Taste Testing Some Premium California Olive Oil
Did you know that olive oil is one of humanity's most ancient foods? We've been producing and eating it for over 6,000 years, so I think it's safe to say it's a kitchen staple that's here to stay. Pretty much everyone keeps at least one bottle in their kitchen, but not all olive oils are created equal. Some are blended poorly, others are "watered down" with other oils, and a number of problems in the production chain can lead to muddy flavors or rancid product.
I like to know where my food comes from, and I get really excited about single-origin coffee and estate-bottled wines – products that are closely tied to their place of origin. It's rare to see the same approach when it comes to olive oil; bottles might be marked "Greek" or "Italian," but that doesn't always mean much. I was intrigued to find out that Brightland approaches olive oil production the same way my favorite wineries and roasters do vino and coffee. All of the fruit that goes into Brightland's oils is sourced from a farm in California, the oils are harvested by a master miller, and they're blended and bottled with care. Sounds pretty good, right? But do these fancy olive oils live up to the hype? Read on to find out!
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About Brightland & Pricing
Brightland sells a variety of olive oils and vinegar. You can try any of Brightland's products without a subscription, but if you fall in love with the oils, you can sign up for regular shipments of "The Duo," the two flagship olive oils in Brightland's collection. Signing up for a subscription will ensure your kitchen stays stocked and will score you significant savings off the retail price.
The Product: Brightland's "The Duo"
What's It All About: "Awake" and "Alive" are the two flagship olive oils in Brightland's collection, and you can keep your kitchen stocked with both by signing up for recurring shipments of "The Duo." Each shipment includes 1 bottle of Awake and 1 bottle of Alive. Each bottle contains 375 ML of oil, and boxes will be shipped at the interval of your choosing: every 1, 2, or 3 months. In addition to the "The Duo," subscribers will receive "gifts and goodies," early access to new product releases, and invitations to subscriber-only events.
The Cost: $65 per shipment. Shipping is free for all recurring shipments.
Can I Buy Without Subscribing: Yes! You can make one-time purchases on the Brightland site. Without a subscription, "The Duo" costs $74.
This box was sent to us at no cost for review. (Check out our review process post to learn more about how we review boxes.)
Brightland's olive oils are 100% USA-made. The olives are harvested from a small family farm in California and made by a master miller in an organic mill. From their website:
With Brightland, you know exactly what you’re getting - authentic olive oils and vinegars that are never rotten, overprocessed, or fraudulent. With absolutely no fillers or artificial preservatives.
There are small touches that make it clear right away that these oils are crafted with care. They're packaged in bottles that protect from damaging UV rays and are marked with a harvest date, so you know exactly when they were made. Also, the packaging is GORGEOUS; if you're a sucker for good design, these are bottles you'll be proud to have sitting out on your kitchen counter.
In the great wide world of olive oil, some oils are intended for cooking and others are best for finishing. Brightland's oils are versatile and can do both. The olives that go into the oils are harvested early, which gives the oil a "green" flavor that's nice in salad dressings and vinaigrettes, but they also have a high smoke point (410 degrees), which makes them great for cooking.
One thing to note is that they may not taste quite like you're used to. They have a "sharp, peppery" taste, and that's a good thing:
That sharp, peppery sensation at the back of your throat is one of the best indications of Brightland’s commitment to quality, and the high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory value in its oils. Additionally, the polyphenols in olive oil that contribute to a sharp taste and resistance to oxidation. These polyphenols are strong antioxidants and have been shown to provide a host of beneficial effects from healing sunburn to lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of coronary disease. Additionally, oleocanthal, a natural polyphenolic anti-inflammatory agent uniquely found in extra virgin olive oil, functions much the same way that ibuprofen, an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) does. This receptor is spatially located at the back of the throat, which is exactly where the distinctive sting from high quality olive oil is felt. This unique sensation and the accompanying cough or clearing of the throat are regarded among connoisseurs as indicators of high quality olive oil.
At the time of harvest (November 2020), our AWAKE olive oil's Polyphenol Count is: 756 mg/kg
At the time of harvest (November 2020), our ALIVE olive oil's Polyphenol Count is: 653 mg/kg
"Awake" and "Alive" are the flagship oils in Brightland's collection, but there are also oils infused with flavors like lemon ("Lucid"), chili ("Ardor"), and basil ("Arise") and occasional limited-edition releases.
In addition to the range of oils that Brightland makes, there are also a couple of vinegars now available. Here's a little bit about them:
PARASOL is a raw champagne vinegar that is double fermened with California chardonnay grapes and juicy Navel and Valencia oranges. RAPTURE is a raw balsamic vinegar that is double fermented with California zinfandel grapes and ripe Triple Crown blackberries. Both are lovingly crafted on a nutrient-dense, family-fun farm in California's Central Coast.
The vinegar bottles are a little smaller than those the oils are packaged in, 200 ML vs 375 ML, and you can purchase both together for $44.
My Brightland Experience
As I mentioned before, all of Brightland's products are available as a one-time purchase, but you can sign up for a subscription to "Awake" and "Alive." If you'd like to receive regular shipments of these oils, you can do that here. Just tick the box that says “subscription” and select your shipping frequency. (You can have the oils delivered every 1, 2, or 3 months.) Shipping is free. With a subscription, you’ll also receive "gifts and goodies," early access to new product releases, and invitations to subscriber-only events.
The packaging is designed to protect the bottles while in transit. In addition to the two bottles of oil, I received a booklet and a teeny tiny little whisk.
I received a booklet full of information about Brightland, useful information about the oils, tips on non-culinary uses, and a couple of simple recipes.
My shipment also included a little holiday card to help ring in the new year.
"Alive" is a 100% extra virgin olive oil made with heirloom Coratina and Frantoio olives and blended "for verve and vibrancy." While all of Brightland's oils can be used for both cooking and finishing, this one is especially great as a finishing oil. Brightland suggests using it for "spinach and arugula salads, kale and greens, dressings and marinades, hummus, baked goods and drizzled on sorbet or chocolate." (I would never think to put oil on ice cream, but now I'm intrigued!) You can also use this oil in skincare or as a beauty treatment. It's safe to massage into skin, and you can mix it with sugar or salt to make your own homemade scrubs.
"Awake" is a 100% extra virgin olive oil made with heirloom California Coratina olives "for cozy days and slow nights." Brightland suggests using this oil in "homemade soups and stews, hearty pastas, warm bread, baked potatoes, roast chicken, roasted veggies, fried eggs, and crispy potatoes." The tasting notes suggest looking for flavors that are "herbaceous, green, grassy, artichoke, [and] complex."
My box also contained an itty bitty whisk. (Subscriptions to "The Duo" will include "gifts and goodies.") Honestly, I'm not sure exactly how useful this little whisk is, but it sure is cute. I can see using this to stir dressings and marinades, and it would certainly be adorable on the dinner table as a way to mix up sauce or dressing before serving.
The Taste Test
I really love olive oil, and I've been lucky enough to try some special ones over the years. I even remember the moment when I realized that not all olive oil is created equal. I was on vacation in Portugal about 10 years ago, vacationing with my then-boyfriend (now husband). Getting there was a splurge, and we didn't have a lot left over in our budget for pricey activities or fancy restaurant meals. We rented a small place with a kitchen, and the plan was to cook all of our meals ourselves at home. Our first stop was a local market where we picked up the essentials: bread, veggies, cheese, meat, and olive oil. I remember being delighted to discover that the bottle of oil we picked up was unlike anything I'd had before. First of all, the oil was green, not the sunny yellow I was used to. It also had a far bolder flavor. In short, I was obsessed. I probably ate my weight in bread and olive oil that trip, and I left Portugal with a lasting appreciation for high-quality olive oils that showcase naturally bold flavors.
I didn't realize at the time that Portugal is one of the world's top olive oil producers, and what we'd picked up wasn't blended to downplay the inherent peppery, bitter flavors that aren't always appreciated by the American market. Now, that's not to say that all mild-mannered olive oils are inferior. Much like wine, the flavors in olive oil depend on the variety of plant, where the fruit is grown, maturity at harvest, and production techniques. "Good oils" can exhibit a variety of colors and flavors, and one of the first things that caught my attention with Brightland is that they don't just have one signature olive oil. They have two, and each one showcases a unique flavor profile.
When it came time to sample these two oils, I wanted to start by looking at them side by side.
I poured a little bit of each one out in a white dish. The color was similar, but "Alive" appeared to be slightly darker and a little bit more green. I anticipated that "Awake" would have a milder flavor, so I tasted it first. I'd describe the flavor as grassy, nutty, fresh, and layered. I wouldn't call it subtle, but the flavor wasn't overwhelming or distracting, and it didn't linger on my palate for too long after tasting it. I really liked it, and I can see how it would be great for cooking, dipping bread into, or drizzling over roasted vegetables.
Next up, I tried "Alive," which I found to be similar to "Awake" flavor-wise but a bit bolder and less subdued. Again, I got a green, herbaceous, grassy flavor, but the intensity was turned way up. There was a little bit more bitterness and more of a peppery element that lingered after each taste. I think this oil would easily hold its own against stronger flavors and really shine when paired with raw fruits and veggies.
After trying these oils on their own, I couldn't resist taking them for a test drive! I started with "Awake," and I wanted to create a dish that would feature some of my favorite winter flavors and (of course) showcase the oil. I felt "Awake" would pair nicely with the creaminess of manchego cheese and walnuts, so using that as my jumping-off point, I created a hearty winter dish that takes inspiration from holiday cheeseboards.
I started with thinly-sliced manchego cheese, topped it with a handful of toasted walnuts and warm dried figs, drizzed on some "Awake" and a squeeze of navel orange juice, and topped it all with a sprinkle of sea salt and a pinch of orange zest.
The oil and citrus coated the warm nuts and figs to create something akin to a hug on a plate. This dish was super comforting. As someone who really loves "cocktail foods" (any excuse to eat big chunks of cheese, really), I thought it would be fun to come up with a plated dish that felt like a slightly more elevated version of something I might put out for guests to graze on. I served this as part of a larger dinner, and while it may have been a somewhat surprising dish, it was popular. Everyone agreed that the olive oil was the star, and one person even snapped a picture of the bottle so they could look it up when they got home.
Next up, "Alive." Brightland suggests pairing this oil with arugula, and you don't have to tell me twice. (I LOVE arugula.) But instead of a simple arugula salad, I decided to make some arugula & walnut pesto.
I blended up the pesto by combining arugula, walnuts, garlic, parmesan, lemon juice, lemon zest, "Alive," salt, and pepper. I spread the pesto on top of toasted baguette slices, topped each one with a grape tomato, and then finished the bites with salt, pepper, chopped arugula, and a drizzle of "Alive."
I'm a total carb-o-holic, so I'm always happy to put various toppings on bread, but these were special. First of all, Brightland was spot on when they suggested pairing this oil with arugula. The flavors, while similarly fresh and bitter, didn't overpower each other. They worked together and highlighted what each had to offer. I honestly thought these little bites were great at spotlighting how high-quality olive oil can elevate a dish. "Alive" added so much grassy, peppery flavor to these that my standard kitchen oil wouldn't have. I noticed that after I put these out, everyone lingered around the serving platter. (Always a sign that a particular dish is a hit!)
Wow, I have to say, I really enjoyed reviewing these oils. It's clear to me that they're crafted with love and care, and I appreciate the transparency Brightland has for where they come from and how they're made. As someone with a soft spot for great design, I was impressed right off the bat with the unique and thoughtful packaging. The labels are beautiful, and the opaque glass bottles (which protect the oil from harmful UV rays) are smart. I like that the oils are versatile and can be used for both cooking and finishing, but— most of all— I love the way they taste. I'm absolutely, 100% a fan of the product... but do I think a subscription to "The Duo" is worth it? Well, I suppose that depends. If you're committed to keeping your kitchen stocked with high-quality olive oil (and you like this oil as much as I do), then yes, it probably is worth it. If you sign up for a subscription, you'll save money on the retail price of these oils for sure. Personally, as much as I enjoy Brightland olive oils, I'm not sure I'll give up buying oil from the grocery store completely. I'm probably more likely to save "Awake" and "Alive" for special occasions. That said, I will happily buy more when I run out, and I'm already planning to send a Brightland box to a friend as a housewarming gift!
Ready to try Brightland for yourself?
Have you tried Brightland or any other specialty olive oil brands? Head to the comments and let us know your thoughts on EVOO!
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