Olive Oil Tasting 101

Olive Oil Tasting 101

Have you ever wondered how an olive oil tasting works? A tasting combines technique and sensitivity to describe, classify and assess various olive oils from different areas, environments, and preparation methods. Each and every olive oil reveals its own combination of aromas, textures and flavors in an explosion of stimuli that we can analyze and break down into smaller, more manageable parts.

The idea is to put a name to this rush of information we receive through our senses in an orderly fashion. The first thing you need to know is that a tasting comprises of three different phases: appearance, aroma and taste. Our senses help us put a name to each individual part.

The first thing to assess is the appearance and color—how our eyes see it. Unlike in a wine tasting, for example, these characteristics do not necessarily tell us anything about the quality of an olive oil, but they do provide information on the kind of olive and when it was picked.

Generally speaking, green olives tend to produce greenish oils, whereas black olives yield yellowish oils. Golden hues come from late-picked ripe olives; yellowy greens, from unripe green olives. That’s why professional tasters use blue glasses to avoid being unduly swayed by the appearance.

A clean appearance with a yellow, golden or greenish hue suggests a good olive oil; cloudy, dirty, rusty-colored, off-white or reddish-looking olive oils are likely to be flawed.

This is the most complex phase, since our noses are very finely tuned. Tasters fill a cup a third full and gently warm it in their hand to release all the aromas (the ideal temperature is 82 ºF).

Without swirling, they bring the glass up to their nose and breathe in deeply to get a first impression. They then cover the glass with a watch glass and swirl the oil around inside. They smell the olive oil again, this time in a series of regular deep breaths that shouldn’t last more than 30 seconds.

After this analysis, they jot down their first impressions and the aromas they detected on a profile sheet, both positive (fruits, grass, figs, sweet smells, etc.) and negative (sour, metallic, rancid, musty, etc.).

This phase lets tasters assess the flavor, texture and intensity of the olive oil through their taste buds and is carried out in different stages. They sip about a teaspoon of olive oil through a half-open mouth and keep it in their closed mouth for about 5 seconds to warm it up. They then swirl it around their whole mouth without swallowing. Once they have coated their mouth from tongue to palate, they half-open their lips and take a couple of breaths to let some air in. Next they swirl the olive oil around their mouth again to take in all the sensations. After about 15 seconds more, they empty their mouth and note any aftertaste.

Positive sensations should include fresh or vegetable flavors with an almond or slightly bitter flavor; negative adjectives might include sour, acidic, vinegary, tart, rancid or metallic. The positive aromas and flavors in an olive oil come from the particular variety of the olive in question, whereas the negative ones arise during the process of making the olive oil. This phase also assesses the feel of the olive oil in the mouth: it may be watery, thinnish, smooth or syrupy.

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