As in wine, there is tremendous variability in olive oil quality. A good olive oil should subtly enhance the flavours of a specific dish, not distort or overpower it. One should get into the habit of tasting any untried olive oil before blindly using it over food. The advantages of using a good olive oil in everyday cooking are many, not only from a flavour point of view, but also because of the associated health benefits.
Tasting olive oil is an art, but it can also be fun and well worth learning. Olive oil is graded by its acidity and also by its flavour as judged by experts. Experienced tasters can discern a multitude of good or bad characteristics.
Certain obvious precautions need to be taken before tasting the oils:
- Limit the number of samples to a maximum of three or four per sitting because the mouth becomes sensitized to the peppery and bitter tastes. It is more difficult to cleanse the mouth completely between samples than is the case with wine.
- Screen the oils by aroma to decide the order of tasting – the milder oils first, the more intense oils last. Tasting a strong oil first can overpower the other oils.
- Don’t smoke, eat sweets or drink coffee within 30 minutes before or during the tasting. Perfumes, strong smelling soaps and lipstick can also affect tastings.
- Use separate tasting bowls for each oil.