What were YOU doing at 6am on October 4th, 2009? Chances are you were sleeping but the hard-working folks at olive oil maker Pago de los Balidos de San Carlos were up and picking arbequina olives for producing the extraordinary Full Moon olive oil, appropriately under a full moon. I was lucky enough to taste this and a number of other varieties at a tasting put on by Sizzling Communications for the Olivar Corp Inc. last week at Pimentón, here in Toronto.
“An olive oil tasting?” I hear you ask? Yes, they exist and operate in a similar fashion to a wine tasting. You get your sheet for tasting notes…
And you taste in tiny tiny sips…
Olive Oil expert, Dolores Smith led us through the tasting. Having completed the Professional Olive Oil Tasting Programme in Europe (Savantes, 2009) herself, her goal is to bring the best olive oils from around the world to Canada. She firmly believes that some of the best olive oils in the world come from Spain, a country whose olive oils are often overlooked – and she is looking to change that!
Full Moon ($45 bottle)
The arbequina olives grown in family-owned orchards in the Extremadura region of Spain are picked on the full moon and pressed within one hour of harvest.
Tasting notes: This was a very delicate tasting oil and perhaps my favourite of the night. We cupped the small tasting glasses in our hands for a few minutes to warm the oils to better appreciate the flavours. It smelled faintly of green tomatoes and certainly tasted like them. It was sweet, which makes sense since it has extremely low acidity (0.1%) and the pepper is very delicately present. The more you swirled it around in your mouth, the more other flavours like banana and almond stood out. This oil is best suited for raw use.
[Edited to add: Dolores read this post and added the following information – useful for those of us who don’t have a refined palate as hers for tasting olive oil…
Acidity cannot be tasted in terms of flavour. It is a chemical analysis showing the amount of degradation in the fatty acids of the oil based on the quality of the olive and processing… so that higher degradation means higher percentage of acidity and poorer quality fruit and processing. The sweetness comes more from the flavour profile of the olive…levels of particular types of polyphenols, or minor components in the fruit juice.
When we taste good quality extra virgin olive oil there are three attributes: fresh fruity flavours (whatever the varietal offers), level of bitterness and level of pepper. The latter two can be expressed in continuums the continuum of delicate & sweet at one end and strong and bitterness/pungent at the other; and of low pepper to intense pepper] Thanks Dolores!
Next up, Oro San Carlos ($22 bottle).
Unbelievably, I do not have a photo of this or the lovely bottle… This oil is produced from a coupage of arbequina and cornicabra varieties of olives, also grown in the Extremadura region of Spain. Again, they are pressed within one hour of harvest. As we were tasting this one, Dolores informed us that this oil would be suitable for cooking and even poaching something as delicate as salmon!
Tasting notes: This was more herby than the Full Moon, with more pepper and less apparent sweetness. More leafy than tomato-ey.
The third oil we tasted was the Dauro ($30 bottle).
This oil is very popular in Japan and is often mixed with wasabi to cut the bite. Dauro, is a coupage of arbequina, Greek Koroneiki and Spanish Hojiblanca olives and produced using absolutely no pesticides at all with the producer managing the crops under the Integrated Crop Production Program, based on sound ecological principles.
Tasting notes: This unfiltered oil was cloudier than the other two and I also found it much more peppery on the finish and quite green tomato-ey.
Lastly we tried the Rincón.
Having won 65 awards from 2006 to the present day, this was also one of the more expensive oils we tried ($36 – $40 a bottle). I found the flavour to be very intense and peppery and feel that it would be a great oil to finish a salad or a dish – certainly a small drizzle, not a large glug would be enough to bring out flavours in, say pasta or salads.
The last oil we tried was the Ame (not yet available in Canada)
The Ame is produced from Italian, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish olives. This tasted grassy and bitter at first but smoother the longer you held it in you mouth with notes of sweet melon and then a heavy accent on the pepper. Spicy, even.
After all that tasting and photographing, we were pretty hungry but luckily, Chef Lola Csullog-Fernandez of Pimentón had prepared a wonderful Spanish tapas spread featuring the Gasull (which we didn’t try) and the Oro de San Carlos oils.
As we ate, we admired the lovely Spanish decorative accents of the store, which sells prepared foods and pantry items, does catering and hosts cooking classes…
And how was the food, I hear you asking? Spectacular. Some highlights:
The charcuteria – salchichón (in the back) and chorizo Ibérico Fermín, both made from the famous black Ibérico pig.
Spanish potato and onion omelette – tortilla. What a great way to serve this at a cocktail party!
Lamb meatballs with Membrillo Oro de San Carlos Alioli, a wonderful dipping sauce. Again – what a fun way to serve them!
My absolute favourite of the night – deep fried pimentón chickpeas. Oh. My. Goodness. These were out of this world and I could have eaten the whole tray. That nutty flavour fried in olive oil works so well and it’s a perfect bar snack, we decided and SO much healthier than peanuts… I will be attempting these…
Since everyone there was a food writer or blogger, there were photos a go-go..
You know, as you do…
It was a fun night and I am glad I got to finally meet some online friends in real life – Joel, Bonita, Andrea, Mark&Stacey and David. Thanks to Dolores for imparting her knowledge about olive oils, Lola for feeding us and the always fabulous Mary-Luz for organising the event.
And for all of you who didn’t get to sample the oils but would like to – head to Frida Restaurant on April 28th for the FULL MOON FEAST where the oils will be sampled and used in the preparation of 6 divine culinary creations! Full details here.