Casual, relaxed, and delightfully unconventional, an olive oil tasting is the perfect way to give your next dinner party a fresh spin.
Similar to the more familiar wine tasting, an olive oil tasting offers your guests the opportunity to expand their palette by discovering the nuances and complexity of extra virgin olive oil. Sure, you may have to field a few RSVP responses like “Wait. What?!” or “Did you say olive oil?” but trust us, there’s a good chance your inaugural olive oil tasting will be the first of many.
The key to a successful tasting lies in its simplicity. With thousands of extra virgin olive oils to choose from, following these simple, straightforward steps will allow you and your guests to focus all your attention on the olive oil.
Follow These 5 Steps for a Successful Olive Oil Tasting
Start by pouring one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil into a clear, stemless wine glass. Now, if you’ve ever watched an official olive oil tasting — first of all, good for you! — you may have noticed that the judges used dark blue glasses to hold the oil. That’s because the blue glass disguises the olive oil’s color, which could sway the judges’ opinion one way or another. But since you’re hosting an olive oil tasting for fun, we recommend using clear glasses so you can see the beautiful color differences between the olive oils you’re tasting.
If you’ve ever participated in a wine tasting, this part will probably feel familiar. Once you’ve poured the olive oil in your glass, hold it in the palm of your hand for a minute or two, swirling it slowly and gently. As your hand warms the oil, the swirling motion will release its natural aromas. The fresher your olive oil, the more complex the fragrance should be. Before you move on to the next step, stick your nose in the glass, inhale deeply, and take note of what you smell. Since extra virgin olive oil is often produced by harvesting olive in the early stages of ripeness, you may detect scents ranging from grassiness to fruitiness to subtle nutty notes.
Now the fun really begins. And while we named this step sip, it would probably be more accurate to say slurp. To get the full EVOO flavor experience, experts recommend using a slurping technique known as strippagio. Meaning “to aerate,” this technique involves drawing air into your mouth as you sip the olive oil. Doing this allows the oil to coat your tongue and the aromas to hit your olfactory receptors, giving you the full flavor experience. (Note: When you use this technique, you’ll probably sound a little silly — like a little child eating soup. But with all the flavors to be found in extra virgin olive oil, this is no time to worry about manners.)
If you’re new to olive oil tasting, the sensation of sipping oil can be a little distracting at first. That’s ok. As you begin to notice distinct flavors and qualities, the experience quickly moves from unfamiliar to enjoyable. Take your time — and a second sip. Then, as you savor the oil, see what flavor notes you notice. Flavors can range from bitter to smooth, fruity to nutty. If you are tasting fresh extra virgin olive oil, it’s likely that you’ll also experience a peppery kick as you swallow the oil. Many people refer to this as the EVOO’s pungency, and it feels similar to the sensation you get from eating a hot pepper or taking a shot of fresh ginger. The peppery sensation is due to the high levels of polyphenols, the natural compounds that provide many of extra virgin olive oil’s health benefits. And if that feeling makes you cough, don’t worry. Many olive oil experts around the world classify EVOO as one-cough, two-cough, or three-cough oil — which means you’re tasting like an expert!
Since olives grown in different climates and regions can provide dramatically different flavors, a well-rounded olive oil tasting should include two or three different options and find which ones you like best. (This is probably a good point to mention that La Panza’s Outlaw, Estate, and Chef’s extra virgin olive oil blends make a fantastic tasting spread.) After sampling one olive oil, cleanse your palate with sparkling water and a slice of apple (Granny Smith works best). Then, follow all the same steps with the other olive oils and pay close attention to the differences, both obvious and subtle.
After the success of your first tasting, we’re confident you and your guests will want to do it again. And again. Thanks to the incredible variety of extra virgin olive oil available today, your tasting lineup can be as adventurous or familiar as you choose. The most important thing is that you have fun. There’s no right or wrong, no winners or losers. Just fresh, healthy tasting experiences for everyone to enjoy!