On February 20, we had the distinct pleasure of attending a lecture and “Superior-Quality olive oil tasting” from Nicholas Coleman, the Chief Oleologist at Eataly, NY, at Tarry Market. According to his resume on the website groveandvine.com, Mr. Coleman has “taught oil courses in America for Zagat’s Master Class, Bon Appetit, The International Culinary Center, The Institute of Culinary Education, Eataly, Cornell, NYU and Columbia University, Platinum Country Clubs and to Mario Batali’s critically acclaimed chefs and sommeliers nationwide.” We sampled three olive oils from Italy, each from a distinctive region and harvested at different times of the year to capture their peak “fruitiness.”
Coming on the heels of a recent sensational 60 Minutes special on how the Mafia controls olive oils from Italy, Mr. Coleman’s insights were quite timely. Rather than focus on the tasting itself, I will try and highlight some of Mr. Coleman’s observations on the things consumers should look for when shopping for olive oils, particularly extra virgin olive oils. Many of his suggestions originated from educated questioning by his very well-informed audience.
Price vs. Quality of Olive Oils
As noted earlier on Gourmet Living, superior quality extra virgin olive oils cannot be economically sold at the ridiculously low prices often found at many grocery stores. Indeed, I see no reason to question the assertion that roughly 70% of olive oils that claim to be extra virgin olive oils are adulterated or mislabeled. Mr. Coleman when on at great lengths to explain the certification process in Italy for olive oils – both a chemical test and a blind-tasting by licensed oleologists – as well as the process by which the olives are harvested and pressed. Given the manual labor involved in this process, most authentic extra virgin olive oils from Italy are priced anywhere from $35 to $45 for a 500 ml bottle.
First Cold Pressed and Cold Extraction
At most facilities, most extra virgin olive oil (roughly 95%) is produced through a process called cold extraction. He points out that this is a more modern and efficient process than the traditional “first cold pressed” claim found on many bottles. The important thing to note is that the olive juice is not exposed to heat which tends to change the flavor of the oil.
Aging of Olive Oils
Freshly pressed olive oil is a fruit juice and best savored after the initial press. Needless to say, this is rarely possible for most people, but it simply emphasizes the importance of consuming olive oil shortly after it is marketed. While olive oils are often blended to extend the shelf live and to insure a consistency of taste, the fruitiness of the olive tends to disappear over time. Most bottled olive oil has a shelf-life of between 18 months and two years, so consumers are encouraged to buy olive oil that is no later than last years harvest. For instance, buy olive oil from 2015 harvests in 2016.
While we will generally consume a 500 ml bottle of extra virgin olive oil in 6 weeks, it is recommended not to allow extra virgin olive oil to linger around more than a year after opening the bottle. While the “fruitiness” will tend to disappear after that time, the olive oil can still be using for cooking. Oil made from the Picual olive tend to have a longer shelf life and are often blended with oils from other olives to extend the shelf life of more delicate oils.