Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tasting Olive Oil

Of all the reasons to use olive oil, and there are many, surely flavor is at the top of the list. As with wine, dairy cows, and chocolate, botanical variety engenders taste variety. My own feeling is the less time between harvest and consumption, the greater the flavor satisfaction. Cultivation, handling, storage, and age account for the complexity of choice and widely varying flavors. Consider the oil from olives, this from The Flavors of Olive Oil: A Tasting Guide and Cookbook, by Deborah Krasner.

Careful labeling can indicate care in manufacturing. In this case, olive variety is identified and flavor notes are included.

Krasner groups olive oil's flavors into four categories. Details and nuances of these categories are further described on pages 22 & 23 in her book.
1. Mild and delicate
2. Fruity and fragrant
3. Olive-y and peppery
4. Leafy green and grassy
Age Caution
From Krasner, page 27: "I've encountered two distinct odors that are immediate indicators that the oil is no longer good. Odor of cucumber: This is a sign of a stagnant oil; it occurs when oil has been kept in a tin for too long (2 to 3 years). Odor of bananas: This sweet banana smell always means that the oil is spoiled, frequently as a result of exposure to light."

The August 13 New Yorker Magazine published Tom Mueller's article on olive oil fraud, emphasizing the trade is as lucrative as illegal drugs. While not a new problem (fraud is mentioned in The Flavors of Olive Oil), lots of consumer cautions can be found between the lines of his writing.

Picholine olives

You can plan your own tasting by inviting some friends to bring their favorite olive oils over to your house for a party. Krasner suggests ensuring the oil has been warmed to body temperature before swallowing. These are my suggestions.

How to taste olive oil
  1. Cup a clean spoonful of oil in your (clean) hand.
  2. Carefully smell the oil.
  3. Roll the oil around in your mouth, making sure to reach all corners. The professionals will add oxygen by a kind of reverse whistling. Can you place the oil in your mouth so it bubbles when you add air?
  4. Continue to taste the changes in the oil as it comes to body temperature and is oxygenated.
  5. Now swallow. Breathe in through you mouth and out through your nose.
  6. Make notes. How did the oil feel in your mouth? What sequence of flavors did it have?
  7. Before moving on to the next oil, cleanse your palate by eating good bread and drinking warm water.
  8. For the next oil, use an absolutely clean spoon to prevent flavor contamination. Wash metal spoons in hot, soapy water or use plastic.
What do you notice?
What did you learn?
How will you use what you've learned?

1 comment:

squindia said...

oh this post is so informative! Thank you. I LOVE olive oil. My love was nurtured living in spain and morocco. Some of the best olive oil I have ever had came from an unlabeled canister in morocco :-)