Because of my interest in olive oil and the growing number of domestic olive oil producers, I was invited to sit in on a class on the subject of olive oil taught by Orietta Gianjorio at Miraflores Winery.
Gianjorio is not only a member of the UC Davis Olive Oil Taste Panel and the Sacramento Delegate for the Accademia Italiani della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cuisine), but also holds a diploma of Sommelier from the Associazione Italiana Sommeliers.
She was born and raised in Rome, Italy, is particularly passionate about food and wine and is serious about transferring her knowledge to the beautiful Country which adopted her.
She moved to California in 2008, conveniently close to great wine, food and olive oil production.
The class started at 1 p.m. in Miraflores Winery’s magnificent tasting room where 20 guests were seated at two long tables and provided with notes and a checklist on olive oil characteristics (good and bad).
Gianjorio opened with an explanation of how olive oil is made, from the picking of the fruit, through the milling process, pressing and storage..
“The oil is made in November and December,” she said, “and from that day it starts going downhill. The most important information on the bottle of oil is not the calories, but the date of production. If properly stored, it is good for 12 months. Once it is open, you should use it up as soon as possible. Oxygen, heat and light are its enemies. Because of the light problem is why good oil comes in dark bottles.”
She then continued with a discussion about the different kinds of olive oil, the different varieties of trees and how some olives for oil are picked green, some purple (partially ripe) and some black (fully ripe). “Like with winegrapes,” she said, “olives are affected by their “terroir” (total environment) and will taste different if grown in different regions.”
The discussion then changed to how olive oils is graded in both the United States and Europe.
“In California olive oil can be rated “Extra Virgin” by either a laboratory, based on the acid, or by a tasting panel,” she said. “Some producers do both and indicate that on the label. The COOC or California Olive Oil Council has set the standards.
“In Europe they have a different organization that rates olive oil. It is called the IOC, or International Olive Council. Twenty-three countries belong to it and they set the standards for their oils.”
Primed with all this information, the class was then presented with samples of olive oil to evaluate for aroma, taste, mouth feel, etc., paying attention for flaws.
“Ignore the color (official tastings are done with blue or green glasses for that reason) and after you have warmed the sample in your hand, take off the lid and put your nose directly above it for three seconds,” she said. “Once you have determined its general aroma, go back and do it again, looking for hints of other flavors.
“Like with wine, you may find little hints of fruit, mint or other nice flavors. You may also find off aromas such as dirty socks, vinegar, or mustiness.
The undesirable flavors are often the result of mold, fermentation and other problems with the olives before they are pressed. Oxidation, which causes the oil to smell and taste rancid takes place after the oil is produced and is a very common problem with poorly stored oil.
“Olive oil made from green fruit may have a grassy aroma, while that made from riper fruit will have aromas and tastes of tropical fruit. These flavors and aromas determine what kinds of foods they will best work with.”
Our first mystery oil had no noticeable faults and was very grassy. When tasted, it exhibited the same general flavors and had a slight bitterness and some greasiness.
After watching the class taste the sample of olive oil, she added, “To properly taste it,” she continued, “you have to take some in your mouth and suck air across it, like you do with wine. But, it is thicker than wine and you have to do it harder,” which she demonstrated. sucking air into her mouth in large noisy gulps, which brought a laugh to the class.
“Then swallow the oil,” she remarked. “your throat will tell you about its acid and density.
“Most places that have olive oil to taste, give you bread, which affects the taste because it is sweet and is detected by some of the same sensors in your mouth as the oil,” she warned. “When you go tasting olive oil, ask for a small cup or take along your own glass so that you can really taste the oil. “And, between tastings,” she added, “rinse your mouth out by gargling a mouthful of water,” which she also demonstrated loudly.
“Your first sample is a good extra virgin oil but remember,” she remarked as she showed the class a dark green bottle of California oil,“it is September and this oil was bottled late last year, so it is not as good as it was.”
The second sample was more floral and fruity, with hints of pineapple and other tropical fruits. It too was a good extra virgin oil, but made from riper fruit. It was in a clear bottle, which explained some of the slightly off taste of oxidized oil.
The final sample had an aroma of an automobile garage with an emphases on lubricating oil. It brought groans and frowns from the class members, several of whom wouldn’t even taste it, even though many remarked it smelled like the olive oil found on the table in some restaurants.
It was (“sadly,” she said)an Italian import, one found in most markets. It had no date of production and, as she said several times, could contain many different oils other than olive, oils that could have been produced in any number of countries. “This is not a good olive oil,” she said.
“Buy locally,” she concluded. “We are lucky here in California to have a lot of good olive oil producers and the product is fresher. Check the date, buy in small quantities so you can use it up while it is still good and store it carefully, away from heat and light. Like with wine, buy the best you can afford and use the best oil on salads, in dishes and for cooking. It will be worth it.
To end the class, the students were provided with samples of locally produced ravioli, to try with the oils, along with glasses of Miraflores tempranillo.
I have been studying olive oil for several years and I learned a lot more about it just a couple of hours with an expert on the subject. A hands-on lesson with someone well versed in the subject is an experience that you cannot get from just reading or attending lectures.
Every class I have attended at Miraflores has been excellent and mind expanding. This was one of the very best.
Check out Orietta Gianjorio’s webpage at www.orietta.net for more information on her classes, her background and her books.
Check out Miraflores’ webpage at www.mirafloreswinery.com for information on their upcoming classes and events. You can also call them at 530-647-8505.