The evaluation of an extra virgin olive oil is usually entrusted to a testing panel of professional tasters who make their judgements according to the rigorous requirements set out by the International Olive Council.
We believe, however, that a knowledge of some oil tasting vocabulary and a few of the rules of the tasting process will of use to those wishing to distinguish an oil’s organoleptic qualities and identify its potential defects.
First of all, an oil should not be judged by its colour. This is because the colour is determined by a combination of factors, including the particular olive variety from which the oil is extracted, the ripeness of the olives at the moment of the harvest and particular extraction process used in the production of the oil.
Instread, we must learn to rely upon our senses of taste and smell if we wish to be able to identify the positive aspects — fruitiness, bitterness and spiciness — of an Extra Virgin Olive Oil
“Si definisce Extravergine di Oliva l’olio ottenuto dalla prima spremitura di olive attraverso processi meccanici, quindi senza ricorso a processi o sostanze chimiche, in condizioni che non causino alterazioni dell’olio e la cui acidità libera, espressa in acido oleico, non risulti superiore all’0,8%. Solo olive fresche, di prima qualità, colte e spremute, che non abbiano subito altro trattamento oltre al lavaggio, alla separazione da rametti e foglie, alla centrifugazione e alla filtrazione.”
(Reg. CE 1513/01)
HOW TO TASTE AN OLIVE OIL
- Pour not more than a spoonful of oil into a glass. Cover the glass with one hand and heat it with the palm of the other hand, rotating the glass gently in order to better bring out the oil’s volatile aromatic components.
- This done, uncover the glass and bring it close to your nose, breathing in slowly and deeply. If the oil of high quality, you should now be able to identify its fruity aromas: the perfumes of fresh, green or ripe fruit.
- Next, bring the glass to your lips and let a small amount of the oil spread across your tongue and palate. Then clench your teeth and breath in sharply. This operation serves to nebulise the oil’s volatile components and facilitates the contact of the aromas with the taste buds. Now spit out the oil.
- During this phase you should be able to taste the bitterness and spiciness of the olive oil: combined bitterness and spiciness is characteristic of oil obtained from green or barely ripened olives; bitterness alone is characteristic of the first oils of the season
HOW TO CONSERVE OLIVE OIL
Extra virgin olive oil, like all fats, is subject to a process of deterioration through oxidization, resulting in the deterioration of its organoleptic and nutritional qualities.
The principal enemies of olive oil are air, light and heat. It is therefore necessary to take measures to reduce oil’s contact with these elements and slow down the process of deterioration.
The bottle — which should preferably be dark in colour — or whichever other container is used to hold the oil, should be stored in a dark place, far from sources of heat, and should be closed immediately after use, so as to minimize the oil’s contact with the air.
It is also advisable to avoid the practice of topping up the oil in bottles, cruets or other vessels designed for serving oil at table. This is because the residue of left-over oil in such containers is exposed to air over time and can easily become rancid, meaning that it can ruin other oils that come into contact with it