What should you look for when tasting olive oils?
The aromas of olive oil are a critical part of its flavor. The best way to appreciate them is to pour a little bit of olive oil (a couple tablespoons) into a shotglass, or small wineglass. Cup the glass in one hand and cover it with the other to trap the aromas inside while you warm it up. Swirl it to warm it for few minutes. Then place your nose deep in the glass and take in all of the aroma or “nose” of the olive oil. A good EVOO will smell fresh and clean. You may recognize the smell of fresh-cut grass, tropical fruits, green tomatoes, artichoke or other aromas of ripe or green olive fruit. The word “fruity” in olive oil may mean vegetable notes, i.e. green olive fruit, as well as to ripe fruit scents. So think of these artichokes, green tomato leaf, grasses and herbs as “fruit” when tasting the EVOOs!
Now, take a sip of the oil.
Don’t be too wimpy about it: if you don’t get a decent amount you won’t appreciate all the qualities of the oil because it is only getting on the tip of your tongue. Suck air through the oil to coax more aromas out of it, and then—this is important—close your mouth and breathe out through your nose. This “retronasal” perception will give you a whole bunch of other flavor notes. Retronasal perception is possible because your mouth connects to your nose in the back.
Now, swallow the oil.
You’ll experience a pungency, or peppery sensation in the throat. Pungency is a positive characteristic of olive oil. Pungency can be very mild—just the tiniest tingle—or it can be intense enough to make you cough. To understand how Olioveto gauges our oils and therefore understand our ratings, you should know that we like a good solid two cougher—generally speaking. Olive oil aficionados will sometimes refer to a one, two, or—even a three-cough oil.
The third positive attribute of extra virgin olive oil is bitterness.
Like pungency, bitterness can be an acquired taste. Since olive oil is made from uncured olives, varying degrees of bitterness can be found. Oil made from riper fruit will have little to no bitterness, while oil made from greener fruit can be distinctly bitter. As your palate develops, and you taste more quality EVOOS, you will find yourself enjoying—perhaps even preferring robust EVOOs with more bitterness as well as pungency.
As you taste olive oils, be sure to cleanse your palate between tastings with water—plain or sparkling—and/or slices of Granny Smith apple. We sometimes use a nice crusty bread—plain, not dipped in the oil.
Next: try with food.
Once you have tasted an olive oil plain, the next step is to taste it in combination with food. This is where olive oil comes to life, as one of the flavors in a dish. Used as a finishing oil, or in baking, excellent olive oil can add new dimensions of flavor to any dish. See our post on how to try/use olive oils in foods.