Olive oil tasting at Pruneti in Chianti Classico, Italy // (c) 2013 Mindy Poder
I swigged a few thimbles in a restaurant by the Spanish Steps, and then some more in a tasting room at a Chianti Classico farm: olive oil (though there was plenty of wine, too). Before my last trip to Italy, I had only enjoyed my olive oil the usual ways: for stir-frying and dressing raw and cooked foods. But there I was, in Rome, doing as they do.
Turning off the part of my brain that considers fat consumption, I took my first taste of the oil after a crash course in tasting dos. A representative from the non-profit Slow Food, a partner of Brendan Vacations on several of its Boutique Journeys led my group through our first tasting. A huge fan of locally and traditionally produced olive oil, he told us about the Lazio woman who produced the oil as well as the oil’s rich antioxidant profile and good fat content. Then it was time for our first drink. In our cups: Extra Virgin Olive Oil from olives recently shucked from nearby trees. The oil was greener than I had ever seen, and grassier than I had ever tasted. From there on in, I was hooked.
1. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil in a small glass. Professionals use blue glasses so as not to be influenced by the color of the oil — contrary to popular belief, the color of the oil does not indicate taste or quality.
2. Hold the glass in one hand. With the other hand, cover the glass and swirl the olive oil. This will release the olive fruit’s aroma. Take notes: Does the oil release a pleasant or unpleasant aroma? Is the smell strong, weak or medium in intensity?
3. After inhaling the olive oil’s fruitiness, get ready to slurp. Sip a small amount of oil in your mouth along with some air. This creates a clicking noise and helps send the flavors and aromas of the oil into the throat. At this point, you can taste the oil’s qualities. Beware of a stinging sensation in the throat — some oils might even make you cough.
- Consider the bitterness of the oil, how it feels in your throat and how the oil’s taste is or isn’t in harmony with its aroma.
- Desirable traits to look out for include vegetable/natural flavors including cut grass, fennel, spice (cinnamon, allspice), walnut, almond, artichoke and banana.
- Feel free to use more broad descriptors as well, including fruity, floral, forest, tropical, woody, herbaceous, buttery and harmonious.
- It can be a good hurt: Pungent peppery traits can cause a stinging sensation in the throat and astringency, due to the oil’s tannins, creates a puckering sensation in the mouth. Bitterness often indicates freshness.
For photos from a visit to the Pruneti olive farm and tasting room in San Polo in Chianti, Florence, visit the Brendan Vacations' Slow Food Travel Photo Tour.