How to Taste Virgin Olive Oil like a True Sommelier
In our previous article we talked about how panels assess and taste virgin olive oil. If you haven’t read it yet but would like to, click here.
Now, we’re going to discuss how fun and easy it can be to taste oil in the comfort of your own home, with your family and friends or try your “senses” at being a professional extra-virgin olive oil sommelier!
Here, we give you easy-to-follow instructions on tasting olive oil on your own as well as some useful advice to compensate for the technical tools usually employed by the panel.
The best time to taste oil is within one year after the oil has been pressed because, over time, oil becomes harder to preserve.
Olive growers indeed know how to best preserve oil. However, we have created this guide with city and country dwellers in mind, who may want to assess the quality of the oil from their trusted olive press or oil that their friends have given them or that they’ve produced on their own small farm.
The best thing is to try out this new sensory experience when the new oil arrives so you can fully appreciate its attributes.
The new olive oil
It’s October, the olives have just been harvested and brought to the olive press and it’s finally time to taste the new oil!
You and your friends have got together for dinner and want to compare the oils you have brought. Each of you is firmly convinced that your oil is the best!
If you want to know which is the prize-winning oil, try following these easy instructions.
There are essentially three steps to assessing virgin olive oil using your senses:
- Olfactory test
- Taste test
However, before tasting the oil, there are also a few rules you need to follow.
Creating the Right Conditions for Tasting
Rules to follow before tasting:
- Don’t put on perfume
- Don’t smoke for one hour before tasting
- Don’t drink coffee at least one hour before tasting
- Don’t eat chocolate at least one hour before tasting
- Don’t eat spicy food one hour before tasting
- Have an apple handy (Apples and sparkling water help cleanse the palate between tastes)
It is important to follow these rules because some foods or smells can significantly change your perception of the flavor and fragrance of the oil.
Choosing the right tasting glass
The color of the oil does not determine its taste, which is why professional tasters use a blue glass.
Also, glass should be used to taste oil because it is the most neutral and does not have any smell.
If you don’t have a glass, one trick is to leave a plastic or paper cup out for at least three hours before using it for tasting.
Warm the oil to the right temperature before tasting it
The perfect temperature for oil that enhances rather than distorts its attributes is 28°C / 82°F, as we saw in the panel test. A specific plate is used to warm the oil so it’s ready for tasting.
At home, or under any other circumstances, do not heat your oil using direct heat because this could compromise the oil’s attributes. It is better to warm the oil using your hands. Just a few minutes is enough for it to be ready for tasting.
It is also essential to cover the glass or cup, again using your hands, so that the oil’s sensory attributes do not disperse into the environment.
Now, you’re ready to move on to tasting the oil!
Step one – Olfactory test
Uncover the glass or cup and hold it up to your nose. Inhale deeply and intensely.
Do this several times until you clearly perceive the aromas in your mind and they take on the image of fruit or flowers. These are the typical aromas of virgin olive oil.
Oil can have both positive and negative attributes, but as we explain in our article on how to recognize good olive oil, extra-virgin olive oil doesn’t have any negative attributes.
The fragrance of extra-virgin olive oil
Some of the typical aromas you can smell during the olfactory test:
- Freshly cut grass
- Green olives
- Tree sap
- Tomato leaves
When you have been able to fully appreciate the olfactory attributes of the oil, you can go on to the next step.
Step two – Taste test
Put a very small quantity of oil in your mouth and let it remain there, swishing it inside your mouth without swallowing. Now, breathe in through your teeth. This step is required to release the flavor of the oil and help it directly reach your taste buds.
There are essentially three positive sensory attributes of oil: fruity, bitter and pungent.
Typical sensory attributes in the taste test:
- Green tomatoes
Next, let’s see how to assess your taste sensations.
Step three – Assessment
Now, it’s time to assess the oil you’ve tasted.
To do this, you should indicate the intensity of each positive attribute remaining after tasting and give it a score of 1-9 in terms of fruitiness, bitterness and pungency.
An intensity score of 1-3 is light, 3-6 medium and 7-9 intense.
It is important to understand that oil is only good when it is balanced.
How do you know if your oil is unbalanced?
- Oil is unbalanced when the intensity score for bitterness and/or pungency is two points higher than the intensity score for fruitiness.
How do you know if your oil is balanced?
- Oil is considered balanced when fruitiness is the prevalent attribute because it doesn’t mask the other attributes as much. It should also have the right degree of pungency and bitterness. If bitterness and/or pungency are two or more points higher than fruitiness, the oil cannot be considered balanced.
Below are two tables you can use to assess the positive attributes of your oil.
Using the first table, try to figure out how intense the fruity, bitter and pungent attributes are.
Then, record the sum of each attribute and see which oil is the most balanced.
We hope you enjoyed this article and are ready to start practicing oil tasting like true oil sommeliers!
May the best oil win!