Most Mediterranean countries use olive oil as their staple cooking oil – Italy, Greece, France, Portugal, Spain, Egypt and others. These are olive growing countries and they’ve had hundreds, if not thousands, of years to perfect the groves. Thanks to olive oil experts like Missie Darnley at First Taste Olive Oils, Vinegars & More in Leavenworth, Kansas, it’s easy to have a taste of the Mediterranean right here in the US.
Olive Oil Tasting
Olive Oil tasting is not something I expected to do while visiting Leavenworth, but there are plenty of delightful surprises in this sleepy artisan-friendly city. If you’ve never sat down for an olive oil tasting, add this stop to your bucket list foodie adventurers now!
Darnley is a Sensory Certified Olive Oil Expert who will take your taste-buds on an extraordinary journey while sharing knowledge of the olive oil industry and introducing you to all the wonderful varieties available at First Taste Olive Oils. If you think all olive oils are created equally, think again.
Making olive oil is similar to making wine and reputable companies take pride in the selection and pressing of their olives. Olives are sorted according to variety and condition then pressed into large vats. Some companies blend varieties of premium olives to achieve a signature oil with a unique flavor. The pressed oil is tasted by olive oil tasters the same way wine is tasted and the best tasting oil comes from the best tasting premium olives.
First Press Olive Oils
First press olive oils are commonly known as Virgin or Extra Virgin, depending on the company. The oil is green in color, not yellow, and the flavor is delicate and mild. These first press oils do not hold up to cooking or baking. They break down in the heat and lose flavor and potency.
You can use first press oils raw in salads and salad dressings, drizzle over cooked food after it is removed from the heat, and use in marinades, spreads, and dips.
Cooking-friendly Olive Oils
Everything after the first press can be used in cooking. The oil should still be green, however. It may be difficult to tell the color of the oil when you are purchasing it because some companies use colored bottles, usually green bottles. If the bottle is colored and you are not sure of the reputation of the company, don’t buy it.
During our olive oil taste tasting, I quickly learned the difference between a quality olive oil and a rancid one (sounds worse than it was!) I had no idea what a difference there was and am certainly a much more savvy olive oil shopper now.
A good second press oil has a stronger flavor because it is pressed closer to the skin of the olive. The strong flavor holds up to cooking and baking. It shouldn’t be too heavy and tasteless.
Consumer – It Pays To Know Your Olive Oil
Once the sorting process is finished, the rejected and discarded olives are sold to companies that use them in olive oil blends. These oils are not as flavorful because the olives used are not the best to begin with. They are often yellow in color. Avoid them even though they are almost always less pricey.
Also avoid lite olive oil. Oil is a fat and there should be nothing lite about it. Lite olive oils are flavorless and devoid of much of the nutritional value of whole first and second press olive oils.
Specialty Olive Oils
At First Taste Olive Oils, Vinegars & More in Leavenworth, Kansas, the have a great selection of pure olive oils and delicious fused-infused olive oils, too. Fused-infused oils are olive oils infused with other natural flavors like blood orange, cilantro or Persian lime. The result is a wonderfully rich flavor sensation that’s perfect for dipping, drizzling over your favorite foods or creating custom salad dressings.
My favorite is the Basil Infused Olive Oil and I made sure to take home plenty! There’s also a great selection of other gourmet goodies available in the shop to delight your foodie senses. Be sure to try out the Balsamic Vinegars. The Fig Balsamic Vinegar also made the journey back to my home (fantastic with Caprese salad.)
How To Store Your Olive Oils
After your olive oil tasting, when you’ve selected your favorites to take home, be sure to store them properly. Oils can become rancid so store them in a cool place. The refrigerator is okay, but the oil will need to liquefy before you can use it.
Changes in temperature, however, can effect the taste of your oil. It’s best to store it on a shelf away from direct heat and use it within a few weeks after opening the bottle. If you don’t think you’ll use even a small bottle quickly, store half the bottle in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator that way when you run out you’ll have some in the fridge and it will only have to change temperature once.