So You Think You Know Olive Oil

Olive trees have been cultivated as far back as the ancient Mesopotamian culture, and olive oil has been a staple in the diets of Greece, Italy, Egypt and other Mediterranean countries throughout history. There are more than 650 varieties of olives, and Italy grows more than 500.

A recent masterclass and tasting of olive oils and balsamics was highly informative and lots of fun, too. Mike George, the owner of Aurelius Fine Oils & Balsamic Vinegars, led the tasting, which took place at Chefs Paradise. We kicked the event off with a glass of Val D’Oca Prosecco Superiore. (Prosecco is always a great way to start a gathering!) Mike is an excellent educator who taught us a lot about the history, production and health benefits of olive oil and balsamics.

FUN FACT– Olive oil was a form of currency in ancient times.


ABOVE: Aurelius Fine Olive Oils & Balsamic Vinegars is open seven days a week.

Health benefits of olive oil

Olive oil is rich in anti-oxidants and lowers HDL (bad cholesterol), supporting heart health and promoting overall well-being. It has also been linked to improved cognitive function and brain health. Note that the more peppery notes you taste in the oil, the more antioxidants it contains.

Advice from Mike: Know how to read the label. Mike told us how to identify authentic, 100-percent Italian olive oil. There is an olive oil hierarchy of quality, with extra virgin, cold-pressed oil at the top. Strict standards are set by the IOC — International Olive Council — and are rigorously monitored.

Italian olive oil is a proudly produced artisanal product. Look on the label for the terms 100 percent extra virgin and cold-pressed. You want to know that all of the olives used in production were of uniform top quality. Cold-pressed refers to the extraction process whereby the oil is obtained. The oil cannot reach a temperature above 27C, or else it changes chemically.

Check for a statement that the oil was produced in Italy, not only bottled there. There are, unfortunately, fraudulent exporters who will source their olives from various countries and then simply bottle or label the oil in Italy.

Another form of olive oil fraud is cutting the oil with cheaper oil, such as canola. This is what you see in the grocery store for the bargain prices. Another tip is to look for the harvest date. A general rule is that the oil is good for two years from that date.

What about storage? Heat, light and oxygen are the enemies of olive oil, so store it in a cool spot away from direct light. It is best used fresh but can be used within two years of harvest.

FUN FACT Most of the oil comes from the pits.

Balsamic Vinegar

Mike also taught us about balsamic vinegar, which he sells at Aurelius. It originated in Italy during the Middle Ages, in the Emilia-Romagna region. The first records of balsamic vinegar indicate that it was used as a tonic and disinfectant. Mainly Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes are used to make balsamic because of their greater sugar content. These grapes lend sweetness to balsamic flavours. Currently, Emilia-Romagna and Modena are the only regions that produce authentic balsamics. Only grapes grown in regional vineyards can be used in its production, and it must be bottled according to consortium standards.


Health benefits of balsamics

Balsamic vinegar has live antioxidants, which have a protective function against oxidative damage and reduce inflammation in the body. It promotes digestion by stimulating the production of digestive enzymes, thereby improving gut health. We hear a lot about gut health these days, and here is an easy and delicious way to contribute to it. Because of its high acetic acid content, balsamic vinegar may help regulate blood sugar levels, making it a great option for people with diabetes or those looking to manage their blood sugar levels. I was delighted to learn that something so delicious is good for me. This knowledge was one of the happy take-aways from the tasting.

Aurelius Fine Oils & Balsamics

Check out the website to discover just how many different olive oils and balsamics are available, along with gift ideas such as olive wood charcuterie boards, cheese boards and serving dishes.  There are also attractive ceramic oil or vinegar dispensers, dipping dishes, ramekins and serving platters, along with grab-and-go hostess gifts.

Mouth-watering recipes are on the website, too, to inspire you with new ways to use the wonderful oils and balsamics. You have to see the recipe for Aurelius Brownies, made super-rich with five eggs(!), extra virgin olive oil and Chocolate Orange Balsamic vinegar.

Visitors to the shop can indulge in an impromptu tasting. Mike likes to give his customers a Wow! flavour experience. There are several flavoured oils and balsamics available, and it’s fun to mix and match them to discover different flavour combinations. I came away with a raspberry balsamic and blood orange oil, which were fabulous on my salad and sliced avocado that day.

Mike had a previous career in the military, having served in the Canadian Armed Forces. When you shop at Aurelius, you are supporting a vet-owned business, as well as our local economy.

Learn about Aurelius in this video:

Aurelius Fine Olive Oils & Balsamic Vinegars is conveniently located at 1283 B Wellington St., just west of Parkdale.  Stop by soon for your own Wow! experience.

For more wine and food discovery from Jane Staples, visit

Photos: Courtesy Aurelius