My name is Orit Grissaro, olive oil and honey technologist at Yad Mordechai Apiary and manager of our factory’s panel of tasters.
In this capacity, I recently attended a training course for panel managers of olive oil tasters, administered by the International Olive Council (IOC) in Madrid. This unique body set a goal to explore, develop and spread the “gospel” of good quality olive oil among the countries engaged in this wonderful agricultural field.
In this post I will share with you the tips, insights and tools I acquired in training, so that you, too, can experience the interesting process of tasting olive oils, which combines and stimulates all our senses
Making a Diagnose Through Skill and Experience
Diagnosis by taste is a critical parameter in assessing and determining the quality of cold-pressed olive oil. Unlike laboratory tests that provide an answer for chemical parameters (e.g., acidity, peroxide and others), tasting the oil relies on the skill and experience of the taster. Olive oil research institutes around the world attach great importance to developing the tools and professional tasting capabilities of olive oil.
One of the questions that keeps popping up whenever you meet a professional olive oil taster is “How can you do it?”. I should note here that I wasn’t born an olive oil fan either, to say the least. The flavors and scents I once knew were not pleasant for me. In retrospect I know that the olive oil I knew was in poor quality then, and after I discovered the fascinating world of flavors and aromas of olive oil, my opinion changed dramatically.
Today I even enjoy the tasting practice itself, which has become a real hobby.
Training Stages in Proper Tasting
As I mentioned before, the International Olive Council administers professional training for panel managers of olive oil tasters, in order to train them for diagnosing olive oil by international standards.
The intensity of tasting sessions, informative discussions and spending an entire week with global olive oil experts are just fascinating.
So How is it Done?
At the first stage, you pour the oil into a tasting glass. Professional tasting of olive oil is performed in blue cups that don’t allow identification of the oil color, because color is not a parameter in determining its quality.
Then you slightly heat the oil with your hand to a temperature of about 28 degrees, in order to sense volatile aromas in the oil. How do we do it? Very simple – You hold the glass in one hand, cover it with the other hand and shake gently for half a minute. The oil is now hot and ready for tasting.
At the third stage, you put your nose over the center of the glass and inhale, trying to figure out what the smell reminds you of: Mowed lawn? Green or ripe tomato? Banana? Apple? The aroma world of olive oil is rich and includes dozens of concepts. All of them are incorporated under one feature called “fruitiness”.
Finally, you take a small sip from the oil, roll it in your oral cavity, and in doing so you take a few quick short puffs while exhaling air through the nose, and then – you swallow the oil. This tasting enable you to sense other aromas which were not sensed in the first sniffing.
Characterizing Aromas and Grading them Accordingly
The whole essence of smelling and tasting olive oil is to characterize aromas and flavors of the oil and their degree of intensity. For example, you can characterize “green” aromas that resemble the smell of freshly-mowed lawn and typical of the Israeli Barnea variety, but they can vary in intensity. The smell of a ripe banana can also be sensed in olive oil.
Quality olive oil combines flavors and aromas that don’t overbear each other and shape a round, interesting and balanced oil. Extra virgin oil bears fruitiness, bitterness and sharpness in a proportionate degree. Without them, oil will be considered “tasteless”.
“Defects” is a keyword for a professional oil taster constantly busy sniffing oil and looking for one of its familiar defects. Once the defect is detected and classified, the oil can no longer be defined as “extra virgin” (even if its acidity level is low!) and you can you can hold a discussion about the source, cause and intensity of this defect.
What Makes a Perfect Olive Oil?
This question has no conclusive answer. Oil free of defects, with noticeable fruitiness and balanced bitterness and sharpness, will be considered quality oil. If we add to that a round, not “heavy” oil that leaves a pleasant sensation in your mouth, we get an excellent oil
Hope I managed to share with you parts of the wonderful world called “olive oil”, which I think is one of the greatest gifts that earth has given us. Fortunately, it is a gift I meet every day!
In my next posts I will tell you more about olive oil tasting, the production process of cold-pressed olive oil, and we will delve deeper into the wonderful world of olive oils.