We all know that food tastes best when you use the best tasting ingredients – and that includes the oil you use. Some oils, like canola and vegetable (i.e., soy) oils have little or no flavor. Butter, pork fats (i.e., lard, bacon), chicken and duck fats are all delicious but contain the dreaded cholesterol that everyone prefers to avoid or minimize. Then there's extra virgin olive oil – full-flavored, readily available, with no cholesterol.
You may have heard that frying with olive oil is problematic because it has a lower smoke point than almost all other oils. True, but this is seldom, if ever, a problem. Olive oil's smoke point is about 450° F, well above the cooking temperature for most fried or sautéed (or even deep-fried) foods.
If there is any problem with using olive oil, it may be the issue of deciding which one to select because there are so many to choose from.
You might be surprised to learn that Spain is the world's largest producer of olive oil. That was news to me a few years ago. I always thought it was Italy. Today, Spain produces about 45% of the world's olive oil, while Italy ranks second at about 16%.
Most of the olive oil sold in the United States, however, in fact 75% of it, is imported from Italy. Which brings us to the next issue: much of the olive oil imported from Italy is actually olive oil produced in other countries and then exported to Italy! This doesn't necessarily make the olive oil inferior, but it certainly isn't Italian. If you are looking for Italian olive oil, check the label to ensure the olive oil was both produced and bottled in Italy.
I think the best tasting olive oils – and taste is what's really important here – come from Spain, Italy, Greece, and California, and not necessarily in that order. That's what you need to decide, and the only way I know to do that is by actually tasting a variety of oils available to you locally. This may take some time, but I can assure you the results will be worth the effort. Also, stick to the extra-virgin olive oils. They are by far the best, regardless of brand.
I keep two on hand at all times – one for general use and another higher quality oil (full disclosure: more expensive) for salads and finishing. You needn't go that far, but if you haven't done so already, you really should give extra-virgin olive oil some special consideration.