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Blog : Olive Oil 101 Blog : Olive Oil 101

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Olive Oil 101

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DF Tasting Board 600x300

As the weather grows warmer, I find myself reaching for our top shelf olive oil with increasing frequency.  This is of course because we are preparing and consuming more ingredients nearly naked (the food, not us) - BC spot prawns, baby greens, just-picked produce, spring veal and lamb, cold soups, even berries and ice cream.  We reach most often for Domenica Fiore.  Not because we offer it in the webstore (we do), or because it is notorious, sexy and glamorous (it is), but because it is the best we have tasted. And we have tasted many.

Last month, Domenica Fiore Direttore & CEO Cesare (Cheh-zah-ray) Bianchini and Proprietario Frank Giustra, joined Dirty Apron Cooking School and Delicatessen owner and chef David Robertson in hosting a very informative and surprisingly entertaining blind olive oil tasting.  We were happy to be invited.

DF tasting slide 1 600w

Myself, my husband and our pastry-chef-in-training 15 year-old daughter were three among a packed house of 50.  We learned much about what it takes to grow, produce and preserve outstanding olive oil, and how to recognize a winner with your eyes closed.  Olive oil is not wine of course, so the tasting is more subtle.  But the truths are there, exposed in all of their fruity, pine nutty, peppery, thymy, artichoky (invisible) nakedness.

We tasted six olive oils, ranging in price, providence and quality.  The absence of colour (black tasting cups be damned) made the entire process more anonymous and challenging. I am sure that, I am not the only one who associates vivid colour with vivid taste.

DF tastings slide 2 600w

The oils were served at room temperature, but the optimal tasting temperature, according to Cesare, is 81F.  So, before we could begin, we were instructed to cup our tasters between the warm palms of our hands for a minute or so to raise the temperature of the sample to its happy place, midway between ambient and the 98.6F of our hearts. 

Next, we were to raise the tasters to just below our nostrils and with one hand create a barrier between the aromas ascending from the cup and any olfactory interference from elsewhere in the room.  Then, inhale slowly and deeply with eyes closed and nostrils wide open. Not surprisingly the samples ranged from smelling stale and somehow greasy (unidentified national brand), to bright green (yes, bright green has a smell) and peppery/fruity. Two of the samples smelled fresh and somehow alive, and two did not offer much at all - not offensive, but certainly not seductive.

Finally we were encouraged to taste.  We tipped a small amount from each cup into our mouths, drawing the EVOO to the back (smile on the face, teeth parted slightly), inhaling through nose and mouth at the same time. This too is best done with eyes closed.  I admit that, when I arrived to the tasting, the prospect of consuming  straight-up olive oil seemed somehow counterintuitive, but I learned quickly to take very small sips of the samples that offered nothing olfactory, and to enjoy completely those that offered something more.

After we had tasted all of the samples, I very cleverly (or so I thought) dipped my finger into each cup and drew a small half moon in olive oil on the paper placemat, next to each respective cup (cheating evidenced above).  The paper next to sample number five displayed a transparent green crescent, which confused me given that I prefered sample six.  I have been an unabashed fan of DF's emerald green, and sample six was most definitely DF.  Was this a trick?

And the winner is...

DF tasting slide 3 600w

The great reveal by Cesare at the end of the tasting, taught me a lesson that I will not soon forget. "Don't judge an olive oil by its colour", Cesare had told the group at the outset. "Harvests and olive characteristics vary from year to year, so colour isn't an indication of taste or quality."  I heard him of course, but I didn't really take his words to heart until my predispositions were proven wrong.  

Sample five, it turned out, was an artisanal oil from a small producer in Italy.  The oil was very good and its green colour was very beautiful.  Sample six was outstanding; a preview (lighter green) sample of Olio Veritas (Latin: truth in olive oil) , a soon-to-be-introduced (but already award-winning) new EVOO from the Domenica Fiore Estate - a medium, robust and fruity blend with notes of green almond and arugula.  An outstanding EVOO that we recognized as the winner, even with our eyes closed. 

Cesare's final words of advice about gaining the best possible return on investment in the best olive oil:  Buy only EVOO; extra virgin olive oil (the very small cream of the crop of olive oils).  Use your EVOO within two months or so of opening (no problem). Don't leave the cap off the bottle. And finally, don't leave the bottle near the heat of the stove or indeed anywhere warm. Heat, light and oxygen are EVOOs' enemies.  Everything and everyone else it seems, loves them.

Domenica Fiore olive oils are of premium quality and therefore price, but consider this: 

  • The organic estate-grown olives are hand-harvested, then pressed in a small, state-of-the-art organic facility, and bottled within four hours of harvest.
  • The entire process - from pressing to bottling, happens in an enclosed, inert, oxygen-free environment, so that there is no loss of quality due to exposure to oxygen or light.
  • Each 250ml or 500ml bottle is stainless steel. Actual stainless steel. Not to match your kitchen appliances, rather so the olive oil inside doesn't see the light until you open the bottle - and then only briefly, until you recap it.  I don't know the stats on oil, but I do know that tinned spices (also susceptible to light)  last 10-fold longer than spices stored in glass.
  • Each bottle is nitrogen-sealed.  An oxygen-free environment ensures optimal freshness.
  • Each bottle is numbered for traceability (orchard, date etc), then signed by Cesare Bianchini.  Cesare concedes that as the business grows, hand-signing has become a very big job, but he continues the practice because "touching and signing each bottle gives me a kind of connection with each person in the world who buys or uses the oil".
  • DF EVOOs won gold awards at the New York International Competitions in 2013 and 2014; and gold and silver awards in Japan in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

DF oils are among the few products in our webstore that are not ours exclusively or that we do not manufacture or package ourselves.  We carry them because we believe they are the very best EVOOs we can offer our customers - at any price.

Thank you Cesare and Frank for premium Domenica Fiore, and thank you David for a delightful Sunday afternooon.   I have since renewed my appreciation for one of the world's oldest, most precious culinary commodities.

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