Shockingly Delicious Cooking Class:
How to Taste Olive Oil
Robert Jaye owns Malibu Olive Company, a producer of super premium, extra virgin olive oil produced and bottled in California.
Peppery, pungent, fragrant and a gorgeous golden color, this oil is an elixir, good on everything from a drizzle on steak or fish, to dressing for a simple pasta or a scoop of premium ice cream. Yes, I said ice cream.
Our state has among the highest standards for the production and sale of extra virgin oil, and producers here routinely sell for $17-$25 what importers are charging $40-$50 for. That’s half price, my friends, for a guaranteed higher quality product.
As our olive oil educator, let’s let Jaye him teach us how to properly taste olive oil. Much like the rituals of wine tasting, olive oil has its own protocol.
How to taste olive oil
The proper way to do it is without bread, since the yeast in bread will affect that taste of the oil. There is a very rigorous protocol for formally tasting olive oil, which includes no food, no coffee, no smoking and no wearing fragrances. Tasters have water and slices of green apple for cleansing the palate between tastes.
For a less formal, but still informed, tasting, Robert Jaye advises trying it like this:
- Warm the oil up a little bit.
- Smell it to get a sense of the aroma (artichoke, almond, citrus, apple, kiwi, grass, hay, green banana?).
- Slurp it into your mouth, taking in some air as you slurp.
- Hold it in your mouth for 5 seconds.
- Look for a pleasing aroma, bitterness on the back of tongue and a peppery finish in your throat that might actually make you cough. One grower quipped, “Three coughs are a compliment.” The bitterness and pungency are the complex antioxidants that are the reason olive oil is so healthy, and an indication of freshness. The bitterness softens over time.
The flavor profile of olive oils ranges from 1 to 10, 1 being light, and 10 being most robust. Jaye acknowledges that, “A lot of people aren’t ready for the 10s, but once you begin tasting and using super premium California olive oils, you crave a more robust oil. You can definitely train yourself to want a robust oil.”
Extra virgin signifies the highest standard. The oil must be from the first pressing, cold pressed (as opposed to extracted using heat or chemical solvents), must have an extremely low acidity (lab tested), must have appreciable levels of pepperiness, bitterness, and fruitiness and must be free of official taste defects, which can include “musty,” “fusty,” and “rancid.”
Jaye’s Malibu Olive Company makes two oils, both extra virgin – one a Mission blend of Manzanillo and Mission olives, and a more robust version with a bite called Romanelli Quattro, a blend of Ascolano, Leccino and Arbequina olives.
Either of them more than do justice to the following easy recipes: