Would you provide an overview of the different olive oils produced? Is there one basic olive oil versatile enough to use anytime?
--Charlotte Rutherford, Auburn, California
It is generally accepted that the best olive oils come from Italy and Provence, though excellent oils are also made in Greece, Spain, and California. All olive oil is graded according to its degree of acidity; generally speaking, the lower the acidity level, the better the oil.
Cold-pressed oils, those that are produced by pressing only, with no chemicals added, are high quality and naturally low in acidity. Extra-virgin olive oils are the result of the first cold-pressing of the olives, and contain only 1 percent acid. Extra-virgin is the finest and most expensive olive oil available; its color ranges from a clear champagne tint to a bright green. Virgin olive oil is also from the first "pure" olive oil.
Choosing an oil for everyday use is really a matter of taste. The best thing you can do is sample several kinds to find one that you like and that has a clear color and a natural olive scent rather than a sharp or acrid one. Light olive oils are good for frying because they have a higher smoke point than virgin or regular oils, which are better for low-heat cooking or salad dressings.
Can I use any fruits, such as strawberries, cherries, or oranges, to flavor vinegars? Cranberries are too tart.
--Luisa Swenson, Hempstead, New York
You can easily create homemade fruit vinegar with just about any fruit you like. Start with a clean, screw-top glass jar that can be tightly sealed. Combine fresh or fresh-frozen fruit such as raspberries or blueberries (don't use fruit that has a syrup or any added sugar) with white-wine vinegar in the jar. If you like, you can add whole spices such as cloves, peppercorns, or allspice berries for more flavor. Seal the jar tightly, and refrigerate for 2 weeks, shaking the bottle every other day to distribute the flavors. After 2 weeks, strain the vinegar through cheesecloth. You can store homemade vinegar for up to 6 months in the refrigerator.