Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is much more than just a food oil among the most important foods in the world. It's also a vehicle for discovering thousands of different flavors. Countless factors influence the flavors of extra virgin olive oils.
It is produced in many countries at different altitudes and climates from hundreds of olive varieties, each providing a specific and unique flavor profile.
Together with geography, many other variables influence the aromatic expression of an extra virgin olive oil; climate, geographical location, proximity to other plants, proximity to the sea, soil type, cultivation techniques, processing technologies and storage facilities all affect flavour.
Additionally, professionals can blend oils from different cultivars to create a potentially infinite number of aromas and tastes.
Anyone can learn to taste and appreciate extra virgin olive oils, all potential aromas are evaluated by professional tasters, the famous panels.
Their work is traditionally coordinated by a panel leader who summarizes the results of the tastings and finally confirms the category of olive oil in question and whether or not it deserves to be called extra virgin.
Producers use panels to decide which monovarietals (oils made from a single variety of olives) to combine in blends. Tasting panels are also formed to evaluate the quality of the EVOOs presented in the various competitions.
Two of the most relevant characteristics of high quality extra virgin olive oil are the presence and intensity of bitterness and spiciness, which indicate the presence of phenolic compounds.
The first mission of a Panel is to register the identity card of the extra virgin olive oil, confirm it free from defects, evaluate the presence of fruity notes, which we can also define green or ripe, or by their intensity, and evaluate the presence of bitterness and spiciness. EVOO tasting is just as important as the physicochemical analysis of the product. Learning about an EVOO is discovering that bitterness is part of the EVOO character.
All consumers can follow the steps of olive oil tasters and chefs, learn how to taste and compare extra virgin olive oils, discover their aromas and experiment with their use as a raw condiment or as the main ingredient in the kitchen.
Depending on their characteristics, professional but also passionate chefs in the home kitchen can alike add flavors to their dishes ranging from aromatic herbs to garden fruits and much more, there is a whole world of aromas and flavors to explore .
These notes can contribute to the flavor depending on the particular EVOO and how it is included in the dish. Also, the flavors will be affected by the temperature of the dish when using the oil.
Such a variety of possible results means that chefs and amateurs can make use of more than one type of EVOO in the kitchen.
If we consider extra virgin olive oil as a recipe ingredient, then we cannot use the same EVOO for all our dishes. This is something not all chefs have explored yet, perhaps because many have yet to discover the exceptional variety of EVOOs we have at our disposal.
Given the growing knowledge regarding the health benefits of polyphenols, many manufacturers are now focusing on making EVOOs with the maximum possible amount of these organic compounds. And yet, high levels do not necessarily correspond to high product quality.
Many focus on early harvesting to boost the presence of polyphenols, but producers need to be careful because early olives are not only more difficult to harvest but can also lead to an unbalanced product. Some early harvested EVOOs may lose their aromas more quickly, which are an essential part of the pleasure and quality of tasting, while EVOOs produced with riper fruits will still retain an adequate volume of polyphenols for some time.
It is true that EVOO offers important health benefits, but it is not a drug, which means that being healthy should go hand in hand with the pleasure of consuming it. It is not a dietary supplement or pill to be consumed daily.
In recent years, the evolution of new techniques in the field and in the subsequent transformation phase has brought great benefits to high quality extra virgin olive oil. Thanks to the growth of knowledge and the development of new technologies, we are now able to produce better extra virgin olive oils both from a sensory and health point of view.
Furthermore, many high-quality EVOOs come from regions where culture and history are integral to the products, such as in Tuscany, there is a whole world of scents and tastes that can be explored, but there is also a world of wonderful family stories to know about producers and their lands.