DEVOUR & CONQUER

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DIY Olive Oil Tasting Party

November 18, 2013

Ah, olive oil. We use in our cooking, we drizzle it on our salads, but do we really take the time to think about what kinds of olive oils we like, and what flavours best match our personal preferences?

California Olive Ranch, the largest North American grower and processor of olive oils, wants to change that, encouraging olive oil lovers and newbies alike to sample and taste oils and learn more about how to incorporate oils into our cooking. On November 14th, they hosted a cross-country Do It Yourself olive oil tasting and kindly included Devour & Conquer so us West Coast Canadians could learn more about olive oils grown in right here in North America.

It was fun to follow the hashtag #DIYEVOO on Twitter on November 14th to see what kinds of parties food bloggers were hosting throughout the day, from formal sit down dinners with olive oil-infused food pairings to casual, upbeat get-togethers. Our tasting party was an informal and interactive tasting for a group of local volleyball athletes who all play in a league together on Thursday nights and meet afterwards to visit.

We tasted three California Olive Ranch oils - the Everyday mild olive oil, single varietal Arbequina and boldly flavoured Miller's Blend. We also tried an Italian import that's very popular locally and in many of our cupboards, Italissima as a taste 'control' oil for comparison.

There are four key steps when tasting an olive oil: 1. The Swirl, where you warm and move the oil around its tasting cup to release aromas. 2. The Sniff, lifting the oil to your nose, olive oils have unique aromas just like wine. 3. The Slurp, where the oil is sipped and rolled over the tongue and around the mouth. 4. The Swallow, where you examine the tasting notes of the oil that speak to you and enjoy the 'finishing' flavour. The picture above is a great study of my friends trying out the Swirl, Sniff, Slurp & Swallow technique.

My friends are adventurous with food and after being a little surprised at first that we would be starting the tasting by experiencing each oil 'straight' (without food, sipping in tasting cups), everyone jumped in and the tasting kicked into high gear. A few tasters chose to sample the different oils with bread instead of straight, and were still able to fully experience and enjoy the tasting.

Our initial 'straight oil' tasting was enlightening for everyone in our group. "I never realized I had an opinion about what kinds of olive oils I actually like and dislike" said one friend, while another announced "Why have I been buying crappy olive oil, when my tastebuds wanted Arbequina all this time?". The Italian 'control' oil was a huge surprise to everyone, as it was universally disliked in comparison to the California-grown oils, even by many of us who have been buying it for years.

After everyone had picked their personal winning oils from the tasting, we tucked into the DIY appetizers. I provided fresh baguettes, lemon hummus, truffle pesto and bruschetta. My friends created their own appetizers and drizzled them with their own personal favourite olive oils from the tasting to experience how the oils enhance different foods.

The single olive varietal Arbequina was our group's overall favourite, with Miller's Blend coming in second, and a wide variety of personal preferences and opinions across the board. We had fun discussing what we liked and didn't like about the different flavours, and how our favourite picks enhanced the flavour of our appetizers. "I didn't like the Miller's Blend alone, but I love what it's doing to this bruschetta!" exclaimed one taster.

It was an eye-opening tasting experience which taught us to think about olive oils differently, try new kinds, regions and varieties, and actually pay attention to the flavours we enjoy before we cook or infuse our food with an oil. It also got our group excited about sampling more North American-produced olive oils, as it was obvious that our tastebuds enjoy those flavours.

California Olive Ranch plans to host more DIY Olive Oil tasting parties in the future and encourages everyone to give tasting olive oils at home a try. I highly recommend it, we had a blast and learned a lot in a friendly, foodie setting.

To learn more about California Olive Ranch, visit their website. While their oils are currently only available for you lucky USA consumers, they are working to bring their products up to Canada in the future and have promised to keep me posted!

Check all the fun from the cross-country DIY tasting parties by searching the Twitter and Instagram hashtag #DIYEVOO or clicking this link for recipes, pictures and food pairings.

Disclosure: I received a DIY Olive Oil tasting kit from California Olive Ranch, but was not compensated for this post and all product opinions are my own.

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So much fun! I was definitely on team Arbequina, both straight and on the appetizers. It was lighter and some how, easier to "taste" than the other oils which sometimes got lost in the food.

You rock Gwen :)

What a great evening! I really had NO idea before this that there was really any difference in olive oils. I couldn't "shoot" the oil straight but enjoyed sucking it out from bread (and ignoring the bread part of the flavour) Looking forward to picking up some Arbequina sometime!

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