Mar 242012

I just read two articles regarding the alleged International Olive Council’s (IOC) intention to remove sensory evaluation from qualification for extra virgin olive oils from IOC member countries. The first article is from Tom Mueller, the author of Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil entitled Vanishing Viginity? and the second from the Olive Oil Times entitled Non-Member Chemists Kept Out of Olive Council Meeting.

Let me give some unvarnished advice from someone who is familiar with and loves brutal public relations and political campaigns (same thing really). If what is alleged turns out to be true – this is a gift. Take it and spin the hell out of it!!!!!

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.

Feb 242012

Ever since I wrote about the Organizzazione Nazionale Assaggiatori Olio di Oliva’s (ONAOO) Olive Oil Tasting Course in English in Imperia, Italy I’ve had lots of folks ask if there were any olive oil tasting classes in the United States. So here you go dear readers. Please share with your oleophilic friends.

If you want to attend, make sure you register soon. The price goes up on March 1st.

Sensory Evaluation of Olive Oil
University of California, Davis
March 30 & 31, 2012

This two-day course is designed for olive oil producers and processors, food retailers and marketers, food service professionals, chefs, and consumers. The course will include discussions and tastings that will focus on:

  • The basics of olive oil sensory evaluation
  • Mechanics of how to taste olive oil
  • How to identify sensory defects in olive oil
  • The role of maturity and variety in oil flavor and style
  • Sensory evaluation as a science
  • An overview of processing alternatives their effects on oil style, and positive oil characteristics
  • Tasting of single variety oils
  • How to evaluate olive oil quality
  • Consumer olive oil preferences
  • Blind tastings of oils from around the world

Who: Paul Vossen, Cooperative Extensive Farm Advisor, Sonoma-Marin Counties
Where: Silverado Vineyards Sensory Theater, Robert Mondavi Institute Sensory Building, UC Davis
When: Friday, March 30th and Saturday, March 31st, 2012
Prerequisite: No prerequisite necessary
Price: $495 full two-day program, fees increase to $545 on March 1st
Registration: Available through UC Davis Campus Events
Contact: Nicole Sturzenberger,
Hotels: The Olive Center has secured special rates for attendees at the Hallmark Inn in Davis,  $109/night for one King, $119/night for two Queens. Our group code is UCD Olive. Please call the hotel for details, (530) 753-3600.

Here is a copy of the tentative agenda.

Agenda (Tentative)

Sensory Evaluation of Olive Oil

Friday March 30, 2012 – Olive Oil Sensory Basics
8:30 am Coffee and pastries – registration and parking (unless you paid for parking you will get a ticket)
9:00 am Welcome and IntroductionDan Flynn, Director of the UC Davis Olive Center, Davis, CA
9:05 am Lecture: Mechanics and Vocabulary of Olive Oil Tasting; Sensory Science as it Pertains to Olive Oil; Recognizing Scents in Olive Oil; Blue Glass; Profile Sheets; Taste Panel; IOC Recognition; Positive Attributes in Olive Oil as Influenced by Variety and Maturity.Tasting: Olive Oil Attributes (5 oils to taste).Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Sonoma-Marin Counties
10:15 am Break
10:45 am 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
12:00 pm Lunch
1:00 pm Lecture: An Evaluation of the Sensory Properties of Australian Olive Oils.Richard Gawel, Founder of the Australian Taste Panel and Olive Oil Judge
1:30 pm Lecture: World View of Olive Production and Consumption; History of Olive Oil Production in Europe; Influences on California and the New World.Tasting: Traditional Styles (6 oils to taste).Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Sonoma-Marin Counties
2:45 pm Break
3:15 pm Lecture: Olive Oil Standards and Quality; UC Study on Oils in the California Market.Dan Flynn, Director of the UC Olive CenterTasting: California and Its Competition; UC Research in Improving Quality (6 oils to taste).Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Sonoma-Marin Counties Questions: Session on Improving California’s Olive Oils.
4:30 pm Adjourn No-host reception at Seasons (1st and F Streets, Davis)
Saturday March 31, 2012 – Exploring Oil Styles
8:30 am Pastries, Coffee, and Juice
9:00 am Lecture: Single Varietal Olive Oils; Distinct Styles of Oil by Variety.Tasting: Single-Varietal Oils (taste 6 oils).Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Sonoma-Marin Counties
9:45 am Lecture: Olive Oil and Food.Fran Gage, Chef, Author, Olive Oil Judge, and UC Taste Panel member
10:15 am Break
10:45 am Lecture: Health Benefits of Olive Oil; The Science and the Hype.Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Sonoma-Marin Counties
11:15 am Lecture: The Effects of Modern Cultural Practices on Olive Oil Quality. Irrigated or Non-Irrigated, Organic or Conventional, and High Density or Medium Density.Tasting: Oils direct from producers (taste 4 oils).Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Sonoma-Marin Counties
12:15 pm Lunch
1:15 pm Lecture: Flavored Olive Oils.Tasting: (5 flavored oils).Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Sonoma-Marin Counties
2:00 pm Lecture: The Best of the Best; In-Depth Analysis of Well-Made Olive Oils.Tasting: Award Winning Oils from Around the World (3 oils).Darrell Corti, Corti Brothers, Sacramento (invited)
2:45 pm Break
3:15 pm Lecture: You Be the Judge – What Makes an Award Winning Oil? Taste Along with a Panel of Judges as if in a Competition Awarding Medals. (taste 6 oils).Judges: Paul Vossen, Fran Gage, and Darrell Corti (invited)
4:15 pm Adjourn


Now, go register!

May the sun shine through your branches.

Feb 232012

Have you kept up with all the news about fake olive oil or low-grade olive oil being passed off as extra virgin? I have and even though I just had my first official taste testing, I do test each bottle I buy. So you’re probably thinking – what do I do if my olive oil doesn’t taste right? TAKE IT BACK TO THE STORE. I do and they always take it back and refund my money.

Like with any food, trial and error is the key to finding and consuming fresh and tasty products. One important thing to remember about olive oil – it is a food and is perishable – fresh is best. It is harvested in late fall and early winter in the Northern Hemisphere and late spring and early summer in the Southern Hemisphere. There are many factors that affect flavor and quality from weather to milling to bottling to storage.

There are many books and articles on olive oil tasting, but for home taste testing I prefer the methods used by Culinary Professional, Deborah Krasner, in her lovely and well-researched book, The Flavors of Olive Oil: A Tasting Guide and Cookbook.

Deborah helps make taste testing simpler and more accessible. She developed her own classifications that focus on the flavors of oil. This is a more useful way of matching oils with foods. Her categories are:

  • Delicate and Mild – Subtle and short-lived, not to be confused with tasteless. Goes well with tender lettuces, fresh peas, mild cheeses.
  • Fruity and Fragrant – Blend of rich tastes and smells of apples and green leafy vegetables. Drizzle on pasta, mixed salads, oranges, dessert cheeses, chicken breasts.
  • Olivey and Peppery – Taste and smell begins as rich olive and finishes in the throat with a zing. Use for roasting meats, in pasta sauces, on breads, on whole grains.
  • Leafy Green and Grassy – Taste and smell of strong herbs. Dress pasta with just oil, garlic, and cheese; strong-flavored salads; garnish for bean soups.

Now that you know what flavors to look for and some of the foods those flavors enhance, follow these tips for holding your own extra virgin olive oil taste test at home.

  • Purchase and assemble the extra virgin olive oils you wish to test. Deborah Krasner suggests you choose oils that are estate-bottled (processed and bottled on the premises where they were grown) from at least four different countries. I recommend picking evoo from several countries around the world, not just Mediterranean. There are so many selections to choose from – be adventurous.
  • Buy a bunch of the 5oz. wax coated paper cups. The kind you find in some folks bathrooms. They are good for testing since they don’t alter the taste and conduct radical temperature changes. Make sure you buy enough so that you do not reuse a cup.
  • Pour about one tablespoon of oil in each cup. Make sure that one tablespoon is sufficient to completely coat your tongue and your throat when swallowed. You must be able to engage taste, touch, and smell with each sample. If you need more oil in your cup, add it.
  • The best time to have an evoo taste test is mid morning. Your senses are sharper at that time of day.
  • Do not eat anything spicy or strongly-flavored for several hours before a taste test and nothing about an hour before. Cleanse your palate with a green/Granny Smith apple and some plain water before beginning.
  • Hold the cup in both your hands to warm to body temperature. Cover the opening with your hands as well to trap the aromas.
  • Put your nose in the cup and smell the aromas.
  • Take a sufficient amount into your mouth to swirl around and coat your tongue.
  • Suck in a little air and swallow.
  • From the time you inhale the first aromas to the time you swallow the oil take note of the flavors, scents, and feel of the oil.
  • Record your findings. If you smell, taste or feel something different than you see listed in any olive tasting guides or glossaries, write it down just like your senses picked it up. Olive oil is produced in more and more places around the world and the sensory guidelines are bound to add new attributes and defects over time.
  • Take a bite of apple and a sip of water and try the next oil.
  • After you have completed the round, do it again, but this time in a different order. You might be surprised at the differences you pick up the second time around.
  • Now that these bottles have been opened, store them in a cool (not cold) dark place. With time the tastes you picked up may change a little or a lot. Save your notes and if you still have some oil left in about six months (hopefully not) conduct another test and you will have some good information on what an oil tastes like as it ages. Some become more mellow and others not so nice.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Feb 212012

Before my son, James, went off to Army Basic Training yesterday he helped me conduct Olive Crazy’s first non-professional extra virgin olive oil taste test. Like true non-professionals we made up our own rules and had fun with it.

First we read over the lists of positive olive oil attributes and negative attributes aka defects that we gleaned from The Olive Oil Times. Then we decided to make up our own tasting terminology and to keep it simple – either it was a keeper or it was headed for the trash bin. If it was a keeper we distinguished the oils by the way we used them, and since James and I are the big olive oil users in the house we got to pick the words that best suited our needs, likes, and dislikes.

The keeper category was divided into three sub-categories based on how we cook and consume, not which we thought was better. We found some colored star stickers in a drawer and decided to use the colors to help us remember which oil was in which category.

A gold star was given for the stronger flavored oils that James and I tend to prefer. A silver star for those that were milder in flavor but had a lot of character. A blue star was given to the oils that we would use in everday cooking for ourselves and the other members of the Olive Crazy household. We put the stars on the bottles to help guide us whenever we prepared a dish. We usually have a lot of different types of extra virgin olive oils around the house so we definitely needed some sort of system.

The ‘destined for the trash bin’ category was not subdivided. If it didn’t smell or taste of fresh olives it didn’t deserve further acknowledgement.

Our extra virgin test subjects were the seven olive oils I just purchased from the California Olive Ranch: Limited Reserve, Everyday California, Arbequina, Arbosana, Miller’s Blend, Oroville Ranch, and Artois Ranch. I had some little disposable plastic cups and a big glass of water for each of us at the ready.

We warmed the oil in our hands by cradling one cup in the  palm of one hand while covering the top of the cup with the other hand. I’m not sure if we were supposed to swirl or not but we did a little bit. It seemed the natural thing to do. We then stuck our noses into the cups and took big, deep sniffs. I showed James how to do strippaggio by sucking in the air along with the olive oil as it travels from the front to the back of the tongue. I am over zealous when I am strippaggioing and always end up choking myself on the oil flying around my mouth. James got lots of laughs out of Mom coughing on the oil which went up the back of my nose combined with the coughing at the bright peppery tang of most of the oils as I swallowed. I swear all that coughing felt like exercise.

After about a half an hour and some re-tasting I am proud to say that none of the California Olive Ranch EVOOs were trash bin worthy. Each oil had a beautiful aroma of fresh olives and while each was different, each was also delicious. Here are our very non-professional findings.

Gold Star (Stronger Flavor)

  • Miller’s Blend – This was our favorite. It had a rich olive scent that smelled like broiled New York Strip steak. It was buttery, grassy, with a strong pepper finish. James and I agreed we would use this oil in all our cooking.
  • Arbequina – The initial aroma was clean and light. After the milder scent we were surprised at the robust flavors of fruit and artichokes. It had a nice peppery finish. Again we would use this one for everything.
  • Oroville Ranch – This olive oil isn’t on the California Olive Ranch website anymore. It had a light olive scent with a powerful, bold flavor and a big pepper punch. Wonderful.

Silver Star (More Complex Flavors)

  • Arbosana – A light, fresh olive smell. The flavor was very distinctive unlike any of the other oils. We tasted strong fruit, nuts, and green vegetables. There wasn’t much pepper at the end. It was a favorite.
  • Limited Reserve – A rich olive aroma. Sharp with a mixed green vegetables flavor. Had a great chewy feel. Lots of bold pepper going down the throat. Amazing.

Blue Star (Mild and Less Complex)

  • Everyday California – Buttery, slight fruit but almost sweet. Some surprising pepper. I do use this extra virgin every single day.
  • Artois Ranch – Like the Oroville Ranch it isn’t on the website any longer. This was by far the mildest of all the oils. Light aroma, less viscosity, very little pepper. An excellent all around olive oil and great for evoo beginners.

As you may have guessed the color of the stars doesn’t have anything to do with how good the olive oil is but with flavor categories. I just happened to have an abundance of stars in these three colors.

Taste testing these California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oils was a fun and interesting activity for a Mom and her now soldier son. Hooah!!

May the sun shine through your branches.