Earlier I worked up a reply, but perhaps it needs to be reviewed before posting?
I've conducted olive oil tastings at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in Washington, DC. I'm with Olio2go (dot) com and we called our sessions, Tour of Italy Olive Oil Tastings.
We featured olive oils from five regions of Italy: Liguria, Tuscany, Puglia, Sicily, and Sardinia. Through the five tastings, we discussed how the flavor characteristics of each oil complemented the characteristics of the region's cuisine. (Alternatively, one could do a comparative tasting of olive oils from one region, say Tuscany or Sicily).
Between "flights", our guests had bottled water and apple slices to cleanse the palate. Some chose to sample with bread; others chose to taste "straight". We used sampling cups. Also our guests had forms for notes so they could make personal notations on the oils. It's also helpful to have cards where they can circle: grassy, herbal, notes of artichoke, peppery, spicy, etc.
For our tasting we used the following extra virgin olive oils:
San Damiano di Francesca Barnato, taggiasca monocultivar from Liguria
Tenuta di Capezzana, Tuscany
Villa Cappelli, Puglia
Frankies 457 DOP Organic, Sicily
Gourmet Sardinia Organic, Sardinia
Please let me know if you have more questions.
P.S. Just saw that I can't include a link. You can google Olio2go (dot) com.
A question comes to mind...the other day I was watching Mario Batalli (probably an Iron Chef episode) and he was adding the oil from way above the pan. He stated (and Alton agreed) that it give it a better flavour. Any emmis (truth) to this matter or is that a bubbe meisses (bubbe story)? Thanks and Happy Passover y'all
Cantor Posner aka ChefBoyof Dees
"An Armed Society is a Polite Society"--Robert A Heinlein
"You either Do or Don't Do...There is no TRY" --Yodah
Although my Bubbie didn't use olive oil (only Mazola would do) I'd bet it has to do with aeration.
I've been offered samples of olive oil in specialty stores using cubes of fresh bread. I wouldn't think that would be the best way to do it, though. Miz Italy, is it tasted like wine (swirling in the mouth, sipping in air, etc.)?
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Mezzaluna -- Somewhat like wine is the best way. Start with a big noisy slurp to bring air in with the oil and then mix it around to see what different characteristics you can detect.
Also, some can't "stomach" tastings without bread. Typically in the office, I prefer to evaluate new oils shortly before I have lunch. There are no competing flavors around -- and then lunch can settle that "I've been consuming straight oil feeling".
Don't spit (as you would with wine). It's important to take in the back of the throat so you can assess the peppery characteristics (that cause some to cough)!
As pointed out by Miz Italy, slurping and sloshing in the mouth is important. The volatiles in olive oil (and most oils) are heavy so they require lot's of air to coax them out and body (mouth) heat. Opposite to tasting wine, your hands should warm the glass of oil before tasting it.
I know many will not agree to this (being unconventional) but to smell the volatiles, slowly pour a thin slick of oil on hot water. The heat will activate the volatiles to better appreciate the aroma.
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