How to Taste Olive Oil Like an Expert
In Eric Verdier's O&CO. laboratory, dedicated to the sampling of olive oils from the world's best producers, to our O&CO. Boutiques, where we invite you to taste any oil that is available on our shelves, we've created this legend to guide your sensorial experience. It is a resource both for the olive oil enthusiast, who enjoys preferred taste profiles much like he or she may enjoy a favorite
Bourdeaux, to a newcomer arriving at O&CO. for the very first time. It’s to be used as a visual tool, an aid to break-down the complexities of aromas, finishes and characteristics of tasting olive oils, much like the intricacies of tasting a good wine. We share our knowledge with the hopes of sharpening your palate and making your olive oil selection process that much easier.
THE LIMITATION OF TASTE
AND THE POWER OF AROMA
(just like when you have a cold!)
The first step in learning how to taste olive oil is to understand how our senses work. Perception of flavor relies on both our senses of taste and smell. The ability to taste is actually quite limited; receptors on our tongue can only discern sweet, salt, sour, bitter and umami. All other information that we think of as flavor is actually perceived by smelling food through the back of our nostrils (retro-nasally) while it’s in our mouths. Think about how little flavor we perceive when we have a cold - this is because we cannot smell food retro-nasally when we have stuffed up noses.
THE TASTE PROFILE
Olive oil offers a palate rich in aromas, flavors and tastes. Some like it soft, others fruity, bitter, or sharp, round or fiery, reflective of each terroir and its producer. O&CO. believes that all qualified good tasting olive oils fall into 1 of 2 taste profiles.
Grassy: (oils) tend to be characterized by vegetal notes like fresh grass, artichoke, tomato leaves or green apple.
Floral: (oils) leave a sweet, velvety impression of lightness, reminiscent of almond, milky, but also blended with fruity notes of citrus, fruit, pear and hazelnut.
Red or White?: When compared to the universe of the vine, a ‘grassy’ oil reacts like a young wine, aromatic, lively and full of warmth, whereas a ‘floral’ develops along the lines of round wines, silky and tender. In simpler terms, a grassy oil is more like a red wine whereas a floral oil is more like a white wine.
The O&CO. Legend: Each year, the harvest dictates whether O&CO.'s oils will be classified as Grassy or Floral. You’ll be able to see the O&CO. taste profile, beneath each oil on oliviersandco.com, with the capability to sort olive oils by either taste profile. Similarly, in our boutiques, oils are labeled ‘grassy’ or ‘floral’ beneath each bottle or tin, on our wall of olive oil.
Worldwide there are over 1,000+ varieties of olives grown, resulting in a wide range of flavor possibilities. We've extracted the following key to exemplify the most prevalent notes that underlie the characteristic profile and add distinction to each oil in the O&CO. assortment.
When tasting an olive oil, the steps focus our attention on a specific positive attribute in the oil. After you've evaluated the fruit aroma by inhaling from a glass, when the oil is in our mouths we further evaluate the aroma retro-nasally as well as determine the amount of bitterness on our tongues. Finally, we determine the intensity of the oil's pungency in our throats as we swallow it.
Following is a slew of definitions we use to further categorize oils within the palate flavor profile. We think it's important to contextualize the palate by suggesting food pairings and oil usage to further assist you in selecting the perfect oil for all your cooking preferences. Typically you will find our recommendations stem from the palate finish in terms of mild, medium and robust:
Lighter oils tend to be buttery, mellow, delicate and soft; these pair excellently with light or delicate dishes such as fish, soups, vegetables, pesto, eggs and potatoes.
Medium, slightly more robust oils generally have a grassier and more complex taste profile. These oils have a peppery finish and are great with steak, bruschetta, tomato sauces, pasta, and any dish where you want to cut through and brighten up the flavors already present.
Robust oils, made from olives that are picked when they are primarily green, tend to have a more assertive and peppery flavor, generally with notes of green tomato vines, green tomato leaf and green apple skins.
Full-flavored, more robust dishes made with red meat and tomato-based sauces, as well as hearty stew, even steamed vegetables and salads, may be better with these fruitier, more flavorful oils.
The Palate Terms:
BITTER: considered a positive attribute because it is indicative of fresh olive fruit
BUTTERY: creamy, smooth sensation on the palate
FRESH: good aroma, fruity, not oxidized
HARMONIOUS: balance among the oil’s characteristics with none overpowering the others
PEPPERY: stinging sensation in the throat, which can force a cough
ROUND/ROTUND: a balanced, mouth-filling sensation of harmonious flavors
SPICY: aroma/flavor of seasonings such as cinnamon, allspice