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To the average person, I could probably seem like a food snob. Not in the “I only eat at Michelin-starred restaurants” sort of way, but in the way where I want to know if the fish is wild-caught or farmed, or if the tomatoes used in the pasta sauce are indeed San Marzano, or if the coffee is single-origin or a blend. Annoying, right?
But hear me out. My grandparents owned a restaurant, both of my parents were excellent cooks, and I grew up enjoying cuisines from around the world because my family was never shy about trying something new. My college boyfriend (who worked as a part-time cook at an art museum bistro) was obsessed with Thomas Keller and upped my culinary game by educating me on ingredients and how to hold a chef’s knife properly. My now-husband, who is a winemaker, has given me a wealth of knowledge about identifying flavors and aromas, but also about how essential quality is at the farming and production level to achieve an outstanding consumable product.
All of this has steered me toward my career as a food writer but has also made me a serious pain when it comes to how particular I am about ingredients. So when I learned about Branche Olive Oil, I was intrigued—an extra virgin olive oil that was created with the same care and precision as making single-vineyard wine? Yes, please.
Not All Olive Oil Is Created Equal
Extra Virgin is the highest grade of olive oil on the market—it comes from the first cold-pressing of freshly harvested olives, has great aromas and flavors, and must meet a certain set of chemical parameters to be classified as such. But even with those standards in place, there’s plenty of variation among different olive oils that can affect their caliber and taste. Olive oil can be over a year or two old before it sees a store shelf, and you won’t always know what types of olives were used, or where they were grown. As olive oil ages, it tends to oxidize, resulting in “off” flavors and the deterioration of its antioxidant properties.
Branche co-founder and CEO Carlos Agudo noticed the lack of transparency in the olive oil industry and wanted to create a top-tier extra virgin olive oil where sourcing, freshness, and flavor were the focus of the final product. Working with a single farm run by a seventh-generation olive farmer, Branche concentrates on quality, not quantity, and runs on a closed loop system (think recycled water irrigation and solar-powered electricity), further underlining the company’s ethos of sustainability and integrity.
About the Oils
Branche’s farm is located in Andalucia, an area in Southern Spain that gets plenty of sun. The olives that grow here have bright flavors and a high antioxidant count, measuring at 400+ mg per kilogram (as compared to less than 100 mg per kilogram in other mass market olive oils). Green olives are harvested in late October, and milled and bottled within two hours to ensure the oil stays as fresh as possible. The company also works with a team of olive sommeliers to create their two bottlings, ensuring consistency and accuracy when describing each varietal’s attributes.
My first impression is that the bottles are stunning. The textured ceramic vessels are a nod to ancient Greek and Roman amphora (olive oil jars) and look a lot more like high-end home goods than a food item. But behind the chic and elegant exterior lies some of the highest quality “liquid gold” that I’ve had the fortune of having in the States.
This version is made from a combination of Picual, Arbequina, and Hojiblanca olives. Characterized by an earthy and bold palate, this bottling has distinctive notes of green olive with hints of tomato stem and touches of delicate florals. This complex olive oil is a great choice for sauteing onions and garlic or drizzling over a perfectly cooked filet mignon thanks to its more traditional flavor profile. I absolutely love this as a finishing oil on fish or red sauce pasta since the stronger flavor really leaves an impression—the medium-spicy finish also means a high polyphenol level, the antioxidative compound that makes olive oil “healthy.” I also really enjoy this for dipping bread since I appreciate the bold, green flavor.
This cream-colored bottle holds a softer, more delicately flavored olive oil made from 100% Arbequina olives, with sweeter aromas of stone fruit and a nutty, buttery taste. Because of its subtlety, it’s a gentle oil that enhances the flavors of sauteed vegetables or burrata salad without overpowering the dish and can also be easily incorporated into desserts, like a lemony olive oil cake. (Branche also suggests trying it drizzled over almond or pistachio ice cream!) You can also use this as a dip if you prefer the subdued olive notes over the herbaceous and forward profile of the No. 1.
As someone with a deep love for thoughtfully produced foodstuffs and an affinity for Spanish olive oil, it’s no surprise that both of these bottles have earned a place in my pantry. If you appreciate high-end, gourmet ingredients, I have no doubt in my mind that you’ll be impressed by Branche, but don’t just take my word for it—splurge on the set to try them out or sign up for a subscription.
Five More Reasons to Love Branche Olive Oil:
1. Branche comes from a single source in Andalucia, where olive trees are carefully pruned and nurtured to yield very high-quality fruit.
2. These limited-production oils are guaranteed to be less than a year old upon purchase.
3. You can purchase each bottling separately if you prefer one over the other.
4. When you’re not using them for cooking or drizzling, they look beautiful when sitting on the counter.
5. Available in a set, this box of both varietals also makes a unique and exquisite gift for a fellow food-lover.