Years ago I was part of a small group of Georgia Legislators invited to attend a few scotch tastings hosted by adult beverage giant Diageo. I have been a fan of good scotch since I was allowed, at age eighteen (legal age in Georgia in the 70’s) to sample some of my Dad’s scotch collection.
At these scotch tastings I learned that I had a gift for detecting and identifying the flavors that made up each scotch. Of course I was at that time, and still am, untrained so I had to associate some flavors and smells with things I recognized. My favorite association was what I named ‘old Bandaid’. Some levels of peat smoke actually smell like the Bandaid brand adhesives from my childhood. Bandaids don’t have that distinctive odor any longer, but I was with a group of people who were my age or older and they understood what I meant.
Both of my parents were very sensory oriented. You could often find Mom sticking her nose up to a fresh cut pine board or Dad running his hands across the stones of a rock wall. After a childhood of watching them do this and feeling embarrassed by their naked admiration for the physical world, I turned into them.
Even though I won’t be becoming a professional olive oil taster, for reasons explained in my article yesterday, at home I carefully taste each bottle of extra virgin olive oil I open. I run through a mental checklist of what I am tasting and if it’s not defective I decide how I might use the oil in my cooking. As I explained in an article from last week, if the oil is defective, it goes straight into the trash bin. Why buy food that is fresh and increasingly more expensive and ruin it with a nasty oil? There is no compellingly reason to do that.
Tasting olive oil is different from tasting alcohol-based beverages. The alcohol in scotch, wine, or other spirits seems to act more like a vehicle for the smells and flavors, transporting them to your senses. With olive oil the taster has to do the transporting him or her self by employing strippaggio. The flavors do not seem to ‘bloom’ well unless strippaggio is employed. The easy way to find this out is to place a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in your mouth and just swallow. What did you taste? Could you identify any flavors? Then place a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in your mouth and from the front of the tongue begin to suck in air as the oil coats your mouth all the way to the back of your tongue, then swallow. Ask yourself again – what did you taste and could you identify any flavors? The answer will be yes. By the way the air sucking thing you just did is strippaggio.
Thanks to writing about olives and olive oil, and to making my tasting opinions known to all and sundry, my friends and family have ordained me an olive oil tasting expert. If they have some olive oil in the cabinet, they will present me with it and ask me to taste it. If its not labelled extra virgin or already opened then I get to say no. If it is labelled extra virgin and unopened then I feel honor bound to give it a go.
This past weekend I was in Savannah and popped over to my friend, Carol’s, house with a bottle of wine. We drank and chatted and she invited me back for breakfast the next morning before I headed back home. After breakfast Carol said, “Oh. I almost forgot. Someone gave me a bottle of extra virgin olive oil and I want you to tell me if its any good.” I gave her a little speech about the things I might be able to detect and the things I might not. She thrust the bottle at me.
We carefully read the labelling on the front and back: EVOO – Rachel Ray – Product of Italy – Expiration date in 2013 – Colavita … I grabbed a tablespoon and poured. I cupped my hands around the spoon and waited until it had warmed some, smelled, then tasted. The smell was oily which didn’t bode well. Then I had a tasting experience that confused me. It confused me so much that I forgot until almost too late to chase it with a caramel or peppermint.
The oil was greasy and rancid, but had a lot of pepper in the back of the throat. What did that mean? I didn’t think it was possible for such defects as greasy and rancid to be present along with a positive attribute – pepper. If you know, please tell me.
I got a piece of candy in time to keep from getting sick and unceremoniously said, “Chuck it!” I chewed my caramel and hit the road. Goodbye Carol. Goodbye Savannah. Good riddance Rachel Ray EVOO.
May the sun shine through your branches.