Chef Becky gives her blessing to the olio nuovo, the first pressing of the 2012 olive crop, and says it may be our best oil ever!
Our inspiration for planting olives was a trip to Tuscany in November of 2001. We stayed at a B&B in Tuscany during olive harvest. On a warm, sunny day, with our host, Georgio and 4 members of his family representing 4 generations we picked olives by hand, into nets beneath the trees. While we picked they prepared a lunch of grilled sausages and lardon, salad, bread and red wine. We ate right there in the olive grove where we picked; nothing fancy, but delicious and totally unforgettable. After, we took the olives to the mill with Georgio and watched it being pressed. I’ll never forget the green color of that oil and its’ peppery taste. Our dream is to make oil that good and this year’s oil is a very good advance in that quest.
“Bright and fruity up front, followed by piquant grassy notes, and finishing with a little ‘bite”. Becky strongly influenced my decision to pick the olives earlier this year, wanting “greener” oil, a more traditional Tuscan flavor profile. It definitely worked!
I was also influenced by more practical reasons: First, since greener olives yield less oil, with such a large crop, having enough oil to sell is not an issue. Second, this year’s olive crop is huge, and I knew it would take a week longer to pick it. (By the way, the olive oil pressed from the olive picked first week will have a slightly different character than the oil pressed from the last week and we are going to see if we can taste the difference.) Third, this years’ California crop of olives is heavy meaning there will be more competition getting mill slots scheduled. And last, with such a large quantity of oil, it will take longer to sell, so storage is a factor; greener oil, with higher polyphenol content has a much longer shelf life than the “golden” oils (and more anti oxidants and more health benefits.)
This years’ crop is unbelievable! Our trees, 400 in all, planted along roads and property lines in single rows, look like weeping willows, with their branches, laden with olives, bent to the ground. One tree alone had 300 lbs of olives and it took my best picker an entire day to pick it! Our crew picks the olives using their hands, finger tips wrapped in duct tape, like a rake sliding the olives off the branch into the picking tote. We then rush them to the mill in Petaluma within hours which is critical in assuring the highest quality oil.
So how do you know if your oil is high quality? Here are a few tips on taste testing oil.
The 4 Ss:
Swirl -This releases the oil’s aroma molecules. Keep one hand on the bottom of the glass to heat the oil and the other hand covering the top to keep in the oil aroma.
Sniff – Uncover the oil and quickly inhale from the rim of the glass. Take note of the intensity and the description of the aroma.
Slurp – Take a small sip of the oil while also “sipping” some air. This slurping action emulsifies the oil and helps spread it throughout your mouth. Take note of the retro-nasal aroma as well as the intensity of bitterness.
Swallow – An oil’s pungency is judged by a sensation in your throat so you must swallow at least a small amount to thoroughly evaluate it. If the oil makes your throat scratchy or makes you want to cough, it is a pungent oil.
What positive attributes do you look for when sampling oil?
Fruitiness – This refers to the aroma of fresh, undamaged fruit in the oil.
Bitterness – This is the primary flavor of fresh olives and is perceived through the taste buds located on the back of the tongue
Pungency – This is a biting sensation felt in the throat that will often time make you cough.
What negative attributes do you look for?
Rancidity- Naturally occurs as oil age.
Musty/humid/earthy – Caused by mold spores that develop when olives have been stored in humid conditions prior to milling.
Heated or Burnt – Occurs when the olives are exposed to excessive temperatures during processing
Frozen – When oil is extracted from olives that have been damaged by frost prior to harvest.
Briney – Occurs when oil is extracted from olives which were preserved in brine.
Grubby – The result of extracting oil from olives damaged by olive fly infestation.