Discover why all olive oils are simply not the same and learn from Fustini’s experts just what to look for when choosing. Bonus? Fustini’s shares several recipes where their olive oils shine.

When the pandemic paused Fustini’s in-store olive oil tastings, Northern Michigan’s beloved gourmet olive oil and vinegar shop didn’t skip a beat—they jumped on Zoom, like the rest of the world, to create new virtual tastings. They sent out boxes to customers by mail with several of Fustini’s SELECT extra virgin olive oils, along with a mystery bottle of grocery-store grade olive oil labeled only with a question mark.

As they gathered safely on Zoom, Fustini’s staff walked tasters through their kit, helping them understand how to differentiate between the different varietals and detect quality. “It is usually a ‘wow’ moment for most consumers,” says owner Jim Milligan. “We’ve been trained to accept a duller flavor profile for extra-virgin olive oil, and when they taste SELECT oils most people are quite surprised.”

That’s because most olive oils we encounter don’t even match the standards marked on their labels. According to a University of California Davis study, 69 percent of imported oils labeled extra-virgin olive oil don’t meet the International Olive Council standards, while 31 percent failed lab tests and 83 percent failed sensory tests identifying oils consistent with extra-virgin standards.

Seeing an opportunity to bring more quality products stateside, Milligan founded Fustini’s after a long career as a 3M executive; he was so enamored with the specialty oils and vinegars he encountered in his international travels that the idea for a shop showcasing them was born.

How to Taste Olive Oils

Milligan explains that the process is much like it is with wine. Use little cups with less than an ounce of oil. Swirl then sip, trying to coat your mouth and then pull air across your tongue and mouth like a slurping gesture, which distributes it across your mouth. Have the description at the ready to help identify the different notes and flavors. Then cleanse your palate with a slice of apple, and sample the next.

Fustini’s SELECT line is comprised of a small, high-quality rotation of single varietals, not blends, and includes Delicate, Medium and Robust. “These are first-harvest extra-virgin oils,” Milligan explains. “Our growers harvest green fruit, when the olives are unripe and hard because the nutritional attributes are so high and the flavor profiles are so profound.”

Beyond imparting a brighter flavor, the nutritional attributes of these olives are impressive. The green fruit pressed to make olive oil is high in polyphenols, which can help manage blood pressure levels, reduce chronic inflammation and help control blood sugar levels. The fresher the olive oil, the higher the polyphenols—Fustini’s growers work to get the olives from the tree to the mill in just a matter of hours, and they protect that freshness with containers that don’t allow UV light to degrade the chemistry of the oil. The high level of polyphenols in olive oil creates an important health component of a Mediterranean diet, which has been singled out for its heart-healthy benefits and the longevity of the cultures that follow it.

“The average Italian consumes more than 10 times the amount of olive oil that the average American does,” Milligan says. “Perhaps the reason olive oil is more widely consumed outside the U.S. is that the quality and flavor of olive oil in those regions are so superior.” He explains that olive oils have tasting notes and profiles just like fine wines, ranging from grassy and herbaceous to fruity or nutty.

Although most of the world’s olive oils come from Spain and other locations in the Northern Hemisphere, Fustini’s is particularly excited about the quality of olives coming from Chile, Argentina and Australia. They have a small network of high-quality farmers and millers who process and press the fruit providing a number of varietals, but Arbequina, Koroneiki, Frantoio and Coratina are consistent favorites and stars of their SELECT line.

Here’s how each of those oils stacks up in terms of flavor and nutritional value, as well as delightful pairing ideas and recipes that are the perfect fit.

Photo by Fustini's

Olive Varietal: Arbequina
  • Intensity: Delicate
  • Polyphenol count: 295
  • Description: The flavor profile of Arbequina is very fresh and quite pungent with bitterness that creeps up and keeps coming. The oil has nuttiness or butteriness, but mostly green herbal characteristics.
  • Complements: Fish, mild salad greens, mild cheeses, pesto, home baking, raw vegetables, raw shellfish, eggs, plain yogurt, ice cream

Favorite Recipe: Salmon BLT Salad


  • 2 6-oz. salmon fillets
  • kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Fustini’s Delicate SELECT olive oil
  • 1/2 baguette, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons Fustini’s Basil olive oil
  • 10 cups chopped romaine
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 avocado, halved, peeled, and diced
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked, chopped


  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon 12-year white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Great Lakes honey


  1. Whisk all of the dressing ingredients together and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Add the salmon to the pan and sauté salmon for 3-5 minutes until a hard sear appears, turn the filets over for 2-3 minutes on the other side. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. In a large sauté pan add the basil olive oil and toast the baguette cubes until brown and crunchy. Remove from heat.
  4. Toss lettuce, tomatoes, croutons, avocado, and bacon together. Chop up salmon and toss into the salad along with the dressing. Serve immediately.

More SELECT Delicate Olive Oil Recipes

Photo by Fustini's

Olive Varietal: Koroneiki
  • Intensity: Medium
  • Polyphenol count: 330
  • Description: Koroneiki typically has lots of tropical flavors, especially ripe banana. It has medium bitterness and a strong pungency; the mouthfeel is full and the aftertaste is of sweet candy, predominantly sweet banana.
  • Complements: bread, chicken, pork, sautéed vegetables, pasta, pizza, soft cheeses

Favorite Recipe: Charred Corn and Chorizo Taco with Green Chili Mojo


  • 1 pound chorizo
  • corn tortillas
  • grated pepper jack cheese
  • lime wedges
  • 4 ears corn, charred in husk then remove from husk and cob
  • 1/2 red onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Korneiki or Fusitni’s Medium SELECT olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons Fustini’s Habanero Agave Agrodolce
  • cilantro for garnish

Green Chili Mojo

  • 1 tablespoon Fustini’s Tunisian Harissa olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Habanero Agave Agrodolce
  • 1 poblano, roasted and seeds removed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup mango, small dice
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • salt and pepper


  1. Cook chorizo in a large skillet over moderate heat until fully cooked. In a medium bowl, combine corn, onion, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
  2. For the green chili mojo, in a medium bowl, stir all together to combine and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Combine sour cream with agrodolce for a flavored creme. Warm tortillas in a dry skillet for a few seconds then spoon some chorizo into a layer of two tortillas. Top with some cheese, then some corn then some Green Chili Mojo and then some creme sauce. Garnish with cilantro.

More SELECT Medium Olive Oil Recipes

Photo by Fustini's

Olive Varietal: Frantoio
  • Intensity: Medium
  • Polyphenol count: 409
  • Description: Frantoio can have a hot chili-pepper finish in the mouth as well as notes of black pepper. There may be minty or cinnamon notes with an abundance of green herbs and leaves with some pleasant and notable grassiness.
  • Complements: bread, chicken, pork, sautéed vegetables, pasta, pizza, soft cheeses

Favorite Recipe: Garbanzo Avocado Caprese


  • 1 can garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1 package of mozzarella pearls
  • 1-2 tablespoons Fustini’s Medium SELECT olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Fustini’s Vinoso vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Fustini’s organic Tuscan spice blend
  • 3 small tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • Fustini’s Riserva, garnish
  • fresh basil leaves, chiffonade


  1. Toss the cheese and garbanzos in Fustini’s olive oil, Vinoso vinegar, and Organic Tuscan spice blend. Gently stir in tomato and avocado. Drizzle Fustini’s Riserva overtop and garnish with fresh basil before serving.

More SELECT Medium Olive Oil Recipes

Olive Varietal: Coratina
  • Intensity: Robust
  • Polyphenol count: 507
  • Description: Coratina has a strong bitterness and notable, persistent pungency. Its mouthfeel is harmonious, round, and full-bodied. The flavor characteristics are defined by leafy green flavors of green tea, nettle, mint, and black pepper.
  • Complements: beef, lamb, marinades, stew, pasta sauce, bold cheeses, bitter salad greens, dark chocolate

Favorite Recipe: Traverse City Chicken


  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup Fustini’s Basil olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Fustini’s Traverse City Cherry balsamic
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Fustini’s Robust SELECT olive oil
  • 1 head of romaine, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
  • 1/2 cup dry cherries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon Lemon Flake Salt

TC Cherry Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon Fustini’s Traverse City Cherry Balsamic
  • 1 teaspoon Great Lakes Honey
  • 3 tablespoons Fustini’s basil olive oil
  • pinch of salt and pepper


  1. Combine chicken with garlic, basil olive oil, balsamic, apple juice, salt and pepper. Allow marinating in the refrigerator at least 2 hours, but not longer than 24 hours. Take chicken out and pat dry with a paper towel. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add chicken. Cook until both sides are golden brown and the center reaches 165 degrees, then remove to a plate to rest.
  2. To make the dressing, mix together Traverse City Cherry balsamic with honey. Continue to mix as you add in the olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Toss the romaine with the salad dressing and top with chicken, basil, dry cherries, goat cheese and flake salt.

More SELECT Robust Olive Oil Recipes

Photo(s) by Fustini's