Tasting Extra Virgin Olive Oil

An olive oil tasting – like a wine tasting – lets chefs such as you understand the oil’s aroma, flavor and peppery quality, or pungency. Those features form the core attributes of true extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). A tasting also can help you gauge defects – such as mustiness – found in lesser quality oils. We taste our extra virgin olive oils at California Olive Ranch throughout the milling process – from the time we press the fresh olives to the time the oil goes into the bottle.

Tasting, of course, also gives you a better idea of how to pair a particular extra virgin olive oil with a certain dish. For example, you may want to pair a more peppery extra virgin olive oil with a single ingredient such as fresh mozzarella. That combo allows the olive oil to shine through.

Here’s how to conduct a thorough tasting.

First, pour about a tablespoon of oil into a wine glass, or similarly tapered glass. (Expert olive oil tasters sip from the blue olive oil tasting glass in the picture that’s available from Corti Brothers.) Cover the glass with one hand while you hold the bowl of the glass in the other hand. You want the oil to be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit – considered the best temperature for tasting.

Next come the “Four S’s,” as described by Nancy Ash, a trained olive oil taster and owner of the consulting firm Strictly Olive Oil:

1.    SWIRL – While you cover the top of the glass with one hand, swirl the oil to release the aromas.

2.    SNIFF – Uncover the glass and hold the top up to your nose and quickly smell the oil. The scent is key to the oil’s fruitiness. “You want to get one big sniff impression of the oil,” says Ash.

3.    SLURP – Take a sip of the oil while also “sipping” a bit of air. The slurping action combines the oil with the air and spreads it throughout your mouth. Notice the oil’s “smell” in your mouth – the retro-nasal aromas – as well as the different sensations throughout your mouth.

4.    SWALLOW – Don’t worry, it’s just a small amount of oil! Notice if there is a peppery or stinging sensation in your throat, and how long the sensation lingers.

While tasting the oil, keep in mind the three positive attributes of true extra virgin olive oil:

— Fruitiness, which you can sense from smelling the oil.

— Bittery, reflected in a pleasantly bitter taste. “It’s a natural expression of the olive,” says Ash.

— Pungency, the peppery or stingy sensation in your throat when you swallow the oil.
Classic “defects” include oil that tastes musty or rancid.

If you plan to sample another extra virgin olive oil, take a bite from a tart green apple followed by a sip of water. That will cleanse your palate.

That said, slurp away!

Bon appétit,
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch