Sometimes when visitors come into our one of our shops for the first time they are a little surprised when we ask them if they’d like to taste the olive oil. The fact is that most North Americans are accustomed to the taste of rancid olive oil and they can’t imagine why anyone would want to taste it. In fact many people will choose a rancid olive oil over a fresh premium quality one because they don’t know anything different. Most people don’t have any difficulty trying￼ some of the flavours we have such as Tuscan Herb or Persian Lime or Basil but when it comes to tasting extra-virgin olive oil there is often hesitation.
Often we are asked for just a plain olive oil. We know that you mean an olive oil without any added flavour but we don’t sell any “plain” olive oil￼￼. Our extra virgin olive oils are all fresh and naturally flavourful and aromatic. They are our best sellers, often award winning, and they can be used in a variety of ways so tasting them before you buy is important. Try to think of it like you think of tasting wine.
The thing is that high quality fresh olive oil smells and tastes “green” – that’s the best way I can describe it. Look for pleasant attributes like fresh olives, grass, green banana, artichoke, tomato, apple, cinnamon and tropical fruits.. Look for that olive oil to be bright and we may use terms like fruity, pungent, bitter, herbaceous, buttery, grassy, peppery, and so on. And remember – olives are bitter fruits so fresh olive oil should have some bitterness but it should not be overwhelming. It should be pleasant and balanced with fruity flavours. Just like with chocolate and craft beer – bitter is better. You are looking for three main things – fruitiness, pungency and bitterness.
Remember there is only ONE ingredient in extra virgin olive oil. The flavours mentioned come from the soil and the air where the olive trees grow and from some of the other things that are grown nearby – like herbs, lemons, tomatoes etc.
Choose at least three and no more than five oils to taste to maintain balance and it’s best to start with mild oils before moving to medium or robust varietals.
First, pour a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil into a tasting cup or wineglass . The professionals use special blue glasses that are intended to disguise the colour of the oil, which says little about the flavour but might unconsciously affect judgment. That’s’s not necessary for this casual tasting – our little tasting cups will do!
Here are the four steps for tasting extra virgin olive oil – Swirl, Sniff, Slurp, Swallow.
Swirl. Cup the glass in your hands and swirl the oil gently to release aromas. If you put your other hand over the top of the glass when you swirl the oil it will trap some of the aroma, making it easier for you to enjoy.
Sniff. Stick your nose in the glass, and inhale deeply. The olive oil should have a smell of green grass or leaves combined possibly with other fruits or vegetables.
Slurp. Slurp a mouthful of oil while inhaling noisily, just like your parents taught you not to do when eating soup. Drawing air in heightens the flavour. We don’t just taste by swallowing – we taste different things in all areas of the mouth and throat and the slurp allows the flavours to reach all those areas. Then, breathe out through your nose.
Swallow. Swallow while concentrating on the flavour. Now you will experience the pungency of the oil – often a burning, tickling, peppery, scratchy sensation on the back of your throat. It should not be unpleasant but it should be there. If it isn’t there at all it’s either an extremely mild oil or a rancid or stale one. Fresh olive oil is a little bitter and that’s a taste sensation we need to learn to love because it’s much healthier. It shouldn’t be unpleasant.
Consider quietly and carefully these general categories – fruitiness, pungency, bitterness.
Refresh your palate between oils with carbonated water, a slice of green apple or a piece of plain bread.
What should your olive oil NOT smell or taste like?
Well, back to that statement about many North Americans preferring the taste of rancid olive oil. There are 4 negative attributes that are NEVER present in really good quality extra virgin olive oil:
1. Rancidity. If an oil is rancid it will taste like crayons, putty or stale stale peanuts.
2. Fustiness. If an oil is fusty it will taste like sweaty socks, wet compost or brown mushy olives.
3. Winey/Vinegary – If an oil is winey it will taste like nail polish or vinegar
4. Mustinesss – If an oil is musty it will taste like dusty old clothes on the basement floor.
And here’s a quick guide to choosing which olive oil you should pair with which types of food:
The extra virgin olive oil you choose should act in harmony, not in contrast, with the food you’re preparing. It should not be any stronger than that food. So a light extra virgin olive oil goes with a light food, a more intense robust one goes with foods with greater body – a general rule that applies also to wine. But at the end of the day it’s ALL about your preference, not any rules. And you are in luck because at any given time we carry between 6 and 12 different types of EVOO from mild to medium to robust intensity so you have the opportunity to choose according to your preference. It’s simple, healthy and delicious!