Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Getting my nose in

Living in Jaen, the olive producing capital of Spain, we were delighted recently to make the acquaintance of an real life olive oil producer. Delighted, not just to increase our knowledge of the process, but because he is a really lovely man, with an equally lovely wife and two extremely lovely children! All of these things really add to the quality of life in Alcala la Real - increasing, as it does, our involvement with the families and community here.

So it was with pleasure and anticipation that we welcomed Paco and his daughter, Paloma, to our house on Monday evening. Whilst Romy and Paloma went off to play together, Paco went into our kitchen to prepare an evening of olive oil tasting for FR and I.

This is Paco unloading his wares - by the time we started, everything was beautifully lined up in neat rows, with a plate of apple slices ready to help clean our palates in between tastings.

15 little blue glasses, blue so that as a taster, we couldn't form a judgment on the colour of the oil we were trying; and six identical, dark green bottles of olive oil. What we had to establish was - was it Extra Virgin Olive Oil... or not.

As a little indicator of how important the nose is in the process of tasting, Paco asked us to pinch ours whilst we tried a little powder he presented us. With noses well and truly closed, the best we could do was to describe the texture of what we had in our mouths - grains of sugar - but once we let our noses free, the flavour of cinnamon was intense. It certainly proved the point - try it!

Then we moved on to the testing.
Paco explained that for an oil to pass the taste test as Extra Virgin, it primarily had to be free of a range of negative aspects rather than full of positive ones. The negatives included the smell or taste of earth or humidity; a vinegar smell, or any taint of decay or rancidity, however faint. 

And for the smell to come through, the oil had to be warmed - which, with my notoriously cold hands, took quite a while!

Then take a good sniff of the warmed vapours and form an immediate impression - an absence of the negative scents indicate an extra virgin olive oil.

Simple as that! Extra Virgin has no negative smell - though it may have positive qualities that hit you such as a fruitiness or even a grassiness, though it would seem that only the fruitiness counts as a positive scent.

There are three positive qualities - in addition to fruitness, there is also amarga or bitterness, indicating young fruit or an early pressing of the olives - and picante or spiciness of the oil. Again, the more mature, the less 'aggressive' is the spiciness.  After smelling the oil, next comes the tasting - done very much as with wine - rolling the oil over the various parts of the tongue to establish what flavours are contained in it.

I found that I could sense the flavours on these specific areas of the tongue - the fruitiness hitting the front of my tongue first and the bitterness at the back. The picancy was more of an aftereffect - with some of the oils leaving a real spicy taste in the mouth - even making FR cough

Ruy captured my tester moments here.

Note the serious expression as I let the flavour flood my senses!

I didn't think I would like 'drinking' oil - it's not a concept that appeals to many people, but it was actually very pleasant.

I detected three non-extra virgin olive oils out of the six we were presented and found it quite easy to do. FR was less convinced and found it more difficult to identify the negative aspects - but then he does smoke, which obviously impairs his palate - and his sense of smell is less keen as a man.

I recorded my opinions on one of the 'official' score sheets that Paco gave me - and whilst I was apparently a little over generous on the qualities of the first one we tasted, which should have come out fairly neutral - I think I did reasonably well in my judgements.
My favourite one actually left the palate feeling really clean - again, not a quality you might expect from drinking oil!

Read more about Paco's business here and do let me know if you would like to buy some of this delicious greeny-golden liquid that I am beginning to get a real taste for.
I might just earn a little commission.


  1. I remember one of your earlier posts about fabulous olive oil, so this has been wonderful to read. Recently watching the delightful Raymond le Blanc cooking his way round France, he mentioned that in olive oil regions very little butter or dairy would be used in cooking... and where he gre up,very little olive oil used... because dairy was dominant. I found this fascinating, and want to become as expert as you at determining what is good oil and what is just average. I will have to practice this, with your lovely tongue diagram in front of me. Great stuff Annie. Thanks.

  2. Hello Annie:
    This is a most informative post which we have much enjoyed reading. We really feel that we have learned something even after all the years of olive oil tasting in one form or another.

    Perhaps it is heresy to mention here that up until now Greek olive oil has always been our favourite. But, we have to say, that we have tried very little Spanish olive oil in our time. Perhaps we need to alter our ways!!!

  3. really interesting especially about the influence of smell. I also thinking flavour is a lot about the eyes as well.

  4. What a great follow-up to your previous post about olive oil, Annie. I'm most familiar with Italian olive oil and love the oils you get in some of the smaller places there. Thanks to your fascinating post I shall know much more what to look out for in future, both here in the UK and abroad.

  5. Thank you all for your comments - I do hope you'll take a moment to have a good sniff at whatever oil you happen to have in your cupboards. From what I have read, many of us are sold something that may not be as 'virgin' as we hoped...not sure if there is such a thing as 'almost virgin' though!

  6. Oh gosh, I shall never think of olive oil in quite the same way again. Fascinating post Annie, thank you :D

  7. What a fun opportunity! Annie thank you so much for the kind words you left on my blog along with the virtual blog hug. Made me feel loved.


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