Learning from the Italians, part II

While re-visiting old posts, I particularly enjoyed this one.


It’s been five years since I published that post, and I’m still learning from the Italians. The photo you see here is entitled: “Tasting with Italian children at BIOL competition in Puglia and learning from them. March 2014”

Five years ago, I was in the very beginning of my career as an olive oil taster. Even when I already had years of experience in California, it was only after I took an EU official class in Sardinia and developed a relationship with the great expert Pierpaolo Arca, that I started a more indepth path, not only with tasting but with olive oil making and olive oil in general.

In all these years I witnessed my teachers, colleagues and friends from Italy never satisfied with their level of knowledge or expertise. Even when many of them were already considered among the leading experts in the world, what I saw was actually the opposite of contentment. They’ve been constantly exploring and experimenting with new machinery, technology and ideas. This would be counterintuitive in the current dominant culture defined by profitability, since Italy has been and is in a serious crisis all this time. And yet, these Italians friends have not responded to that by downsizing or playing safe to minimize costs and maximize profit. There’s something else. Continue reading Learning from the Italians, part II

Posted on Categories Tasting

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

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

Tasting at Japan Olive Oil Prize

Tasting at japan2This year I was invited again to be a member of the judging panel for the new edition of the Japan Olive Oil Prize. This is an olive oil competition which takes place annually in Tokyo. It is organized by the Italian Chamber of Commerce in the city.

This judging panel is one of the strictest that I participate in, and its tasting is the most exhaustive and comprehensive. The competition is strictly for EVOO of great quality. Only 155 entries were submitted this year. The vast majority were from small to medium producers from Italy, who use cutting edge technology to produce their olive oils. As Marzia Migliorini, the panel leader, said in front of journalists and members of the Japanese industry during the awards ceremony: “These olive oils are not only made by producers of quality olive oil, they’re made with technology of the highest quality”. This technology consists mostly of new generation crushers, instead of the traditional hammer-mills. They use vertical or hermetic maloxors that often use a vacuum system and decanters that work without a final separator. They also filter the olive oil as soon as possible once it has left the decanter. On a side note, the discussion on filtration and its benefits has just started in California. Only Pacific Sun Farms and a couple of companies, or around 2% of the market use filtration. However, it is also worth noting that all the winners and awarded olive oils were filtered.

Continue reading Tasting at Japan Olive Oil Prize

Posted on Categories General, Tasting

Olive Oil Tasting in Verona, Italia

Last March I was invited by Marino Giorgetti, the panel leader of Sol D’oro (Golden Sun), to be part of the judging panel of the 2016 edition of this prestigious competition held in Verona, Italy.

As always, participating in an international competition is both exciting and challenging at the same time.

In the olive oil world, the education of each taster is rather personal. Though progress has been made, we don’t yet have a solid, universal approach to tasting. The way each taster judges oils depends on the teachers they had, their country of origin, their country of learning, their levels of exposure to quality production, the amount of panel participation, etc. All these factors create an opportunity for an encounter of relatively uneven backgrounds. Given that, along with being confident in my own good education, I was still pondering how I was going to blend in with this new panel.

Continue reading Olive Oil Tasting in Verona, Italia

Posted on Categories Olive Oil 101, Tasting

Tasting in Tokyo

Olive oil competitions differ around the world. Learn about the Japan Olive Oil Prize, hosted by the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo.

Last week I traveled to Tokyo, as part of the jury of the Japan Olive Oil Prize (JOOP). The competition was organized by the Italian Chamber of Commerce there, which trusted the leadership of the enterprise to Dr. Marzia Migliorini. Continue reading Tasting in Tokyo

Posted on Categories General, Tasting

Tasting at LA International Olive Competition, 2015

Once again, I had the good luck of having been invited by Chairman Darrell Corti to be part of the jury at the prestigious LA International Olive Oil competition. It’s the most important competition of its kind in the US and one of the best attended in the world. This year, 500 olive oils from 294 producers participated, all of them from the Northern Hemisphere (the Southern Hemisphere competes at a separate session in July). This year there were olive oils from China, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Morocco, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States.

Continue reading Tasting at LA International Olive Competition, 2015

Posted on Categories General, Tasting

Reflecting on Olive Oil Competitions

A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to once again be invited to judge olive oils at the LA County Fair. This event, to my understanding, is the most important olive oil competition in the US, given the leadership and authority of its chairman, Darrell Corti, and also for the presence of great olive oil tasters such as Peirpaolo Arca and Marino Uceda, who come periodically to taste.
This time we judged olive oils made by producers from the Southern Hemisphere (these oils were made during their fall season, mostly in late April and May). Almost 150 olive oils entered the competition from Australia, New Zeeland, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Uruguay and Peru. The Best of Shows went to two olive oils from Chile and one from Uruguay. Comparing this time with my previous attendances as a judge, olive oils from these regions have gotten better and more interesting, with some producers using cutting edge technologies and adopting high standards of excellence. This is very good news, and it’s exciting to see these producers raising the bar for olive oil production. We’re slowly creating an olive oil culture and awareness that one day will match our collective appreciation, knowledge and understanding that wine already enjoys.

Continue reading Reflecting on Olive Oil Competitions

Posted on Categories General, Tasting