Every November we pick the olives and I have to say it is just as exciting for me as picking the first cherry in summer. I wait impatiently for the oil to come back from McEvoy’s mill to taste it. I love the bright green, cloudy oil its bright peppery flavor. For the weeks to come I will drizzle it over gigante beans, toast, tomatoes and soups anything and everything will be anointed with the stuff.
This year’s oil I’m happy to say is a little more pungent and peppery than what we’ve had in the past and a little less fruity. The fruity quality of oils is a result of a higher level of ripe olives. They give the oil a milder (soft) and more buttery flavor. The Greener olives give the oil the grassy, herbaceous and almost bitter, pungent quality that I prefer. This is experienced mostly on the back of the tongue and throat. If it doesn’t burn and make me cough, I’m not happy. (Tasting judges actually consider, “Is it a ‘one-cough, two-cough or three-cough’ oil?)
What conditions have led to its sharper flavor, I’m not clear. We are picking the olives almost 3 weeks earlier than last but they were not less ripe at picking time this year than they were last. I think it may have to do with the fact that this was a drier year in terms of rain fall and perhaps there is less water in the fruit and therefore a more concentrated flavor.
The beauty is that we have lots of oil from last year’s harvest; olives are “alternate bearing” they don’t produce a record crop every year. We had a bumper crop in 2012 so this year’s crop is much smaller, about half of last years’. The young , perky olio nuovo will be used mostly a condiment and I will use the 2012 oil for sautéing, frying and roasting until the this year’s oil mellows with age and become softer like its predecessor. A lot of people think you can’t fry with olive oil, not so. A more mature extra virgin olive oil is fine for frying. Olive oil does smoke at a lower temperature than other vegetable oils but it will work beautifully for deep frying. Don’t fry with olio nuovo; it will smoke even more quickly than an older extra virgin oil and besides it would be a terrible waste. Save it for anything fresh and enjoy it while it lasts!