A Taste for Olive Oil

Homer called olive oil “liquid gold.” Historically, it has been used for medicine, as a currency, in rituals and purification rites, and as a most-important culinary accoutrement.

The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean basin. The trees live to be centuries old and it’s believed to have been first cultivated on the island of Crete, starting as early as 2,500 B.C.

Olive oil is made by:

  • Washing the olives and separating the fruit from their leaves
  • Putting on a steel platform and smashing the olives into paste with two mills
  • Separating the liquid from the olive husk

Oil Varieties

With more than 700 different types of trees, a great variety of olives exists. Like diamonds, you judge the quality of olive oil based on its color (rich & warm) and density (not too liquid-y). A fresh green grass smell is also an indication of quality.

And similar to wine, a sophisticated palette can discern the quality of an olive oil by taste. During our time at the Costello in Tuscany, we participated in an olive oil tasting. We were taught to take a sip and:

  • Roll the oil in your mouth – looking for a freshness
  • Taste the oil several times, with a bite of apple between tastings
  • Notice whether your lips remain dry, they should not be oily

The Best Oil

Good oil will start with the fruit hand-picked before it’s ripe. It will include a mix of 2-4 varieties of olives, all of superior quality. Olive oil should last at least 2 years, and the good stuff will last up to 4 years. The green color of the oil should fade in over time (if it stays a bright green, then chemical coloring has been added.)

I have to admit, I couldn’t really discern a vast difference in the three oils that we tasted. I mean, it all kind of tasted oily and left a residue on your tongue. Maybe one was a little “grassier,” and another had a warm green-yellow color.

But really, I just wanted to grate a little parmesan cheese in the bowl and dip my bread in. To me, that’s good olive oil!

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This entry was posted on Monday, July 25th, 2011 and is filed under Food & Drink.

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