Olive Oil Tasting 101
Olive oil does not have just one flavor. As with wine, each region and even each producer makes an olive oil with a particular character and appeal, resulting from the climate, soil, variety of olive, processing method, and, some might argue, even the personality of the producer. The character of an olive oil will also vary according to the other ingredients with which it's paired.
Our goal is to try many olive oils and come to know them well enough so we can fully understand their characteristics and convey that knowledge to our friends and family.
Yet trying to get acquainted with a range of oils can be difficult and frustrating. It's hard to focus on the many qualities well enough to remember them all, let along how each oil compares to all the other you've tasted.
The best way is to try a side-by-side tasting of 5 or 6 oils, comparing the various characteristics of each one.
How to distinguish among so many?
The range of flavors, textures and colors is so broad that it's impossible to categorize them precisely. But some general guidelines can help us get a handle on things.
We can use four basic categories:
These are well-balance oils that tend to be light golden green in color. Olive oils in this category are a good choice when you want the oil as a background note to the dish, as in a mild vegetable or fish dish. Buttery oils usually are good with salads.
This type of oil has a classic peppery finish and a deep green-gold color. The bold character of these oils makes them good for drizzling on bruschetta and sandwiches and with garlicky bean or pasta dishes and with meats.
These oils are less aggressive and are often rich green to golden in color. They're also characterized by a fruity flavor, but more herbaceous in quality. These oils are good with seafood, cooked greens and vegetable salads.
These oils are big, round and mouth-filling. They often have hints of almond or hay, of olive leaves and earth. These qualities are characteristic of many Spanish oils. Typically gold in color with hints of green, they're good with citrus and prosciutto, for dipping and for full-flavored fish and pasta dishes.
How to taste Olive Oil
Tasting olive oil is much like tasting wine. You may think the whole ritual of winetasting is ridiculous (and it's often taken to extremes!), but there's something to it all. This kind of tasting should be "thoughtful" - looking and smelling first, then tasting - and then thinking about it. It's about using all of your senses and practicing the art of perception.
* First, gently swirl the olive oil for a moment and then smell it.
* It should just smell of olive, with no off odors or rancidity. Close you eyes and try to detect other aromas, like almonds, grass or peppers (see the list of descriptors at the bottom of the page). Jot down your thoughts for later reference.
* Now, take a small sip keeping the oil forward in your mouth. Feel the texture. Is it thick, thin, round, smooth? Roll it around a little in your mouth and then slurp it down, trying to perceive all the complex components that make up the flavor. Write it down.
* Finally, swallow the oil, taking note of the finish. Is it long, short, pleasant or otherwise?
* Discuss & share your reactions.
* Clear your palate and continue.
Olive Oil Descriptors
Tasting olive oil (or anything for that matter) really is a lot like tasting wine.
But why do those ridiculous wine snobs use those "silly", pretentious terms? Well, there's more to it than you might think.
Finding the words to describe the flavor
It's not often that you really think about what your food actually tastes like. But if you can forget about what you think you know about the flavor of food and let your nose and mouth talk directly to your brain, you can detect the complex flavors that exist in even the simplest foods.
When you are really working at trying to define an elusive flavor, it can be helpful to have a list of likely descriptive terms to start with.
Find your own terms too - no matter how "off the wall" they may sound. If it makes sense to you, then that's all that counts.
Here's a list to help you get started:
- Green peppers
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