We've probably all been to a wine tasting . . . but an olive oil tasting???
According to my dear local SF friend who hosted me while I attended the Foodbuzz Festival (thanks Christine!), olive oil tastings are pretty common in the Bay Area. As an East Coaster, I had never experienced an olive oil tasting before, so I found this whole experience quite fascinating.
We were told that the proper way to taste olive oil is to . . uhh . . drink it. Well, slurp it like you would for a wine tasting .,. slurp in a way that the air can travel over the oil and bring the aromas down deep into your nose and throat. Ha ha .. don’t choke now.
Of course, before you taste it, you should really warm it a bit in your hands. Olive oil tastes best at around 70 degrees F. And don't EVER do a tasting with bread. "All you taste is the bread" says Chef Michael Tuohy.
The Four S's
Here's Chef Michael Tuohy, founder of Woodfire Grill in Atlanta and currently executive chef of Grange in Sacramento. He taught the class. They also provided us with Granny Smith apples soaked in Citric Acid as palate cleansers.
According to Michael, after warming the oil in your hand, the next step is to follow the 4 "S"s:
Swirl: swirling releases the flavor molecules (esters)
Sniff: inhale and think about what you smell!
Slurp: this spreads the flavor of the oil throughout your mouth and brings the aromas into your nasal cavity and into the back of your nostrils.
Swallow: Note tastes, especially at the back of your throat. Some will cause a peppery or stingy feel.
It was really weird drinking so much olive oil at 9AM on a Saturday morning!
We sampled six different olive oils that ranged in price from $18/bottle to $40/bottle. Some were single varietal oils while others were blends. We sampled around the world, from Spain, to Italy, to California.
Interestingly, more astringent olive oils will irritate the back of your throat when you “slurp” it. Inevitably, a roomful of people sampling an astringent olive oil will break out into coughs soon after the slurping. It was funny, because it totally happened to us.
The more astringent ones, at least according to the experts, are more desirable. However, the general public seems to favor the milder, more buttery and less astringent olive oils. Sooooo . . there’s still a disconnect there.
One of my favorite olive oils from the tasting was the new press of 2009 from California Olive Ranch. Known as "olio nuovo," or "new oil" it's the first extra-virgin olive oil off the press that season. The flavors are fresh, intense, and sadly, transient. You are supposed to enjoy olio nuovo quickly because the fresh, vibrant oil will start to ferment into off flavors after a few months. Common in Italy, olio nuovo is much harder to come by here in the States, as most of us don't have the luxury of living right next to an olive producer!
The olio nuovo that we tried from California Olive Ranch had a really deep and rich, olive-y essence. I am not an olive oil expert, so I can’t really describe it beyond that. Some people in the room said it had the essence of flavors such as tomato, brined olives, butter and bread, etc. I just thought it was intensely fragrant, deep, and delicious.
And you know what's really cool? This one was the best value bottle! $18 a bottle!
Not only that, they gave us each a free bottle of it! I enjoyed the oil with a few lovely slices of ACME sourdough bread, which I had purchased in the Ferry Building Marketplace (love that place and really LOVED the bread too!!)
Cook’s Illustrated, one of my favorite magazines, rates their Arbequina olive oil as one of the best domestic olive oils around, really giving the European olive oils a run for their money.
I love this olive oil. Too bad olio nuovo only comes once a year!
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