One of the great local stops on our food tour is Art and Soul at 115 W Central Ave in Valdosta where we taste Georgia Olive Farms’ great extra-virgin olive oil. First, we learn a little about what goes into a tasting, then we actually do it. Here are our tips on the correct way to taste olive oil.
In tasting, the first thing you want to think about is tasting with your senses. We use our eyes. We use our sense of smell and then we taste. The color of olive oils generally range from a dark green to a pale yellow. The color is not an indicator of the oil’s flavor or quality. The color is really dependent upon what pressing of the olive it is.
We do get preconceptions about the flavor before actually smelling or tasting because of the color. To prevent this, professional olive oil tasters sample from specially designed blue glasses that obscure the color of the oil.
When tasting olive oil, much of the oil’s characteristics are perceived through smell. You want to get the aroma of the oil.
In order to do that, pour a small amount of oil (about 1 tablespoon) into a small container like a wine glass.
Cup the container in one hand and use your other hand to cover the glass. This will warm the oil and trap the aromas in the container. Next slightly swirl the oil to release its aroma.
Uncover the glass and inhale deeply from the top. Think about whether the aroma is mild or strong. The smell gives you a sense of the oil. And once you’ve done that, you’ve activated your nose. (The sense of smell is really important when tasting anything. You know how when you have a cold you can’t taste anything.)
Next slurp the oil by sipping a small amount of oil into your mouth while “sipping” some air as well. (When done correctly, you will make that impolite noise that would cause you to be scolded when you were a child!)
Slurping emulsifies the oil with air that helps to spread it throughout your mouth – giving you the chance to savor every nuance of flavor with just a small sip of oil.
Finish by swallowing the oil, noticing if it leaves a stinging sensation in your throat.
Each action focuses attention on a specific positive attribute in the oil. First, evaluate the olive fruit aroma (fruitiness) by inhaling from the glass. When the oil is in our mouths, we evaluate the aroma retro-nasally and determine amount of bitterness on our tongues.
The last step: determining the intensity of the oil’s pungency in our throats as we swallow. Sometimes one oil has a more pungent (more bitter) flavor than another. What happens is that when you swallow the oil it causes a chemical irritation in your throat that causes you to cough. Olive oil aficionados will often refer to olive oils as a one cough, a two cough, or even a three cough oil.
A fun thing to do is to have a tasting at home. Get three bottles of olive oil including our own Georgia Olive Farms. Invite a few friends and do this tasting just like we do on the tour. Then move on to pairing the oils with other food. You might try bread, some cheese, and slices of tomato or hummus. If you need to cleanse your palette during the tasting you can use water or a slice of apple.
Sniff, taste, and enjoy—the correct way to taste olive oil.