illustrated conduct a blind taste test on a wide variety of brands, ranging from premium olive oils, including Columela, to inexpensive supermarket-shelf favorites. The result is a comprehensive look at why some olive oils taste better than others, and which ones offer the best overall value for eating and cooking.
Review: Tasting Lab: Regular Olive Oil, Editors of Cook's Illustrated, July 1, 2008
Writer Stephanie Zonis gives a comprehensive overview of more than 90 olive oils in this report, which features no-nonsense descriptions rather than comparison rankings. Zonis judges Columela to have a "'green' aroma that's on the strong side" and a "strong but flat olive taste."
Review: The Great Extra Virgin Olive Oil Project, Part II, Stephanie Zonis, Nov. 2005
Chowhound.com posters tend to be passionate about their food choices and aren't hesitant to defend them. Columela gets a number of enthusiastic, well-reasoned posts in both of these threads.
Review: Inexpensive, But Good, Olive Oil?, Contributors to Chowhound.com
Out of 24 Amazon user postings, Columela garners 20 5-star reviews peppered with alluring adjectives such as fruity, smooth, rich and delicious. Only one poster gives it a low (2-star) rating, calling Columela "somewhat bitter."
Review: Columela Extra Virgin Olive Oil From Spain, Contributors to Amazon.com
5. Laura's Cooking Journal
After reading that Columela took top honors in a major taste testing, this foodie-on-a-budget blogger does her own taste test and gives kudos to Columela for its buttery yet sharp, peppery and green flavor. She adds that, by shopping around, she can find Columela at a cheaper price than advertised, making it even more affordable.
Review: Columela Artesano Extra Virgin Olive Oil, "Laura", Jan. 4, 2009