Summer Cooking ~ Eggplant Parmesan

I recently read and very much enjoyed “Cod: The biography of the fish that changed the world,” by Mark Kurlansky. I knew Kurlansky from other excellent book, “Salt.” In both, he tells us about how many critical events in history happened around cod and salt and how their impact has contributed to shape our current world.

Eggplant could well deserve a book in that fashion. There’s so much history and cuisine around eggplant that there’s plenty of material for a wonderful reading. Eggplant has not been as important as cod and salt, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, it has a colorful and rich history.

Continue reading Summer Cooking ~ Eggplant Parmesan

Posted on Categories Recipes

Paring Olive Oil and Food

In the spring of 2007, while working for Apollo Olive Oil, I recorded several conversations with the late olive oil expert Marco Mugelli. They were talks on milling, tasting and olive oil history. I recently listened to the tapes.

In one of the sessions we discussed one of Marco’s favorite subjects, which was olive oil and food pairing. He often looked at the successful development of the wine industry as a possible mirror for what was ahead for our less developed, so far less successful industry.

The figure of the sommelier was something he pondered on. Before his premature and unexpected death, he was working with some wine sommeliers in order to develop a body of knowledge in terms of olive oil and food.

Some of the ideas he shared in the interviews were truly sophisticated. He would dig into very fine details. For instance, in the case of fish, he would pick a different olive oil according to the type of fish, the way the fish was cooked and taking heed of the texture of the olive oil as well.

It was fascinating to be in front of someone with such a level of expertise and by the discovery of that level of discrimination when it comes to food and cooking.

I did not grow up having conversations about food. Food in Argentina was sure tasty, though quite simple. It should be said that at that time, the collective attention food and cuisine enjoy today, was limited to smaller circles. Continue reading Paring Olive Oil and Food

Posted on Categories General, Tasting

“I think it’s varietal.” Really?!

The field of sensory analysis is a vast one and very excitingly, it’s in constant evolution. This is especially so in the case of olive oil tasting. As new technologies and new understandings are making their way and helping achieve new levels of excellence, some of the old ways are coming into question.

There’s one particular thing that I see as part of those old ways (at least in how it has been used so far) that I’d like to discuss. I run into it often, working in panels or in competitions as well. It happens (almost predictably), when at a certain point in a discussion of a subtle, not so obvious possible defect, some colleagues say that the characteristic we’re discussing is a varietal thing.

The first thing I’d like to point to is that when this conversation comes up, in the vast majority of cases, we’re in front of a mediocre or borderline olive oil. In fact, what my colleague friends are saying is that instead of what some in the group are perceiving as a defect is rather an inherent characteristic of the cultivar, even when it’s not likable.

If we follow this reasoning we should assume that this aspect we’re debating is an essential, un-modifiable element of an EVOO made with a particular variety. Therefore, we should accept it as it is. Continue reading “I think it’s varietal.” Really?!

Posted on Categories General, Tasting

Enjoying Pacific Sun Olive Oils / Eva’s Blend

When we made Eva’s Blend for first time, several years ago, we aimed at making an olive oil that would feature some specific olive oil from that season. Over time, and listening to the great chefs we work with, Eva’s Blend evolved into a finishing olive oil for fine restaurants, when the need is a versatile EVOO, of rather gentle flavors.

In these last four or five years, Eva’s Blend has consistently been of medium-mild intensity. We always made sure that even when we were looking for an olive oil of subtle flavors, it could not be just a fruity but mellow, flat olive oil. We’re convinced that olive oils of quality must have a good structure (meaning some nice bitterness and a degree of pungency) that will guarantee a decent shelf life.

In February 2016 we visited with producers, tasters and researchers in Tuscany, Italy. When they tasted Evas’ Blend all of them were positively surprised. They found this olive oil quite interesting, noting that for them it was a type of oil difficult to achieve, given the cultivars they work with. They also guessed correctly that it would be a chef favorite, being so adaptable to different needs in the kitchen.

Continue reading Enjoying Pacific Sun Olive Oils / Eva’s Blend

Tehama Blend wins Best of Show at Los Angeles International Olive Oil Competition 2017

One of our olive oils has won the Best of Show at the prestigious Los Angeles International competition for second year in a row. This time it was our Tehama Blend, which won first a Gold Medal, then Best of Class and eventually was Best of Show in the robust category.

The competition had an international jury of 18 judges, from the US, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina and Japan.

There were 600 olive oils from 369 producers. The olive oils from California were 203, the largest number from a single place, followed by Spain and Italy.

As we mentioned in other entries, this past season has been very difficult for California producers. Discussing with colleagues from Italy and Spain, it seems that the same happened in Europe. We had to struggle with quite adverse weather patterns, rains and scarcity of olives.

This was reflected in the gold medals awarded, 131 for both domestic and international olive oils and just 21 for olive oils from California (a good number, around 14, of gold medals was given to flavored oils from California). The best of class for domestic olive oils were only 3, against 18 from abroad.

Continue reading Tehama Blend wins Best of Show at Los Angeles International Olive Oil Competition 2017

Posted on Categories Awards, General, In the News

Enjoying Pacific Sun Farms Olive Oils / Organic Blend

After working a couple of years at Pacific Sun Farms an opportunity to develop an organic line came up. I was thrilled with it, for I hold organic agriculture as something of the highest importance. I defend and promote organic agriculture not only for its nutritional values, but also for the absence of pesticides, which I certainly prefer.

Organics implies a whole different food chain. It starts with a particular treatment and kind approach to the land, and traditionally ends with a shorter distribution circuit that nourishes local economies.

On top of that, I’m truly concerned with the suffering bee colonies have been undergoing (and many studies point to the abuse of pesticides).

Yet, in the case of olive oil, organic is not the most important thing. What does that mean? It means that above all, EVOO has to be a good one, and that can happen with organic or conventional crops. It’s about attention, knowledge and quality standards both in agriculture and most importantly in the milling, and organic does not even guarantee, by itself, that the olive oil is EV or a good EVOO. Continue reading Enjoying Pacific Sun Farms Olive Oils / Organic Blend

Pacific Sun Olive Oils – Under the microscope 2017

Every year we present the chemical analysis of our olive oils. All extra virgin olive oils need to pass a chemical analysis to be certified EVOO.

These analyses can tell quite a bit about the oil’s quality. Once the oil passes these tests, a panel of judges gives the final word after a collective blind tasting. If the statistics resulting from the individual tastings find the oil holds positive attributes and is free of defects, the olive oil in question will be certified EVOO.

These standards were set in the EU at the beginning of the 1990s and they’re still under debate. It’s mostly producers like Pacific Sun Farms and our fellow small to medium producers in California, and the world, that are pushing for stricter standards.

So far, in the U.S., we don’t have a law enforcing EVOO standards. However, along with members of the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), we follow similar standards as those set by the International Olive Council (IOC). Continue reading Pacific Sun Olive Oils – Under the microscope 2017

Enjoying Pacific Sun Olive Oils / 2016 Harvest Tehama Blend

An Oil of Great Character

This year, among the very good olive oils we made, Tehama Blend is the one that seems to me the most achieved. It’s an olive oil of great character and unusual vividness.

Picual and Mission Shine with Proper Milling Techniques

Also, it’s an interesting case in terms of its two cultivars, Picual and Mission (present in the blend in equal parts), which have come into their own just recently with proper milling techniques.

Picual is an Andalusian cultivar. Its presence in Southern Spain is enormous. Picture that just the province of Jaen alone makes approximately 20–25% of the olive oil of the entire world and almost 90% is Picual. When mass made, with no care, with over-ripe olives and milled with high temperatures (an extended practice to maximize yields), Picual tends to have initial degrees of fermentations and can be very unpleasant.

In the past, Mission, our Californian variety, was not seen with much esteem either. Most of the olive oils made out of it were unpleasantly bitter or plain flat and often with not elegant aromas and short shelf lives. Continue reading Enjoying Pacific Sun Olive Oils / 2016 Harvest Tehama Blend

Olive Oil Tasting and Other Sensory Analysis

In a recent dinner with friends, one of them asked what I thought about a wine she brought. She assumed that because I’m an olive oil taster I’d give an authoritative opinion about it. Once I thanked her for her trust, I explained that not only I’m not an expert in wine by any means; olive oil tasting and wine tasting are altogether different things.

This was not the first time I’ve been in this situation as I witnessed also the opposite: good wine tasters or winemakers assuming they can offer a solid opinion about olive oil because they’re good at wine tasting.

The core of olive oil tasting is assessing quality. That’s the most important part. The taster is trained in detecting defects and to appreciate positive attributes (fruit-perfumes, bitterness and pungency). That’s the basis for evaluating EVOO.

While it is true that in sensory analysis of other products the detection of defects is an important part of it, once it’s done, the rest of the tasting is of a different nature. This is because good wines, good beer or good chocolate can have differences in their chemical composition, though this does not count as much as it counts in olive oil.

The other important factor is that in those cases, due to the development of those industries and also from consumer knowledge, those products are rarely defective. Good, solid practices based on research have been established and the tasting is then mostly dedicated to see how we’ll enjoy the product of the tasting. Continue reading Olive Oil Tasting and Other Sensory Analysis