Tasting olive oil: Dunk, sip or slurp?

September 15, 2008 

Sampling olive oils

LAURA DICKINSON

Olive oil, unlike wine, is rarely consumed straight, but many say that’s the best way to taste it.

American consumers typically grab a chunk of bread to sample oil before buying. Professional tasters slurp it like hot soup — a practice that’s becoming more common at local tasting bars, said Paso oil producer Robbie Robbins.

“Bread really masks a great part of it,” he said. “Olive oils do have a very, very large aromatic component.”

Pour a bit of room temperature oil in a glass or bowl. Competition judges use blue glass, Robbins said, so the oil’s hue doesn’t color their judgment on taste.

Warming the vessel in the palm of your hand, inhale the oil’s aroma. Quality olive oil flavors range from buttery and fruity to bitter or peppery.

Follow personal preferences, with an eye toward how the oil will be used — whether with sweet or savory foods, as a finishing or for cooking. A very peppery oil, for example, could impart too much of its flavor when deep-frying. But it might be an amazing companion to fresh tomatoes and basil or suited to blending in a dressing.

Taking in air when sipping helps release the complexity in the oil’s flavor. As with wine tasting, moving it around in the mouth offers the oil’s full flavor spectrum.

“Olive oils have a different mouth feel,” Robbins added. “It’s a very subjective relationship with what you’re tasting and how you like it.”

Not sure what you like? At We Olive, shoppers can taste more than 20 different oils, many produced in San Luis Obispo County.

Still prefer bread or a spoon? No problem, tasting managers say.

“We do whatever the customer is ready to do,” said Clotilde Julien, owner of Olea Farm. “There are people you cannot get to sip olive oil.”

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