Olive Oil Tasting
Recently at a cooking class, we did an informal Olive Oil Tasting which turned out surprising results. As a part of the ‘Passport Series’ of cooking classes that I am offering during the month of October, our particular focus was on Italian foods. We began the evening with light, Italian style appetizers including olives, olive tapenade, crispy baguette, four different balsamic vinegars (more about that another time), and four varieties of olive oil. The class participants were the only tasters and judges, but remarkably, they were unanimous in their declaration of the ‘favorite’. The more I reflected on the tasting process and the interactivity of the class participants, the more I realized that this would be a great theme for an appetizer party, or a unique way to kick off a gathering of friends and new acquaintances.
There may be some others out there like me who find themselves with a number of bottles of olive oils with varying levels of full/empty. When I am at the store and wondering if I am getting low, I grab another bottle, ‘just in case’. In this particular case while planning and preparing for the class, I had one bottle I had started and made a point to choose 3 others with contrasting prices and label information so that we could discuss the levels and methods of oil extraction during the tasting. Perhaps a host/hostess might want just to focus on a particular grade of oil to conduct a tasting. Having each guest bring a bottle of their favorite or most often used olive oil with them would be a great way to share the expense of the tasting and get people engaged in the process. The actual tasting can be carried out in any number of ways, but here’s a simple format that might work for you.
First, decide whether the tasting will be ‘blind’ or open. If blind, as in the participants are tasting the oils without the knowledge of price, brand etc., you’ll need to keep the bottles numbered and either separated from the bowls of samples, or wrapped (perhaps in a brown paper liquor bag) and left near the samples. During the very informal tasting that took place during our class, we simply sat the bottles behind the sampling bowls.
If you really want to ramp the event up, you could print out note cards for each guest with numbered lines for notes on each oil, comments, etc.
Second, gather a group of small white bowls. You’ll need one bowl for each different oil. White bowls are as important for an olive oil tasting as a clear, clean glass is to a wine tasting. The color range in olive oils is broad and seeing those colors equitably will help the participants judge their favorites. I used Chinese porcelain tea cups (World Market – 99¢), but even tea or coffee cups from your china pattern would work; the bowls only need to be white on the ‘inside’.
Third, have a vehicle for the oil to reach the palate. I decided on crusty baguette. A plain Italian loaf or unseasoned focaccia would work well.
Next, coordinate other appetizers and snacks on the table to blend well with the oils. Tapenade, mini meatballs in tomato sauce, warm cannellini beans marinated in herbs, red peppers and oil, and perhaps bruschetta or pizza would be good compliments to the tasting.
And finally, end the evening with something sweet. Hey, what about a chocolate tasting???