This season we partnered with the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) to offer a collection of the best extra-virgin olive oils on the market. COOC Education Coordinator Nancy Ash explained that like wine, oils should be tasted using a specific four-step method to best showcase and appreciate their flavors.
There are dozens of words tasters use to describe the flavors and characteristics of olive oils, but in general, extra-virgin oils fall into three categories: mild, medium and robust. Mild oils may be nutty, buttery, floral or fruity, with notes of ripe or tropical fruits. Medium oils may also have a fruity profile, but their aromas and flavors are reminiscent of underripe, green fruits. Many are herbal, grassy or vegetal. Finally, robust oils are strong in flavor, often described as woody, peppery or astringent, with a strong grassy flavor that lingers on the palate.
A couple of notes: Sip each oil “neat,” without bread or other food, in an odor-free environment. Professional tasters use blue glasses so they aren’t influenced by an oil’s color, which doesn’t indicate quality or flavor. To taste, follow the four S’s:
Cover the glass and allow it to gently warm in your hand, then swirl to release the oil’s aroma molecules. Keep the oil covered until you’re ready to sniff.
Uncover the oil and quickly inhale from the rim of the glass. Take note of the intensity and the description of the aroma.
Take a small sip of the oil while also “sipping” some air — this will emulsify the oil and spread it throughout your mouth. Note the retro-nasal aroma and the intensity of bitterness.
Since an oil’s pungency is judged by a sensation in your throat, you need to swallow at least a small amount to evaluate it properly. If the oil makes your throat scratchy or makes you want to cough, it is pungent.