How to Taste Extra Virgin Olive Oil

How to Taste Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Degustazione Olio Extravergine d'oliva

Extra virgin olive oil, just like wine, is one of the greatest Italian culinary excellences produced. It’s not just a condiment but a fundamental base ingredient of local cuisine. It is precisely this reason that makes it necessary to recognize an olive oil’s importance and not fall prey to counterfeit oils and scams that are unfortunately diffused throughout all quality Italian food sectors.

Italy has precise experts within the wine tasting industry to ensure quality – the role of the sommelier. The role of “oil sommelier” does not exist for extra virgin olive oil, but this does not mean that we should fall into the trap of counterfeit oils. Restaurants and hotels who want to maintain high quality standards, find professionals who know how to distinguish a quality olive oil from a fake.

To properly enjoy an extra virgin olive oil, there are 3 basic steps to follow: visual perception, smell and taste.

shutterstock_332949314Visual. This is focused mostly on color. The pale looking yellow oils are most typical of Northern Italy, especially those of Liguria, while deep yellow oils are generally from southern Italy from Apulia to Campania. Tuscan oils generally have a marked green color which is an indication of a mature oil harvest. Brown color in oil, in most cases is not a good sign. This color indicates a poor state of preservation of the product which has come into contact with excess oxidation.
In addition to the color of the oil, the fluidity is just as important and can be understood by the way in which the oil descends on the glass. An extra virgin olive oil which has a low degree of fluidity will not flow on the glass like water. Oils which have a higher fluidity and polyunsaturated fatty acids such as seed oils, are more suitable for frying than in a salad dressing. These oils are also less desirable for our arteries!

Olfactory. This is just as important for oil as it is for wine. It is in this step that we can understand if an oil delivers what it promises. There are a series of steps involved in understanding this. Heat first of all – cup the glass with the palm of your hand, cover it with the other hand to keep the aromas intact. The ideal serving temperature is around 82ºF (28 ºC) in order to preserve the organoleptic components of the oil. After heating the glass with your hand, bring the glass to your nose and inhale. Repeat this 3 or 4 times in order to take in all the nuances, aromas and aftertaste. If the aromas of fresh fruit linger, the oil will be considered “olive fruity”, however if the aromas are sweeter, the oil will be considered “mature fruity”.

Taste. Approach the glass to your lips and taste it. Like wine, oil should be sipped all at once. Spread the oil along the surface of the palate with the help of your tongue. Now comes the important part – while the oil is still present in your mouth, begin to suck air through your teeth, keeping your tongue firm against your palate and your semi-open lips. This process will allow for the evaporation of aromas, bringing them into direct contact with the taste buds. This helps identify the complex hints of the oil from the bitter of toasted fruit to the sweet or saltiness of the oil.

Before tasting oil, there are a few tips that you must abide by for the full experience. Do not smoke for at least one hour before – it would be best not to smoke at all, especially for a true sommelier. Do not expose yourself to overly perfumed environments and for the same reason, do not wear perfumes or deodorants that are too heavy. Do not eat anything before the tasting. And finally – during the last step of oil tasting, when the oil is in your mouth, you may feel a marked aftertaste of spice in your mouth. This means that the oil is not only great quality, but also has a high concentration of antioxidant polyphenols – a true blessing for your cardiovascular health!