Posts Tagged: olive oil
I’m slow on the artisan EVOO wave. In December, after proofreading the new issue of California Agriculture - Growing Bigger, Better: Artisan Olive Oil Comes of Age, I purchased a bottle for my partner and the next day heard a TV comedian joke about people buying $60 bottles of olive oil for holidays gifts. (Then I felt cheap — I hadn’t spent that much!)
But the tall thin black bottle of December’s New Oil from Katz and Company, near Napa, was so fabulous I decided to start learning the extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) lexicon. Did I know for sure whether it was grassy, buttery, peppery or pungent? It certainly was green. Albert Katz this week told me why: “That’s the chlorophyll in the oil; it’s at its height in olio nuovo,” he said.
When the earliest still-green olives are crushed in November, a strong odor of fresh green fills the mill, he explained. The crush smells like fresh artichoke, even parsley, but most predominantly like grass. Katz has been in the business so long that when he catches a whiff of mown grass he looks around to see whether someone is crushing olives nearby.
Darn it, though, Katz sells their olio nuovo only in December, so it’s over. The limited production and short window of sales for olio nuovo, celebrating the first crush, is a tradition in all the major olive-growing regions of the world, including northern Italy, where the name originates. The oil is always unfiltered, cloudy, and as bold as it’s ever going to be. Katz calls it “the pungency of youth.”
This week sees the very end of the season. McEvoy Ranch has bottles of their olio nuovo for sale at their San Francisco Ferry Building store and online through this weekend (February 6). The McEvoy olio nuovo is green, robust, and peppery — peppery means it has a little burn in the throat, which is a desirable quality. (Bitter is a different matter; it’s tasted on the tongue.) Like all olio nuovo, the McEvoy new oil has sediment in the bottom of the bottle, and it has an unctuous quality, a little pleasantly thick and earthy in the mouth.
With the end of the olio nuovo season comes the release of the oils that have been stored for two months; they are already changing — more mellow, more golden — and the sediment will stay in the storage tanks. As they age through spring and summer, they’ll taste more buttery.
Climate affects the taste of oil. “Terroir” is what the environmental factors are called, explain Paul Vossen and Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne in the California Agriculture article on sensory qualities of olive oils. Katz tastes some roundness and softness in his oil this year, from the cool summer and late harvest.
Different varieties of olive trees produce markedly different aroma compounds. Tuscan varieties, grown by both Katz and McEvoy Ranch, have robust aroma profiles (full-bodied, pungent, complex). A few stores down from McEvoy at the San Francisco Ferry Building, Stonehouse sells its milder EVOO, pressed from Spanish olive oil varieties Mission, Manzanillo, Sevillano, Ascolano and Arbequina. The Stonehouse oil isn’t spicy; it doesn’t burn the throat.
Last week, Katz released its main oils for 2011: Chef’s Pick Organic Extra Virgin and Rock Hill Ranch Extra Virgin. Rock Hill doesn’t taste like the olio nuovo, because a significant proportion of the olives in it are Taggiasca, and they weren’t harvested until after the olio nuovo was made. Chef’s Pick, though, has the same profile, Katz says. Now I know a little of the language, I think I’m going to investigate further and buy a bottle before it sells out. If I wait until summer, I’m told the green will be gone and the grassiness turned more herbal.
For more information on tasting olive oils, check out the UC Davis Olive Center; in August, they have introductory and advanced seminars on sensory evaluation of olive oil.
Paul Vossen is a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor and expert on olive oil processing tasting; watch his video on tasting here.
Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne showed Sacramento Bee reporter Gina Kim in this video how to taste oil and recognize fustiness.
The California Olive Oil Council website lists farm tours and tasting rooms.
The Olive Oil Times has an archive of articles on tasting, including one on recognizing rancidity.
Dipping fresh bread into olive oil has become a popular alternative to coating it with butter. Olive oil consists of 85 percent unsaturated fats, and when substituted for saturated fat in the diet can promote ”good” cholesterol (high density lipoprotein or HDL), reducing risk of coronary artery disease.
Some olive oils are more beneficial than others. "Extra virgin" olive oil (EVOO), for instance, is extracted from the olive fruit without using heat or chemical solvents. This mechanical process retains the highest amount of natural “phenolic compounds” — antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. Such compounds both retard oxidation in the olive oil (keeping it fresh and preventing rancidity) and confer health benefits.
Miller's diagram (above) depicts the fatty acid content of olive oil. PUFA is polyunsaturated fatty acids.
"Antioxidants combat cell and tissue damage due to oxidation, and anti-inflammatory agents reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation can lead to an array of diseases (arthritis, coronary artery disease and more),” said Amy Myrdal Miller, registered dietitian and a program director at The Culinary Institute of America.
When oils are 'refined,' heat or chemical solvents strip away phenolic compounds; the result is often a bland flavor. Mechanically extracted "extra-virgin" oils retain aromatic components. Pungent, peppery and sometimes bitter notes signal that an oil contains phenolics.
The growth of premium olive oil production in California has its roots in 1997, when UC Cooperative Extension Sonoma County Advisor Paul Vossen started the first olive oil taste panel in California to help producers improve oil quality using sensory analysis. (See the January 2011 California Agriculture.)
When it comes to detecting positive and negative attributes of olive oil, human tasters are superior to current chemical analytical methods. Standards to define "extra-virgin" and other grades of oil include both sensory and laboratory measures. The International Olive Council's (IOC) narrow definition specifies that EVOO must show no evidence of heat or chemical solvents. It must have zero median "defects" (as judged by trained taste panels) and more than zero median fruitiness. It must meet requirements for low levels of free fatty acids (too many of these signal degradation) and peroxide levels (a sign of oxidation).
This definition has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the states of California, Connecticut and Oregon. Beginning on Oct. 24 of 2010, it became part of new USDA standards for olive oil labeling, which also define "U.S. Virgin," "U.S. Refined" and other grades. Although the standards are voluntary, any manufacturer using this terminology on its label could be held to truth-in-labeling laws.
While the ultimate impact of the new USDA standards will take time, consumers can learn to identify flavor attributes of California olive oils by participating in tastings at vendors that feature artisan products. Also, theCalifornia Olive Oil Council awards an extra-virgin certification seal to member oils that are defect-free.
However, the array of olive oils now available at supermarkets can be daunting, and "extra virgin" on the label can be misleading. The UC Davis Olive Center reported in July 2010 that their samples from Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles supermarkets revealed 69 percent of imported EVOO and 10 percent of California olive oil samples labeled as EVOO failed to meet International Olive Council (IOC)/USDA sensory standards for extra virgin olive oil.
Once you identify your favorite olive oil, it should be stored in a cool, dark environment, like a kitchen cabinet removed from the stove, according to Alexandra Vicenik Devarenne, freelance olive oil consultant in Sonoma County. Fluctuations in temperature and light affect the integrity of the health-promoting phenols in extra virgin olive oil.
“When people find out about phenolics and the effects of heat on olive oil, they may question whether it is safe and okay to cook with extra virgin olive oil,” she says. “The heat will destroy some of the health-promoting phenols in the oil, which will change the flavor. The longer the oil is exposed to heat, and the higher the heat, the more phenols will be destroyed.
“However, sautéing in extra virgin olive oil for 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat will have minimal effects on phenols and flavor.”
See more tips on storing and cooking with olive oil.
Signed, sealed and soon to be delivered: University of California President Mark Yudof’s own blend of olive oil.
UC Davis already has its own popular olive oil, sold in the campus bookstore and online, with customers including Yudof. The self-supporting UC Davis Olive Center – the only academic center of its kind in North America – is looking to branch out with the UC-wide President’s Blend.
A day before Yudof began his tour of high schools to promote access to a UC education, he visited the UC Davis Olive Center on Sept. 30 to give his official seal of approval to the President’s Blend olive oil.
Accompanied by UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and leaders of the campus’ Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, Yudof chose from five blends made with olives grown in California. His favorite? A blend 25 percent Frantoio (Italian) olives and the rest Arbequina (Spanish) olives, the most commonly planted olive in California. Nutty? Yes. Pungent? Check. Bitter? No. Yudof also chose a label design with an image of olives, the UC seal in the middle and the words “President’s Blend.”
“I’m really humbled,” said Yudof, who plans to buy bottles of his blend to send to relatives.
The President’s Blend is expected to be available by the winter holidays. The plan is to sell it at all UC campus bookstores in quarter-liter bottles for $12 apiece.
“We’re hoping we can get out to the other campuses and expose them to really good olive oil,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center.
In July, the Olive Center garnered international attention with its study that found many imported olive oils sold in California are not “extra virgin” as their premium labels claim they are. The center is doing a second study to confirm the results, UC Davis professor and sensory scientist Jean-Xavier Guinard said.
The center, part of the Robert Mondavi Institute, collaborates across campus and among producers and the community to promote olive and olive oil research and education. Before testing the olive oil blends, Yudof visited a mobile olive mill, enclosed in a custom-built 38-foot trailer. Olive to Bottle owner Thom Curry brought it for the center’s sold-out course for olive oil producers. “It’s basically like making fruit juice,” Curry said. “The fresher, the better with olive oil.”
Yudof, who also toured the Robert Mondavi Institute’s newly completed, environmentally cutting-edge winery, brewery and food-processing complex, noted the economic promise of California’s growing olive oil industry. California produces almost all olive oil made in the United States, although that amounts to just 1 percent of total domestic consumption in the import-dominated market.
“The olives have the potential to be one of the leading crops in the state, with UC Davis being a leader in the industry, just like with wine and almonds,” Yudof said.
Read more and view a slideshow at Dateline UC Davis.
A traditional crop is getting a modern makeover – and UC Davis is cultivating its growth in California.
The UC Davis Olive Center last month hosted a symposium on super-high-density olive production – a relatively new practice that has fueled the expansion of California’s olive oil industry. The production system, developed in Spain, reached the Golden State in 1999 and has taken off in the past five years. California accounts for almost all domestic olive oil production – now 850,000 gallons a year – and is poised to become a global player.
“California could within the next 10 years rank among the top 10 olive oil producers in the world,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center.
Traditionally, olives have been planted at about 100 trees per acre and harvested by hand. Super-high-density olives are planted at more than 500 trees per acre and harvested by machine. The method lowers harvesting costs and speeds the turnaround from orchard to mill, a key to freshness and flavor. More than 100 growers attended the sold-out symposium to get the inside scoop – “a great deal of useful information,” Flynn said.
The self-funded UC Davis Olive Center, launched in 2008, is the only academic center of its kind in North America. Collaborating with industry, it published an olive production survey in November. The center made headlines with its just-published study that many premium-priced imported olive oil brands labeled as extra virgin – even those of EVOO queen Rachael Ray – aren’t as pure as they claim (California oils fared better). Upcoming projects could include research on super-high-density yields, costs and compatibility.
With olive oil consumption growing nationally, the climate is right in California, which has about 17,000 acres of super-high-density olives after 4,500 acres were planted in 2009. The most popular regions to grow olives for oil are Glenn and San Joaquin counties, putting Davis at the heart of the movement.
UC Davis has a history of helping to propel California agricultural products to worldwide prominence, such as grapes and wine. “It’s possible that something similar could happen with olives,” Flynn said.
Mechanical harvesting at Corto Olive (Photo by Corto Olive)
Extra virgin olive oil is the top grade and priciest of olive oils. To meet international standards, extra virgin must be removed from the olive without using heat or solvents. It also has to meet specific criteria for chemical makeup, flavor and aroma.
However in the new study, researchers at UC Davis and in Australia discovered that 69 percent of the imported oils sampled, compared to just 10 percent of the California-produced oils sampled, failed to meet internationally accepted standards for extra virgin olive oil.
The imported oils tested were purchased from supermarkets and “big box” stores in three California regions: Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County. The California brands, however, were found only in the Sacramento and San Francisco Bay Area.
Defects in those oils that failed to pass muster included oxidation from excessive temperature, light or aging and addition of cheaper refined olive oils. Other flaws may have been linked to improper processing or storage and use of damaged or overripe olives.
The complete report from the study, which is the first of its kind from an American college or university, is available online from the UC Davis Olive Center at: http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/.
The study was funded by Corto Olive, California Olive Ranch and the California Olive Oil Council.
Anecdotal reports of low-quality olive oils lurking behind extra-virgin labels have been floating about for some time but this is the first “empirical proof” to support those suspicions, according to Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center..
“The intent of the study was to provide consumers and retailers with an accurate picture of the quality of olive oils now being marketed through grocery stores and other retail outlets in California,” said Flynn, noting that the United States is the third-largest consumer of olive oil in the world.
“Our hope is that these findings will lead to improved methods for evaluating extra virgin olive oil, and increased consumer confidence that “extra virgin” on the label means extra virgin in the bottle,” he said.