While professional panels focus on detecting defects, the rest of us can focus on the fun part -appreciating the multitude of positive nuances in extra virgin olive oils!
Anyone can practice olive oil tasting, even a simple comparison at home or with a group of fellow EVOO-appreciators (like wine, group tasting gives you more variety at a lower out-of-pocket cost!) Groups can also help you learn more quickly, as easily-named flavors will be reinforced while some individuals will inevitably pick up notes others missed on the first pass.
Whether going solo or at a gathering, all you need are a few oils, a few tasting supplies and then follow the tips below or download a copy here:
- Consider both the aromas and the flavor sensations of each oil. Color is not an indication of quality, although it can influence a taster’s perception. Professionals use blue-tinted glasses to remove any bias based on color.
- Place about a tablespoon of the oil into your tasting glass (a wine glass works well, but small plastic soufflé cups are ok for the novice too – and make for easy clean-up!)
- Warm the oil by cupping your hands around and over the top of the glass and slowly rotate it so the oil sticks all around the sides.
- Remove your hand from the top of the glass and put your nose up close, inhaling to catch the aromas. Think about what you smell – is it green, ripe, earthy, mature, fruity? If you'd like, jot down your initial perceptions so you can refer back to them as you compare oils.
- Now taste! Sip enough oil to hold in your mouth and let the flavors cover your tongue. Make some noise by slowly sucking in some air, which will help release the flavors in the oil. Close your mouth and breathe out through your nose to increase the perceptions.
- What notes do you catch – Apple? Tomato? Herbs? Citrus? Nuts?
- Do you feel bitterness on your tongue? Pungency in the back of your throat?
- Think about the level of intensity of each sensation – are they balanced or does one dominate?
- Again, jot down some notes so you can look back and compare later.
- Cleanse your palate before moving on to the next oil. Sparkling or still water and slices of apple, such as Granny Smith, work well to get you ready for the next sample.
This video demonstrates the process too. Once you’ve had your fill of EVOO shots, have some real fun by working on pairing different oils with different foods. You’ll be amazed at the variety and results!
For the ultimate tasting experience, consider the Extra Virgin Olive Oil Savantes program, which comes to the U.S. once or twice each year. The August 2015 Olive Oil Conference covers the Savantes methods as well - email firstname.lastname@example.org for a special discount to attend both programs in Chicago this year!