There’s that quote that goes, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I’ve been thinking about this now that I’m in my mid-20s and live in places that feel more like homes where I’d like to be for awhile, rather than rooms I happen to be sleeping in for a few months. Whenever I can, I’d like the things I acquire to be aesthetically pleasing and utilitarian at the same time. (Get you a teapot that can do both, you know?)
While I’ve adopted this frame of mind for things like a bookcase or an actual pajama set (yes, I do feel fancy), it doesn’t usually extend to my pantry. Bags of flour, boxes of sugar, peanut butter jars, cans of black beans: Their ho-hum packaging does the job, but doesn’t make me excited to cook. There’s one exception, one thing I am truly proud to pull from the shelves whenever I’m frying an egg or mixing up a cake, and that is Zoe Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($16; amazon.com).
I first grabbed a tin (yes, a tin, we’ll get to that) of Zoe Olive Oil on a whim at a grocery store in Brooklyn a few years ago. I’d never been loyal to one brand of olive oil—I usually just picked whatever was cheap. But this time, in the midst of all the green glass bottles was this rectangular tin, with an abstract pattern of bright reds and greens and golds. It looked sturdy—if I happened to drop it, or if it fell off a shelf, there would be no harm done. Plus there was something in the back of my mind about how olive oil should be protected from light, which at the time seemed like something to take seriously. It was a bit more expensive than a typical olive oil I would buy, but it didn’t seem like too much extra to add a little art to my shelves.
But it was when I tasted the stuff that I was truly converted. This olive oil is great: It’s grassy and bright and kind of fruity but also buttery? It’s definitely not sweet or overwhelming. It makes sense, somehow, that it's pressed predominantly from olive groves in Castilla-La Mancha, Spain, where Don Quixote wandered. It actually tastes like a milder version of those green Spanish olives you'd see on a really amazing cheese plate. (Also, why in the world should this be a surprise?) It holds its own if you tip some onto a plate and crack some pepper over it, for dipping bread. It makes fried eggs that much more delicious. It also doesn’t mess with flavor if you use it in a carrot cake. It’s not so precious to be relegated only to special occasions—you can coat your roasted root vegetables in it—but it still does add a certain something that you just don’t get from your typical bottle.
A few months ago I was making ratatouille for friends in my sweltering kitchen, and I poured some Zoe olive oil into a saucer alongside a baguette. One of the guys—a former cook who worked in the kitchen of a Well-Known Chef—caught sight of the tin and nodded approvingly. “Oh, that’s the olive oil we used at the restaurant, too,” he said, dunking a baguette slice with enthusiasm.
My magpie-like appreciation for pretty things has not always steered me in exactly the right direction, but this time, it worked out well for me and for anyone I happen to cook for. I found a pantry necessity that I believe to be beautiful, that I know to be useful, and that is undeniably delicious. And that’s really all you can ask of an olive oil.
This article originally appeared on ExtraCrispy.com.