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Butter will always have its place on the Southern table, but sometimes olive oil is the better bread topper. Whether you're serving sliced Italian bread or a sourdough loaf, a small dish of olive oil is a tasty (and heart healthy) alternative to your usual buttery spread.

The key is choosing the right type of olive oil and making sure that it is fresh. Take a stroll down your supermarket's oil aisle and you'll find dozens of types and brands. The main difference is between regular olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil. Regular olive oil (also called "pure olive oil") has a higher smoke point, which makes it ideal for cooking and baking. This oil is processed to remove any impurities, which is why it typically has a lighter color. Extra-virgin olive oil has not been treated, so it is darker in color and usually more flavorful. Either type of olive oil is fine for dipping, it all depends on whether you like a neutral tasting oil or something bolder.

When olive oil is fresh, it has a peppery, slightly grassy flavor and fruity aroma. If you can't remember how long ago you bought the bottle, give it a taste and a sniff to make sure it hasn't gone bad. If not stored in a cool, dark place, olive oil can turn rancid.

California Olive Ranch produces good-quality olive oil that is affordable and easy to find at most grocery stores. The company sells several different blends from robust to mild, any of which would be delicious with bread. Serve it plain, sprinkle the oil with dried herbs (like a Greek or Italian seasoning blend), or use it to make a batch of basil oil, for something really special.