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 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.

Jul 012011

Right after the Olive Crazy family’s visit to the Viansa Winery and Marketplace we quickly came upon the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. I saw the sign for The Olive Press, Mr. Olive Crazy executed a quick right turn, and the young olives groaned. They all asked to wait in the car and I was happy to oblige.

The Jacuzzi Family Vineyards have a lovely Tuscan replica building which houses their retail activities. Mr. Olive Crazy parked in a far corner so I entered a side door that took me through an art show. I did my best not to look, since I know I can barely resist the siren song of “works of art”. I held my breath until I made it into a courtyard where families licked ice cream cones. It wasn’t my destination so I kept on moving. I had this vague feeling of being in the library labyrinth in the fictional Italian monastery from Umberto Eco‘s novel, “The Name of the Rose”. At last I reached the main entry way and was presented with three choices: on the right, wine tasting; in the center, the door out; and on the left, The Olive Press. Into The Olive Press I went.

The room was large, but not as large as the wine tasting room, and the walls were covered with olive and olive leaf decorated items, condiments, olives, and olive oils. Keeping my mission in mind; to find and taste extra virgin olive oils that were grown and milled locally, with the identity of the grower and the olive variety easily obtainable; I headed to the olive oil tasting counter.

I was greeted by one of the three enthusiastic women who were working the counter and told her what I was looking for, she deferred to another woman who showed me the four extra virgin olive oils that fit my description. The four extra virgin olive oils I tried were: Lunigiana, bold and peppery; Marquesa, mild; Grove 45, fruity up front, grassy, with a peppery finish; Jacuzzi, mild up front, then peppery, with a strong bitter finish. I had some help with the taste identification from the third of the women behind the counter, since I am not yet able to name most of the different attributes and defects using the correct lingo, but I do know which oil is good and which is bad. Each oil was very different and I could easily identify which would best complement different dishes.

I then took notes on my tasting and decided to return another day, preferably during the week, when I could spend more time tasting, testing and buying. I thanked the ladies and headed for the car, but not before eavesdropping on the conversation between two men from Miami who were chatting about their wealth and how they were sure they could buy huge tracts of land in Sonoma for their own vineyards – blah, blah, tacky.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Jun 292011

It was an idyllic California day. The sun was shining. The ocean mists billowed off the Pacific. San Quentin stood majestic in the distance. Car racing enthusiasts clogged highway 121 on the way to Sonoma, and on the journey back, on the 101, Mother Goose ran in front of my car and shortly after Bambi came and trotted alongside.

Mother Goose was shooed back to the side of the road. Bambi stuck to her own lane. The racing enthusiasts weren’t avoidable – let me insert some “Sarge” of “Beetle Bailey” language here #@!^%$#. And, I had the pleasure of being regaled by Mr. Olive Crazy of every San Quentin resident, past and present. Btw, he wins at trivia a lot.

Now to the topic at hand.

Folks know California’s Sonoma Valley for its wineries and wine tasting tours, but that’s not why Olive Crazy went there. I went to Sonoma to taste extra virgin olive oil and the reviews are mixed.

I tasted extra virgin olive oils in three locations: Viansa Winery and Marketplace, The Olive Press located at the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, and Figone’s Olive Oil Company. I also visited Hook & Ladder Winery in Santa Rosa, but will make an appointment to meet with the De Loach family another day to discuss and taste their olive oil.

What I was looking for were extra virgin olive oils that were grown and milled locally, with the identity of the grower and the olive variety easily obtainable.


The Viansa Winery and Marketplace is a beautiful location with lots of vines, flowers, and olive trees. Viansa sports a Tuscan-style building with inviting patios and a large, cool room which houses the marketplace. Inside the marketplace are two opposite walls lined with wine tasting bars. Along the back wall are food and drink cabinets tended to by helpful employees. In the center and along another wall are tables of items for sale, and the condiment and olive oil tasting cart.

After getting the lay of the land I approached the condiment and olive oil cart. I asked the young lady offering samples if Viansa had an extra virgin olive oil produced from it’s own or local olives. She said she wasn’t sure where the oil came from or what variety(ies) made up the oil. She said there was a guy who worked there who might be able to help me but he was busy that day.

I looked over the selection of oils and all but one was a flavored olive oil. I am always suspicious of flavored olive oils, so I tried the one non-flavored evoo available. The young lady took a little plastic cup, tossed a piece of bread in it and attempted to pour. I stopped her and asked to taste the oil on its own without the lump of bread, then I made my best attempt to follow all the evoo taste testing lessons I have gleaned from the internet and books. I don’t want to be overly dramatic here but it was not good – it reminded me of the gloopy little bottle of bad tasting olive oil my Mom had when I was a kid, only this olive oil hadn’t thickened up yet.

Now, in all fairness, Viansa is a winery, and judging from the number of friends who asked me to pick them up a bottle of their favorite Viansa wine, it must be a good one. I am guessing the few folks that wander over to the condiment and olive oil tasting cart aren’t like me, looking to  have their socks knocked off by a spectacular extra virgin olive oil, but I would like to make a suggestion: Dear Viansa, please open a fresh bottle of extra virgin olive oil and keep the cap on. I’ll be back with a U-Haul for the wine.

May the sun shine through your branches.