Oct 112012
Frantoio Grove extra virgin olive oil from November 2011 harvest.

Last week I was given a bottle of olive oil by one of my classmates, Jeff Martin. Jeff is the owner of Frantoio Grove in Gilroy, California and was also attending the two milling courses held at UC Davis taught by Pablo Canamasas of Australia’s Boundary Bend. I met Jeff during a class break in front of the Alfa Laval table. Alfa Laval sells olive milling and other heat transfer equipment.

The Alfa Laval rep, who I had met this past summer at the UC Davis olive oil tasting courses I attended, remembered that the oil from the Frantoio cultivar/variety of olives is my favorite. Yada yada. I had a bottle of Frantoio Grove to bubble wrap and check through on my flight from Sacramento to Atlanta.

There was no expectation on Jeff’s part that I would like the oil or even write about it. I have tasted lots of oils and have had nothing to say about them.

Two days after I got home I invited my friend Eva over to sample the oil with me. I grabbed a couple of little plastic cups and poured some for each of us. I gave Eva a little lesson in olive oil tasting. We placed the cups in the palm of one hand and then covered the top of the cup with the other. We warmed the oil with our hands while gently circulating the oil in the cup.

We stuck our noses in the cups and sniffed. Both of us making sounds of delight. The scents were herbaceous and floral. Herbaceous usually indicates an early harvest and floral a later harvest, but both scents were definitely there. We each took a sip. I tried to do the strippaggio, which is a special tooth-sucking action that adds some oxygen to the oil while coating part of the mouth and enhances any attributes or defects in the oil. I’m not good at strippaggioing and made Eva laugh. She tried it too and did much better than me.

The oil was mellow with a little bit of a sting at the back of the throat. The sting is a good thing.

Jeff’s Frantoio Grove single cultivar extra virgin olive oil is an oil that is easy to use. I have enjoyed it on everything from the morning eggs and biscuits to the evening rice, pork chops and green beans. It’s a versatile olive oil. It adds character to a meal, but doesn’t overpower it.

Here is a link to Jeff’s online store. As usual, here is my disclaimer – nope, I’m not making any money from your purchase of Jeff’s olive oil.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Jun 102012

A few weeks ago I opened my email and there it was, another taste-testing class opportunity at UC Davis. I read all about it and then pondered whether or not to attend. Finally I mentioned it to Mr. Olive Crazy. Instead of sympathy for my problems (see my article “My Dark Secret“) he just called me a wimp.

I have a physical reaction to nasty foods and flavors and am terrified that during the negative-attributes tasting I will embarrass myself.

Here is the transcript of our conversation:

OC: There’s a Sensory Evaluation Master Class at UC Davis on July 27 and 28. It looks interesting.

Mr. OC: (not looking up from the ESPN app on his iPhone) You’re really thinking of going?

OC: Wellllll. I don’t know.

Mr. OC: (still looking at baseball scores) You’re a wimp.

OC: (temporarily stunned since I’ve never been called a wimp) But, but I …

Mr. OC: (passionately jabbing his phone screen) I thought you wanted to take the UC Davis Milling Courses this fall?

OC: (now sensing a trap) Yeah?

Mr. OC: Don’t millers taste the oil they’re producing?

OC: Well yeah.

Mr. OC: (looking up from his phone) So go sign up. I’ve been looking for a flight for you.

Conceding defeat to my left-brained husband who knows me very well, I went straight to the computer and signed up. I wondered if I should pinch a few air sick bags from the plane when I arrive or if one would be enough.

May the sun shine through your branches.


May 032012

I have been positively olive green with envy as gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bars and shops open their doors around the US. Why? Because none of them were in or near Atlanta. Atlanta is one of the biggest, most densely-populated, food-conscious metropolitan areas in the United States. What’s wrong, I thought?

Do folks think we don’t like excellent quality extra virgin olive oil? We do. Do they think we don’t use olive oil? We do. Do they think we’re still feeling a bit tender about the War of Northern Aggression? Well…, despite all that, we do love olive oil and even traded in our Confederate money for some US coin, and can afford to buy it too. Atlanta is sitting smack-dab in the middle of the most-coveted, most-untapped world olive oil market, the east coast of the US. I have been mystified, until now…

There’s a new extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar and gourmet food shop in metro Atlanta. It’s the Branch & Vine in Newnan, Georgia. This discovery, thanks to my friend, Pam N., called for a field trip. So last Tuesday, I gassed up the ole Caddy and headed down I-85 toward Alabama.

Pam had already been to Branch & Vine the weekend before and was excited to show me around. She didn’t need to because as soon as we entered a lovely, young woman named Jasmine greeted us. In true Southern form Pam, Jasmine, and I started all talking at once and with a high level of excitement. One of the owners, Tracey Jenkins, was there, helping another customer with her purchase. As soon as she was done she came over and joined the fun.

Jasmine and Tracey explained all about the different extra virgin olive oils Branch & Vine had to offer, each prettily sitting in it’s own steel container know as a fusti (I sense another Olive Crazy article in the future all about fustis). We discussed the array of flavored and infused oils. I told them about my trip to Oliviers & Co., my flavored oils taste test, and my article about flavored vs. infused oils.

I asked Tracey who her supplier was and then held my breath. “Veronica Foods,” she said. “Yay, the Bradleys,” I said, relieved and breathing again. I now knew I could purchase the oils I wanted for my next taste-test article and promptly purchased one each of all the infused extra virgins.

My purchases made and a list of future Olive Crazy article topics stored in my head, Pam and I tackled the balsamic vinegars. Oh my goodness! I was in heaven. I tried the Chocolate vinegar, the Espresso vinegar, the Grapefruit vinegar, and many more. Then Tracey brought out a tray of vanilla ice cream and suggested we try either a vinegar or olive oil on it. I chose Red Apple vinegar. Wow! Thanks Tracey.

It was time to move on. I promised Tracey I would email the links to the articles I would write. Pam and I left contact information, and much satisfied with our visit, went to dinner.

If you are in the Atlanta area either call the store at 770-253-3008 for directions or follow this handy Olive Crazy-enhanced map of it’s location. The Branch & Vine is on a zip code line that messes up the ability to find it using mapping programs. Bummer.

May the sun shine through your branches.


Feb 272012

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.


Feb 262012

My engineer/chemist husband periodically goes for training to up his game and believes I should do the same. After all, the world of olives and olive oil is not just fun, it’s very technical. Since last year Mr. Olive Crazy has been trying to get me to go to an olive oil tasting class, and I have managed to come up with an excuse each time.

First there was the Olive Oil Sensory Class in Paso Robles, California last fall. I made up some lame excuse about it being out of the way, but then got really sick so I got out of that one.

Then there was the Organizzazione Nazionale Assaggiatori Olio di Oliva’s (ONAOO) Olive Oil Tasting Course in English which was held last November in Imperia, Italy. I had the week off from everything, including the kids, and Mr. Olive Crazy insisted I attend. I muttered something about laundry and being tired. There was no laundry and I wasn’t tired, but he bought it.

Now there’s the Sensory Evaluation of Olive Oil Course on March 30th and 31st at the University of California, Davis campus. The only conceivable excuse I have is that the Georgia Legislature might be in Session on March 30th, but that’s not likely. I guess I must ‘fess up and reveal “My Dark Secret”.

I am terrified. I know that sounds crazy but bear with me here. Look closely at the description for the lecture and tasting that will take place at 10:45 am on March 30th. I even highlighted the thing that scares me.

Lecture: What is Olive Oil; How Olive Oil is Made; Effects of Processing on Oil Flavor; Classic Olive Oil Defects and Positive Attributes.Tasting: What Makes an Oil Extra Virgin (6 oils to taste).
Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Sonoma-Marin Counties

I have a finely-honed gag reflex, and I know what will happen if I taste a nasty olive oil. Yup – that.

Thanks to those pregnancies two decades ago, I can now barf on command, and the command comes from my brain. Describe something nasty to me – barf! Point out the squashed animal in the road – barf! Make me taste and swallow something fusty, moldy, grubby, greasy, rancid, muddy, or metallic – barf!

I am a little sad that I can’t play with all the other folks who taste and judge numerous olive oils for fun and profit, but I most certainly will continue to carefully check the flavors of each extra virgin olive oil that I buy. I just won’t share with you my physical reaction to a bad olive oil other than I pitched it in the trash.

May the sun shine through your branches.