Ok, so we didn’t actually take shots of olive oil, at least in the sense of downing them quickly. We did take pictures. And we did have to drink it. From a glass. Without bread…
One of the lecture opportunities proposed by IES when planning the trip was an olive oil tasting – which sounded awesome to me. I mean, one of my favorite things ever is to dip bread in a saucer of oil and spices. And balsamic vinegar. Mmmmm. Balsamic vinegar.
At a little oil and vinegar shop in Salida, Texas a few years back, I had a great time making the rounds of the vinegars and was surprised by how much I enjoyed taking little sips of straight vinegar. Espresso balsamic, blueberry balsamic, chocolate balsamic… that stuff was amazing!! In hindsight, though, I don’t remember trying any of the oils, and certainly not out of little glasses meant to go straight to my lips.
So. I was somewhat ill-prepared for the adventure of a Spanish olive oil tasting. It was more akin to a wine tasting than I’d anticipated – with similar gestures of swirling, sniffing, and then pouring the liquid straight into my mouth and swishing it around.
Turns out, straight olive oil is real spicy. Like, it gets caught in the back of your throat and tingles and probably makes you cough. We learned that the more peppery it is (i.e. cough/tingle/choke), the fresher it is! So go have a sip of that stuff you’ve got sitting in your pantry – if it doesn’t scratch up the back of your throat, it’s probably not all that fresh.
In addition to the hilarity of watching everyone make faces and gag and choke, we learned a lot about olive oil (and I took notes, ’cause I’m a nerd). Fun facts that I can now share with you:
- all olives start out green and progressively turn black as they ripen!
- to make olive oil, olives are pressed (i.e. smooshed into oblivion), and the wastewater left over (when you separate out the oil and pulp) is toxic. They haven’t really figured out what to do with it, so it’s left in pools to evaporate.
- the classification of virgin and extra virgin have to do with the acidity of the oil. Olive oil that has acidity of over 2% is not fit for human consumption. So the cheap stuff (the off-brand “olive oil”) has to be cut with the good stuff to make it usable.
- there are over 250 varieties of olive in Spain, and Spain produces 40% of the world’s olive oil (overshadowing Italy’s mere 20%).
- heat and light affect the properties of olive oil, so stop leaving the bottle next to the stove!
Our speaker eventually let us have bread – which was much more pleasant. We also got a number of little dishes to eat with the oil (several of which were well beyond my flavor palette preferences).Overall, it was enjoyable, entertaining, and unique. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a connoisseur ofolive oil, but it did make me feel fancy! (And further supported my undying appreciation for balsamic vinegar. And bread. Mmm. Bread.)