Olive Oil Freshness, Part III

On a recent visit to my native Argentina, a group of old friends gathered for a traditional “asado” (the typical BBQ) on a sunny Sunday. While the meat was cooking slowly, as the local tradition dictates, I offered some of my friends an olive oil tasting. As a blind tasting I gave each participant two oils, one with a fusty defect from a supermarket and one from Pacific Sun.

All of my friends liked our olive oil better though someone mentioned that the supermarket olive oil smelled more like olives than Pacific Sun’s. I found that very interesting and I asked my friend to tell me more.  He said that it reminded him of brined olives. This brings us back to the subject we’ve been discussing in the last entries, “Freshness,” and the teachings of our colleague and friend from Oristano, Sardinia, Pier Paolo Arca, who visited us in July. As it happened to my friend in Buenos Aires, in many places where olive oil has been produced traditionally (as in the Middle East countries, North Africa, parts of Andalucía, Southern Italy, Greece and Southern France), many people still think that olive oil should smell like table olives.
I remember having a conversation with an olive oil taster friend of mine who is from Lebanon and “confessing” among smiles — actually being candid and honest — that she is sentimental when it comes to fusty olive oils that resemble cured black olives. How come? Well, because that was her memory of the many olive oils produced in this country when she was a girl. When olive oil smells like this it means a fermentative processes took place before or during the milling process. The most common case is when the olives sit too long before they are milled; the pile of olives in the bins heats up because of its own critical mass and an anaerobic fermentation takes place.
Years ago, this happened quite often when transportation means did not allow for daily trips to the mill and when mills were scarce. It was common practice to harvest all week long before taking the load of olives to the press, or to do it only when the press granted an appointment. These oils often smelled like mushy black-brined olives (as a matter of fact, there’s fermentation happening when olives are cured in brine). When the defect is more pronounced the smell is similar to olives cured in salt (no water) and then sun-dried, which tend to have even stronger flavors. Eventually, when very strong, the fustiness will smell like bad Parmesan cheese (an advanced lacto-fermentation) and/or old, decomposing olives as the ones left in the gutters and pits of olive mills that are not cleaned regularly.
Other possible manifestations of the fusty defect: old olives, sweaty socks and gym clothes. During his visit, Pier Paolo pointed out that in recently made fusty olive oils the defect, initially, not so pronounced (though very common) has a characteristic mild brine smell. It’s a subtle and inoffensive smell (as in the case of advanced fustiness) and thus, more difficult to detect. Nowadays we understand that these fermentations can work fine for table olives, though in our case, they degrade the quality of the olive oil[1] singulair 10mg. Many still argue that those strong flavors are part of their culture and they wish to protect it as a sort of culinary patrimony. In fact, still today in Provence, Corsica, Andalucía, in the Maghreb, some producers intentionally leave the pile of olives to ferment (by delaying its milling once they’ve been harvested) to get that tasting profile.
In France they call olive oil “Fruit Noir” (Black Fruit) when producers leave their olives to ferment for about three days. At this point it may be useful to clarify that the evaluation of EVOO does not include the parameters of like/dislike. That’s essentially subjective and can be part of another context, as in the case of these people and their cooking traditions or when it’s a matter of personal preferences and associations. Instead, olive oil evaluation tries to be objective and it has its own standards.
In these standards anything that damages the integrity of the olives and its juice — the olive oil — is considered a minus, or a defect[2]. Again, extra virgin olive oil perfume needs to resemble and come from healthy, fresh raw olives. We hope that by reflecting this much on the subject we’ll sharpen our attention when sooner than later, in only few weeks, we’ll find ourselves doing our best to make fresh, excellent, extra virgin olive oil. On behalf of the Pacific Sun Olive Oil team, Pablo

[1] When sediments are left in the olive oil (the oil is not filtered nor decanted) they ferment over time and the muddy-sediment defect, which is fustiness as well (in fact, both defect are grouped under fusty), takes place. The smells tend to be very strong in this case: manure, dirt, vomit, etc.  
[2] Perhaps this is one of the few cases in which fermentation does not make a food richer or more edible. On the contrary, it’s clearly a loss and a deterioration of the product.