Olive oil is often compared to wine in that it is important to pair the right oil with the right dish. The right olive oil will harmonize with the spices, enhance the flavors of the different ingredients, balance the acidity of certain foods and add body and depth to the final product.
The two basic ways to pair olive oil are to create complementary or contrasting flavors. Complementary pairings aim to blend two ingredients of similar intensity of flavors so that one does not overpower the other. Examples of complementary pairings include using robust oils with hearty foods such as rich pastas and heavy meats; medium oils for cheese, bread dipping, or in salad dressing; and mellow oils for baking and creating condiments such as mayonnaise.
Contrasting pairings aim to add interest by combining ingredients with diverse intensities and flavor. A mild oil over a strong cheese (like pecorino) or a robust oil over a delicate cheese (such as fresh mozzarella) work to provide a more impactful and noticeable taste sensation.
The most important factor in pairing olive oil pairs with food is actually your personal taste. Take the time to taste different olive oils and determine which one will give you the flavor you are looking for.
Another way to add impact to your olive oil is to do an infusion. An infusion is when you add different ingredients (usually herbs) into a bottle of olive oil and allow the flavors to mix. It is important not to add any ingredient that contains any water or moisture (including garlic, fresh peppers, fresh herbs and spices, or lemon peel) as it can cause harmful bacterial growth. Preserve or dry all ingredients before placing them in the bottle. Olive oil is quick to pick up the flavors of additional ingredients and infusions can add great variety to the flavors you can create in your kitchen.