But I only buy Italian olive oil.....

Posted by Al Pryzbylski on January 19, 2014 0 Comments

This is one of the most common phrases I hear so many times during customer visits to the store, and also one of the biggest hurdles I have had trying to explain why this is not one of the best mandates to have. 


I also love Italian olive oil,  - and Greek, Spanish, Australian, Chilean..... but I choose my olive oil use based on the freshest available. There are 2 polar opposite growing seasons for olives. In November and December the Northern Hemisphere countries of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Tunisia, USA (California) crush their olive crop. In late April to June the Southern Hemisphere countries of Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina crush their olive crops.


It is also common knowledge that Italy imports more olives than they grow, just to support the "Made in Italy" marketing machine for olive oil. Without the certified data of what olive type and location along with the chemistry of those olives at time of crush - you are just getting a mixed bag of oils from fruits that have no traceability. Ask for the specific location of where the olives were grown for your single varietal oils.


The beneficial properties of olive oil are absolutely at their peak with fresh olive oil. The heart healthy anti-oxidants and "good fats" are available by using only fresh olive oil. The benefits of olive oil dissipate over time, so we need to catch them at their peak.


That is why you will see oils in our Fusti's (steel vats) that represent the freshest available options at different times of the year. The recent crush from the Northern Hemisphere is not yet in the US (except California oil). we will be evaluating our single estate options very soon to offer you the best of this years crops. Our seasonal options will soon be migrating over to Northern Hemisphere options.


So please have an open mind and go outside your comfort zone to try some of these wonderful single varietal olive oils that are the freshest available in North America.


And remember, our single varietal oils are estate grown and crushed at a single location. These are not co-ops which get masses of olives of all varieties and mix them together. The chemistry analysis on our oil is the sole benchmark which validates the quality of our fruit at press time. 



What should you be looking for when you buy olive oil?

Posted by Al Pryzbylski on January 18, 2014 0 Comments

Before spending your hard earned dollar, please ask several questions of the person selling you olive oil.

Minimally, your single varietal oil (grown and crushed at a single estate, not just a pile of olives accumulated from multiple sources) should have the following information available:


The specific variety of olive in the bottle, not just "Italian or Greek"

The date it was crushed, not bottled.

Several chemistry values that determine if the oil was extra virgin at time of crush. These chemistry attributes are: Oleic Acid, Free Fatty Acid, Polyphenol levels and Peroxide value. These and only these qualify an olive oil to be extra virgin and there are several international standards that are followed.


At Bella Gusta, our oils are Certified UP which is a designator for Ultra Premium. This certification exceeds every international standard for olive oil chemistry in every single category - period.


Please ask us any questions about this when you visit.



Is Coconut Oil really good for us? The scoop without all the hype.

Posted by Al Pryzbylski on November 11, 2013 0 Comments

BEWARE of COCONUT OIL: Far from a Health Food

If you are confused with the recent media hype about the health benefits of coconut oil which seem to contradict conventional heart health wisdom, you have every right to be. The claim that coconut oil is a health food stems from the misconception that coconut oil contains mostly a kind of fat called lauric acid, a medium chain triglyceride, better known as an MCT. MCTs are believed to have a neutral effect on blood LDL or “bad” cholesterol level, meaning they don’t raise LDL. Furthermore, it has also been suggested that intake of the MCT, lauric acid, not only does not raise LDL but increases the amount of “good” cholesterol or HDL. Because of this fact, that approximately half of the fatty acids in coconut oil are lauric acid, many tout that coconut oil is a “heart healthy food.”


This is simply not the case.  Let’s take a closer look at the science and the biochemistry of coconut oil, which clearly casts doubt on its health claims:


On a molecular level, the main ingredient of any fat—be it butter, cream, or olive oil—is triglyceride molecules. Each triglyceride molecule is made up of a glycerol backbone that supports three fatty acid chains. The chemical makeup of each of these fatty acid chains is what dictates how the fat will behave once it is digested and enters your body. There are three types of chains, or fatty acids. Scientists have named each of the three types as saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. The three fatty acids linked to the glycerol backbone can be all the same type or different types. Hence the different types of chains can exist in different combinations in each triglyceride molecule, and it is the predominant type of chain that helps scientists categorize fats as either saturated, unsaturated, or trans.


Most of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, meaning that all the carbon atoms on the fatty acid chain are fully “saturated” with hydrogen atoms. The saturated fatty acids in coconut oil consist of primarily the “big three” saturated fatty acids:


~49% lauric acid (12 carbon chain)

~18% myristic acid (14 carbon chain)

~9% palmitic acid (16 carbon chain)


Thus coconut oil is considered a saturated oil because 92% of its fatty acids are saturated (caproic to stearic) and only about 8% unsaturated (oleic and linoleic).

Whether or not the fatty acid chain, lauric acid, is truly a health food is highly questionable. In fact, some chemists do not even place lauric acid in the MCT category, contradicting the “neutral” effect of lauric acid on blood LDL cholesterol:

“What are the facts? The saturated fatty acids lauric (12:0), myristic (14:0), and palmitic (16:0) acids definitely raise plasma cholesterol concentrations. The medium- and short-chain fatty acids with ≤10 carbons are handled by the body more like carbohydrates than fats and have no effects on plasma cholesterol concentrations.”1


According to a journal article in Lipids, “More than 40 years ago, saturated fatty acids with 12, 14, and 16 carbon atoms (lauric acid, myristic acid, and palmitic acid) were demonstrated to be a “hypercholesterolemic saturated FA.”2


The take-away message? Coconut oil does indeed clog the arteries. This is because in coconut oil, the lauric acid also comes packaged in with palmitic and myristic acids. Myristic acid is the most cholesterolemic fatty acid, meaning one that dramatically raises blood cholesterol levels. Palmitic acid is no better. Whether or not lauric acid is an MCT is questionable. However, even if lauric acid is a MCT, the fact is that the evidence linking coconut oil as a whole to increased risk of heart disease points sharply in the direction of caution as the fact is, coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol. In short, if coconut has any positive effect on health it is modest compared to its potential to raise your risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in this country.


1 Harbingers of coronary heart disease: dietary saturated fatty acids and cholesterol. Is chocolate benign because of its stearic acid content? William E Connor, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 70, No. 6, 951-952, December 1999 Oregon Health Sciences University, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical Nutrition L-465, Department of Medicine, Portland.


2 RP Mensink, “Effects of stearic acid on plasma lipid and lipoproteins in humans,” Lipids (2005);40, no. 12:1201-1205.



Wild Mushroom & Zucchini Empanadas with Olive Oil Pastry Dough

Posted by Al Pryzbylski on July 16, 2013 0 Comments



Wild Mushroom Empanada Filling
1 cup zucchini finely diced
1/2 pound assorted wild mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 shallot minced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Organic Wild Mushroom & Sage Olive Oil
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
freshly ground pepper to taste
sea salt to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Saute the shallot for two minutes until translucent.  Add the garlic and saute for another minute.  

Add in the mushrooms and saute until all the moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to caramelize.  Add in the zucchini and saute for two minutes until most of the moisture is cooked off. 

Add the mixture to a bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside to cool.  Once the mixture is warm, add the beaten egg, cheese, and bread crumbs - stirring to combine.  Set aside and proceed with making the empanada dough

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Empanada Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup Ultra Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 tablespoons ice water
1 large egg, beaten

Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, mixing with a fork to form a crumbly mixture with pea sized lumps of flour
Slowly drizzle in the ice cold water, mixing as it's poured.  Dump the mixture on to a large sheet of parchment paper, and with floured hands, begin to form the dough in to a large flat disk.  Knead gently, incorporating any loose scraps.  Place another sheet of parchment paper on top of the disk and roll the dough out to 1/8" thick.  

Empanada Assembly

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Cut out circles approximately 4" in diameter from the dough.  Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on one side of each circle, being careful not to allow the  filling to touch the edges of the dough.  Moisten one edge of each side using beaten egg, and fold the other side of the dough over the filling to create a half moon shape.  Firmly press down on the edges of dough to seal.  Use a fluted pastry wheel or sharp knife to cut excess dough from the edges.  You can also crimp the edges with the tines of a fork  

Line a  baking sheet with parchment paper and place the empanadas on the sheet with a small amount of space between.  Brush with beaten egg and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.  Serve warm, or at room temperature. You can also wrap them in paper and freeze for later!  

Makes 10 empanadas.
Bon Appetito

Is The "Fridge Test" A Valid Way to Prove Authenticity of Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Posted by Al Pryzbylski on March 01, 2013 0 Comments


In a recent show calling in to question the authenticity of most supermarket extra virgin olive oil, Dr. Oz puts a bottle of what he believes to be extra virgin olive oil in the refrigerator and then proclaims that "If it freezes at a normal refrigerator temperature, then you’re pretty sure it’s pure".
However, the resounding answer from all experts who have weighed in, including Modern Olives scientists, Richard Cantrell of the AOCS, Dan Flynn of UC Davis is that the fridge test is not an accurate test of authenticity. There are plenty of seed and vegetable oils which will solidify in the fridge, as well as some extra virgin olive oils who's unique fatty acid profile will keep them liquid in the fridge. Below, please find a link to Richard Gawel's very excellent dissection of this subject, and we concur with all of the experts who have weighed in.  


Heaven on a plate...

Posted by Al Pryzbylski on January 25, 2013 0 Comments







4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup dried polenta
1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
2 tablespoons Ultra Premium Bella Gusta Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Bring the stock to a simmer in a heavy 6+ quart pot.  Slowly whisk in the polenta.  Cook on low stirring frequently for approximately 25-30 minutes.  Remove from heat an stir in the cheese and olive oil.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if desired.

Wild Mushroom Ragu
3 cups assorted fresh wild mushrooms such as oyster, shitake, cremini, etc. wiped clean, tough stems removed
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 medium shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine (I used extra dry Prosecco)
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

While the polenta is cooking, heat the extra virgin oil over medium-high in a large 12" saute pan. Add clean, dry mushrooms to the pan.  Cook until the mushrooms caramelize and become crusty golden-brown.  Add the shallot, and saute for two minutes, add the garlic and saute for a minute.  Add the wine and cook scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and reduced by half.  Add the stock and cook until reduced by half.  Taste and adjust with salt and fresh pepper if desired.

Truffled Mascarpone
1/2 cup mascarpone
1 teaspoon white truffle oil

Stir the truffle oil in to the mascarpone.

Serve the wild mushroom ragu over the hot polenta.  Add a dollop of the truffled mascarpone, a sprinkle of pecorino cheese, and a pinch of minced parsley. Serves 4-6
Bon Appetito


Confit of peppers, tomatoes and sweet red onion

Posted by Al Pryzbylski on December 05, 2012 0 Comments


1 1/2 pounds small whole sweet tomatoes such as cherry or grape
1 large red onion, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper or several smaller sweet red peppers such as Marconi, sliced thin or halved if smaller
8 large garlic cloves
1 - 2" sprig fresh rosemary, leaves only, stem discarded (optional)
1/2 cup fresh, herbaceous-green EVOO such as our Cobrancosa from Portugal
1/3 cup crisp, good quality white wine
1 tablespoon Bella Gusta Traditional Balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Adjust rack to middle of oven, and preheat to 300.

In a medium roasting pan (9"x13") or a 12" oven safe skillet, combine the first five ingredients.  Whisk the wine, balsamic, and olive oil together, drizzle over the vegetables and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.

Place the pan on the middle rack in the oven, uncovered, and allow the vegetables to cook slowly, stirring only a few times during the process, being careful not to break the tomatoes.  Slow roast for 4 - 4 1/2 hours.

The resulting confit, or tomato "jam" can be used to dress pasta, slather on crusty bread, or as an accompaniment to slow roasted meats or poultry.

Bon Appetito

Chicken, carmelized onions and wild mushrooms over papardelle, sauced with a creamy bacon, thyme and balsamic reduction.

Posted by Al Pryzbylski on December 05, 2012 0 Comments


1 1/2 pounds free-range, boneless skinless chicken thighs or breast tenders.
4 thick strips smoked bacon, diced
1 large sweet onion sliced thin
8 oz. assorted wild mushrooms, sliced (cremini mushrooms will work in a pinch)
4" piece of fresh thyme, stem discarded
1/4 cup Traditional Style Balsamic vinegar or Black Currant Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons of fruity-floral Extra Virgin Olive Oil such as our Picual, or Wild Mushroom-Sage infused olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
sea salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
1 pound pappardelle pasta or wide egg noodle pasta, cooked and drained

In a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, brown the diced bacon to a crisp.  Remove the bacon from the pan and reserve. Pour off all but a tablespoon of the bacon fat.  Season the chicken on both sides liberally with salt and pepper  Add the olive oil to the pan, place it back over the heat, and allow it to heat for a minute over medium-high heat.

Saute the chicken for a few minutes until golden brown on both sides, in batches if necessary.  Do not over-crowd the pan.  Remove the chicken to a plate and reserve.

Add the onions to the drippings in the pan.  Cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently until the onions become a soft golden brown.  Add the mushrooms.  Saute for approximately three more minutes over medium high heat until the mushrooms are browned and slightly caramelized.

Add the fresh thyme leaves and balsamic to the mushrooms and onions, de-glazing the pan by scraping up any browned bits from the bottom.  Cook to reduce for a minute.  Add the cream and stir to combine.  Add the bacon and reserved chicken.  Allow the pan to come to a simmer.  Cook for another two minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce thickens.  Season generously with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  Serve over pasta, rice, or cooked whole grains.   

Bon Appetito      

Olive Oil Chemistry, it's not that complicated but so important...

Posted by Al Pryzbylski on November 20, 2012 0 Comments


Extra virgin olive oil decreases in flavor and health benefits over time.  Fresh crushed olive oil is like fresh squeezed fruit juice in that it contains the most flavor and nutrients.  Old, poorly made and improperly stored extra virgin olive oil yields fewer if any health benefits and undesirable flavor.
Becoming intimately familiar with a particular extra virgin olive oil's flavor characteristics and chemistry i.e. antioxidant content, oleic acid, FFA, and crush date will help you make an educated decision about which olive oil is right for you. Every oil we purchase meets the highest industry standards, and we know the chemistry on each single varietal we sell. Just try and ask any other olive oil source for the data on theirs.

Crucial Olive Oil Chemistry Definition Key

Oleic Acid:  is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid found in olive oil.  Olive oil is generally higher in oleic acid than other vegetable fats. The range found in extra virgin olive oil is between 55-85%. Extra virgin olive oil high in oleic acid has greater resistance to oxidation.

FFA:  Based on IOOC standards the maximum limit for free fatty acid in extra virgin olive oil is 0.8g per 100g or (.8%). A low FFA is desirable.  Free fatty acid speaks to the condition of the fruit at the time of crush.  The higher the FFA the greater the indication of poor quality fruit such as damaged, overripe, insect infestation, overheating during production or too much of a delay between harvest and crush.

Peroxide Value:  Based on IOOC Standards the maximum peroxide value for extra virgin olive oil is 20. A very low peroxide value is desirable.  Unsaturated free fatty acids react with oxygen and form peroxides, which create a series of chain reactions that generate volatile substances responsible for a typical musty/rancid oil smell. These reactions are accelerated by high temperature, light, and oxygen exposure.

Polyphenol Count:  Polyphenols are a class of antioxidants found in a variety of foods. Polyphenols such as Oleuropein, Oleocanthal, and hydroxytyrosol impart intensity connected with pepper, bitterness and other desirable flavor characteristics. Recent studies indicate that these potent phenols are responsible for many of the health benefits associated with consuming fresh, high quality extra virgin olive oil. Phenols in olive oil decrease over time or when exposed to heat, oxygen and light.  Consuming fresh, well made olive oil with high polyphenol content is crucial when looking to obtain the maximum health benefit commonly associated with consuming extra virgin olive oil.

New Testing Methods Based on Olive Oil Chemistry

DAGs Test/Score:  Measures the proportion of two forms of diacylglycerol:  1,2 and 1,3.  In oil freshly made from sound olives of good quality, the prevalent form of DAG is the 1,2 form where the fatty acids are bonded to a glycerol molecule in the 1 and 2 positions.  The bond on the 2 position is weak and easily broken, leading to the migration of that 2 position fatty acid to the 3 position.  This results in the much more stable 1,3 DAG.  This makes the ration of 1,2 DAGs to the total DAG’s a good indicator of the quality of the olive fruit and the processing.  It is also an indicator of the age of an oil, since the migration from 1,2 to 1,3 DAGs takes place naturally as the oil ages.  Warmer storage temperatures, and higher free fatty acid levels will both accelerate this process, but DAGs are not affected by the short exposure to high heat that is characteristic of deodorizing (refining).

PPP Test/Score:  This test was developed to measure the degradation of chlorophyll in olive oil.  This degradation of chlorophylls to pyropheophytin was found to take place at a predictable pace, making it possible to gain information about the age of an olive oil. The rate at which the degradation occurs can be accelerated by even short periods of high temperatures – such as that which is utilized during the deodorizing or soft column refining process – making it a useful indicator of the presence of deodorized olive oil as well as the age of the oil.   

Pomegranate Balsamic Glazed Rib-Eye

Posted by Al Pryzbylski on November 04, 2012 0 Comments

 This is amazing...


This recipe couldn't be more simple or flavorful.  It also doesn't hurt that rib-eye steak is an amazing cut of beef.  Due to its intrinsic marbling it's also a forgiving cut even when slightly over cooked.

Pomegranate Balsamic Grill Sauce
1/3 cup  Pomegranate Balsamic
1/4 cup  Garlic Olive Oil
1 Tbs. good quality Dijon style mustard
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

Prepare the grill or broiler.  In a medium bowl, whisk the mustard with the salt, and balsamic until blended thoroughly.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil whisking quickly and continuously.  The marinade should become thick and emulsified.   In a seal-able container or large zip lock bag, place up to four rib-eye steaks and thoroughly coat with the marinade.  Refrigerate and marinate for 4-6 hours, turning the steaks at least once during the process.

Proceed with grilling or broiling the steaks.  After cooking, allow the steaks to rest, loosely covered at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.
Bon Appetito