OLIVE oil, more than any other food, has been cloaked in a snobbery that rivals wine. I have (Scottish) friends who primly boast of their lighter oils for fish, robust oil for meat and "first pressing" oil to drizzle over finished foods and salads. Tellingly, other (Italian) friends chop and change according to the time of year, not the food to be served.

Is Italy’s oil better than Spain’s? Does French olive oil offer subtlety? Is single estate oil the only way to ensure purity? Should oil be peppery or fruity? Green or yellow? Should we seek out small producers in Greece? Are Ligurian Taggiasca olives superior to Kalamata? Is older, aged oil better, like wine, than younger oil, or the other way round? How old is olive oil by the time you buy it, anyway?

Honestly, each country is capable of making good or mediocre oil, just like wine. Seasonality is the best guide. Olives are harvested now for pressing; the fresher, or newer, the oil, the more bright and punchy the flavour. I buy directly from a small Greek producer, firstly because I can get it quickly and secondly, I like his Kalamata olives (a personal preference). The result: I get oil just a few months old and always under a year old, crucial for vibrant flavour. How mild or peppery you like it is subjective. Remember, high heat from searing will cause deterioration, so finish dishes with a few more drops for a profound flavour.

Olive oil ice cream

Recipes serve 4

875ml full-fat milk

250ml double cream

220g caster sugar

10 egg yolks

½ tsp vanilla extract

Good pinch sea-salt flakes, plus more to serve

75ml extra-virgin olive oil (a fruity one), plus more to serve


1. Begin by setting a bowl in a sink of ice-cold water.

2. In a saucepan, heat the milk, cream and sugar, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. When it reaches boiling point remove from the heat. Beat the yolks in a bowl (not the one over iced water) with a wooden spoon. Slowly pour the cream mixture on to the yolks, stirring constantly. Pour into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring all the time. The mixture must not boil or the yolks will scramble, but it should thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon. Run your finger along the spoon – it should leave a clear channel. Immediately pour into the chilled bowl to stop the custard cooking.

3. Into the mixture, stir the vanilla and the sea salt flakes. Cover and chill for at least six hours.

4. Churn in an ice-cream machine, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or shallow-freeze in a container in your freezer. For the latter method you will need to blitz it in a food processor about three times during the freezing period to end up with a smooth ice cream.

5. Add the 75ml of olive oil halfway through the freezing process, pouring it slowly into the ice-cream machine, or into the food processor when you are blitzing.

6. Transfer to a bowl, cover with greaseproof paper and freeze. This is best served the day it is made, with a drizzle of olive oil and scattering of sea salt.

Olive oil polenta cake

1 large orange

300g caster sugar

75ml extra virgin olive oil

280g plain flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

4 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 190C. Grease a 23cm round spring-form tin. Trim off the hard bits from the top and bottom of the orange and discard. Slice the orange in half lengthways and then with a long sharp knife, trim out the central pith and remove all seeds. Puree the orange with its peel in a food processor. Add one third of the sugar and the olive oil and continue to mix until well combined.

2. Sieve together flour and baking powder in one bowl. In another, beat the eggs and the remaining sugar with an electric hand mixer for at least five minutes until very fluffy. Into this, fold half of the flour mixture, then the orange and vanilla, then fold in the remaining flour. Mix well but not for too long.

3. Pour cake mixture into prepared tin and smooth out the surface. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 160C and continue baking for 30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire cake rack

Geoffrey Smeddle is the chef patron of The Peat Inn, by St Andrews, Fife, Ky15 5LH 01334 840206 www.thepeatinn.co.uk