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Olive Oil Tasting in Paso Robles -- the why, how, and fun of it!
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Greek mythology, the Gods Athena and Poseidon competed to give mortals the best
gift. It was a fierce competition
because Athens was the prize. Athena won
with the olive tree, which is no surprise to the Paso-area olive oil
producers. They are passionate about
olive trees and their lovingly crafted olive oils, and are delighted to talk
about why they are drawn to this ancient rhythm of olive tree fruiting,
harvest, milling and oil.
so maybe you’ve never been olive oil tasting and you imagine that it will be
boring and -- well -- greasy. Or maybe
you have done some tasting, but you weren’t sure what you were looking for when
you took those little sips. After all,
you’re not going to take your olive oil home and sip it like a cocktail. So here’s the low down on olive oil
tasting: the why and how and where you
can have fun meeting those strange and passionate locals who have devoted
themselves to producing some of the best olive oil in the world.
If you’ve never tasted anything but bland supermarket olive oil, prepare
to be surprised when you taste California’s central coast olive oil. The freshness and quality of olive oil make a
huge difference to the flavor. In fact,
a UC Davis study showed that most of the imported brands of olive oil found in
supermarkets and labeled “extra virgin” don’t meet industry standards for extra
virgin. These olive oils are often old
and rancid, contain low-grade refined olive oil, or may even contain oil that
isn’t from olives. Try a taste of the
supermarket olive oil in your cupboard -- just pour a little into a small cup
or shot glass, smell it, and taste it straight without the benefit of bread,
seasonings or vinegar. Do you get a whiff of something that reminds
you of fingernail polish remover? Does it taste greasy? Is it quite
tasteless? If yes to any of these, you
are missing out on the delicious flavors and health benefits of fresh,
authentic extra virgin olive oil. So
give olive oil tasting a try when you’re in the Paso area. It will be a very different experience from
sipping on Bertolli.
Tasting olive oil is a bit like tasting wine. It’s fun and easy; what’s best is a matter of
personal taste; and the more experience and background you gain the more you’ll
appreciate taste distinctions. When
you’re tasting, I suggest that you smell the olive oil first -- ideally after
warming the tasting cup in one hand while covering the top of the cup with your
other hand. Spending a half-minute
warming the cup like this will intensify the aromatic components of the oil,
making it possible to smell the “fruitiness” of the olives that make up the
oil. Fresh, authentic extra virgin olive
oil may smell like grass, hay, herbs, nuts, tropical fruit, or even floral --
different varieties of olives will give olive oil different smells and
flavors. Then take a little sip of the
olive oil, slowly coating your mouth with the oil before swallowing. The surprise is the perky flavors you’ll
experience. Three “good” flavor
components are distinguishable in extra virgin olive oil, and olive oil people
refer to these as fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency.
- Fruitiness flavors may include hints of green
tea, green apples, artichoke, tomato, almonds, banana.
- Bitterness is another natural flavor
component of extra virgin olive oil, with different oils varying a lot in the
intensity of their bitterness.
- Pungency is a pepperiness at the back of the
throat that may make you cough. Extra
virgin olive oils higher in polyphenols, which are antioxidants and have health
benefits, will be more pungent.
extra virgin olive oils are very diverse in their flavors, and your own
personal preference should be your guide when you taste. My favorites tend to be robust --intensely
grassy, bitter, and peppery -- but some prefer more delicately flavored olive
oils. It’s fun to experiment with
different kinds. Try different olive
oils with bread, drizzled over steamed veggies and grilled meats, on baked
potatoes and pasta, and as salad dressings.
Olive oils infused with added flavors such as lemon, orange, and basil
can also be fun additions to your cooking.
We Olive in historic downtown Paso Robles specializes in California
produced olive oils, and there you can taste many different labels of extra
virgin olive oil, including many that are produced right in Paso Robles. The olive oils are displayed on a gorgeous
bar, and lined up from delicate to robust in flavor intensity.
venture out to farmland around Paso and Templeton to visit the olive oil makers
themselves. You can taste their “liquid
gold” amidst their olive orchards.
We invite you to visit us at Kiler Ridge Olive
Farm. Other area farms are also regularly
open for olive oil tasting, including Alta Cresta, Olea Farm, Olivos de Oro,
and Pasolivo. And still more are open by
appointment, including Berardo, Casa Pau Hana, Fandango and Olio Nuevo. A full listing of olive oil retailers,
growers, and producers in the central coast can be found at www.centralcoastolivegrowers.org/Members
check out the olive oil side of Paso wine country -- it will be fun and not
Burnam is the owner of Kiler Ridge Olive Farm with her husband, Gregg
Bone. Audrey & Gregg produce extra virgin olive oils from Italian
olive varieties grown on their farm in Paso Robles, and offer olive oil
tasting, food pairings, and tours of their orchards and mill. Audrey is
also a part-time senior scientist at the RAND Corporation, in Santa Monica.