How to taste olive oil

This month, I’ve been doing quite a lot of corporate olive and olive oil tastings for my shop. So, when my book club gathered at my house for our monthly meeting, I decided to make it an olive evening and educate the girls a bit about the wondrous olive. I served them a watermelon salad with olives, feta and mint as a starter and as a main course a chicken pasta dish with lots and lots of olives in it (see here).

The “educational” part of the evening included tasting two different olive oils, one slightly fruitier and the other more pungent. We also tasted olives, discussing the difference between green and black olives and the interesting flavours the South-African consumers favour. For example, in my shop the most popular product is a Kalamata in a Blueberry dressing (grape vinegar flavoured with blueberries), which masks most of the bitter olive taste. I am sorry if you are an olive purist, but they are delicious!!

And just in case you find yourself at an olive oil tasting and you want to know what you have let yourself into, today’s blog is about the steps in tasting olive oil. 

1. First warm the tasting glass in your cupped hands to liberate the aromas. In contrast to a wine tasting, for olive oil the best glasses are blue since it masks the colour of the olive oil. The reason is that the colour tends to influence the taster's perception of the taste, and in truth the colour of an olive oil has no bearing on its quality. 

2. The next step is to smell the oil, in order to get an immediate first impression. You should be able to detect the desirable fruitiness of the oil or perhaps even defects such as rancidity.

3. Carefully take a small sip – and let me pause here to say that most people fear this will be like having a mouth full of cooking oil. In fact, you will find that olive oil is light, non-greasy and does not coat the inside of your mouth at all. Roll it around the mouth cavity and suck air in through your clenched teeth - this is called 'aspiration'.

4. Swallow it and evaluate if you taste the positive attributes in the oil. Look for the initial fruitiness in the mouth (green fruits or grassiness or even a nutty flavour), then a slight bitterness on the middle palate and lastly a biting sensation in the throat. This pungency is sometimes quite delayed.

Well, at least two girls in my book club are still not big fans of the olive, but at least they gave it a try!! Some book clubs are the “we only read wine labels” groups, but I can honestly say that we do read a variety of books in our club. But we also did not go home thirsty

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