Olive Oil Essentials: What Does Extra Virgin Really Mean?
If you keep up with all the hype, you may have heard about that big olive oil ordeal. The one that called out the 69% of Extra Virgin Olive Oil products at your local supermarket, proving that they are not Extra Virgin at all. Maybe you jumped on the bandwagon, exhibiting that obligatory faux-rage about not getting the bang for your buck again. Maybe it was real rage. Or maybe… wait, what does Extra Virgin even mean?
On Friday, we visited olive oil expert Brad Harrison in his shop in Aventura, FL, Aventura Olive Oil Co. The space is beautifully stylized in light of a European tasting room, sourcing the finest Extra Virgin Olive Oils and Aged Balsamic Vinegars available. After such a wonderfully warm welcome (thanks for the coffee and pastries!), we spent the better part of an hour sampling artisan olive oils and balsamic vinegars. And totally redefining every preconception of the product. (That dark-green color means basically nothing?) But not only did we get to treat our taste buds, there was a little fix for our brains, too. Brad gave us the run-down on all the olive oil essentials, and there’s a lot to learn.
Extra Virgin olive oil is simply pressed fruit juice without additives – the highest quality classification with no defects and a base flavor of fresh olives. Scientifically speaking, extra virgin olive oil has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams and a peroxide value of less than 20 milliequivalent O2. Of course, we’re more concerned about the fun part – the flavor.
Professional Olive Oil Tasters (yes, that’s a thing) describe the product positively in one of three ways:
- Fruity: Fresh ripe olives produce aromatic oils that are milder to taste; they can range from buttery to floral. Green fruits produce grassy, herby, bitter and pungent oils.
- Bitter: Refers to a taste of pleasant tartness.
- Pungent: Refers to that peppery taste.
And the art of tasting takes place in about seven steps:
- Start with a mild oil. Extra Virgin olive oils come in three levels of intensity: mild, medium and robust.
- Pour a few tablespoons into a tiny tasting cup. Of course, you can mop it up with bread, but if you want the real experience, just use the cup.
- Swish around the oil in the cup; this releases the aroma as well as warms the oil.
- Smell the oil; this is your first impression – your clues to the flavor.
- Is the “nose,” as they call the smell, heavily fragrant? Grassy? Fruity?
- Taste the oil. Let it linger, identifying as many aspects of the flavor as possible.
- Finally, you can swallow it, but by now, you will have already experienced all the assets.
So raise your tiny sampling cups (traditionally a blue glass) in a toast to tasting Extra Virgin olive oil for what feels like the very first time. And of course, there’s a right way to do it. Aventura Olive Oil Co. carries quite the variety, so for olive oil novices like us, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Enter the expert. Our tour started off with an Australian Picual Extra Virgin Olive Oil (green olive and apple notes and ample but fleeting middle bitterness), and ended somewhere between Chipotle Infused olive oil and Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar.
Next week, we’ll get into some oil/vinegar pairings. How about some Persian Lime oil with a Honey Ginger white balsamic? The opportunities are endless.
Share your own olive oil adventures on social media @celebritycheftv!
All images and tasting instructions courtesy of Aventura Olive Oil Co.