37 litres of delicious, home-grown, flavoursome olive oil! A great harvest and up on last year's yield. Well done!! The Galega varietal is most often grown in this area. A small, round, black or brownish-black toned olive, it has a somewhat pointed shape and distinctively flavored meat. Of course the locals will tell you it's the best varietal for olive oil!!
And so Steve, Richard and I embark on an official tasting. I present here, a short lesson in exploring the flavours and qualities of olive oil.
Flavors in olive oil are determined by a wide range of factors including the type of olive (varietal), ripeness at harvest, growing conditions (climate, soil type), crop maintenance (irrigation, pest control), handling of fruit from tree to mill, and the milling process itself. For example, oil made from predominantly unripe (green) olives contain flavors described as grassy, artichoke, or tomato leaf, whereas riper olives tend to yield softer flavors often described as buttery, floral, or tropical.
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 quite limited; receptors on our tongue can only discern sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and umami (the flavor of protein). 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 is in our mouths. To illustrate this fact, think about how little flavor we perceive when we have a cold – this is because one cannot smell food retro-nasally when one’s nose is stuffed up.
When tasting olive oil, much of the oil’s characteristics are perceived through the sense of smell. Though most people enjoy olive oil with other foods, the following steps allow us to focus on the olive oil’s flavor without distraction:
Pour a small amount of oil (about 1 tablespoon) into a small tapered (wine) glass.Hold the glass in one hand and use your other hand to cover the glass while swirling the oil to release its aroma.Uncover the glass and inhale deeply from the top of the glass. Think about whether the aroma is mild or strong. You may want to write down descriptions of the aromas that you detect at this point.Next you slurp the oil; this is done by sipping a small amount of oil into your mouth while “sipping” some air as well. (When done correctly, you will make that impolite noise that would cause you to be scolded when you were a child!) Slurping emulsifies the oil with air that helps to spread it throughout your mouth - giving you the chance to savor every nuance of flavor with just a small sip of oil.Finish by swallowing the oil and noticing if it leaves a stinging sensation in your throat.
Each of the above actions focuses our attention on a specific positive attribute in the oil. First we evaluate the olive fruit aroma (fruitiness) by inhaling from the glass. When the oil is in our mouths we further evaluate the aroma retro-nasally as well as determine amount of bitterness on our tongues. Lastly we determine the intensity of the oil’s pungency in our throats as we swallow it.
Perhaps you noticed that the oil’s color is not addressed during sensory assessment. The reason is that contrary to the common belief that golden oil is mild and dark green oil is robust, color is NOT an indicator of either the oil’s flavor or quality. In fact, in scientific assessments, we sample from specially designed blue glasses that obscure the color of the oil. Tasting from a dark glass prevents us from having preconceptions about the flavor of the oil before we actually smell or taste it.
Worldwide over 1,000 varieties of olives are grown, which should give consumers a wide range of flavor possibilities. Taste is personal, so not everyone will agree on which varietals, and other factors, produce the best oil. However, tasting oils in a methodical fashion will help to educate your palate, and you will be able to select oils with flavor characteristics that you enjoy and enhance your meals.
Thanks to Nancy Ash, Strictly Olive Oil, for this information.
Well I learnt a thing or 2 here which I am happy to share!! The colour of last year's oil and the new batch differ slightly. It seems we picked a little earlier, so there is a more green hue. Steve was a bit concerned but in the tasting I actually preferred the newer, "greener" oil. Its flavour was fresh and very olivey!!! And in true Steve fashion, when it came to my turn to taste the oils, he added piri piri to a 3rd glass!! Cheeky!! But I handled that one with aplomb - "too salty" was my comment!!