Understanding olive oil is easier than it appears. When categorizing oil we like to take the following into consideration:

  • Freshness (Harvest)
  • Variety of Olive
  • Polyphenols - why they matter
  • Taste, Smell & Intensity
  • Producer
  • Pairing with Food
Freshness
The olive harvest happens in the Northern Hemisphere - Europe & North America - from September to November and can continue through January or February depending on climatic and harvesting conditions. Most oil is generally pressed within 24 hours of picking, so that is almost the norm nowadays. In the up and coming Southern Hemisphere, namely South America & Australia, harvest and press in the summer time when many spring ingredients produce their annual bounty. Most olive oils stay “bright” and “fruity” for about one year, some a bit more, depending on the olive variety.

Varieties of Olives
The chart below is a good introduction to the expansive world of olives. There are nearly 300 known varieties of olives, although about 20% of commonly found in olive oils. The variation in taste and smell within this world is enormous, as you would find with wine varieties (i.e. cabernet franc vs. pinot grigio)

Matrix of Olives:

Taste, Smell and Intensity

Smell: The first thing one should do, is place about two tablespoons into a dark blue tasting glass or a red wine glass. Next, cup your hand around the base of the glass to “warm” the oil with your hand while covering the top of the glass. Next, swirl this around a few times with the top of the glass covered.

Now smell. Look for some of the following attributes of “good” olive oil:

fruitiness (green or sweet)
grass
hay
dried herbs / fresh herbs
green tomatoe
almond
green wood
artichoke
apricot
macedonia fruit

Tasting Oil
Take a sip of oil without any bread and let the oil run down the back of your tongue. Once it hits the sides of your mouth, with your teeth closed, bring back two drags of air. You will notice that the taste may vary greatly from the smell. By tasting, we can guage how “harmonious” the oil is.

Intensity
The oils intensity, whether it is peppery or rich and buttery is the direct result of two main factors - harvest time and variety of olive. A good example is our Oleum Priorat arbequina, a naturally buttery, nutty and fruity oil that does not have a huge, pepper finish. By contrast, the Castelines oil, made from green Anglandau olives, tends to be a pleasantly bitter, grassy and clean - no buttery body found here.

Based on the above, we can say the Oleum Priorat is a “medium intensity - medium fruity” olive oil while the Castelines is “green fruit” and “high intensity” due to the extraordinary amount of polyphenols that create the clean, yet pointed taste the oil naturally produces.

Polyphenols
Generally speaking, early harvest olive oils tend to be full of polyphenols, natural antioxidants, that the olive produces, naturally. The “kick” or “green / peppery” sensation that happens in the back of the throat is an indication of polyphenols. Most oils with high polyphenols tend to be “good oil” while those of a later harvest tend to have less.

Pairing Olive Oil with Food

This section is the most subjective of subjects as it has to do mostly with personal taste. We recommend you pair olive oil in two distinct ways:

Compliementing Flavors
For instance, a potatoe puree would be a perfect match for a buttery, creamy Arbequina olive oil. This technique will allow you to “blend” two similar ingredients to a more harmonious dish.

Contrasting Flavors
On the contrary, if youʼre looking for a “big” olive oil taste of green fruit, the Casteline may be a better option against a potato puree. The contrast is instantly recognizable. This technique will allow you to taste each ingredient separately.