04.21.2015

The Secrets of an Excellent Olive Oil

  • The Secrets of an Excellent Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most remarkable products of excellence in Italy, and yet the debate over its quality is heated by the constant discovery of frauds. Since the best way to avoid adulterated products is knowing how to recognize authentic extra virgin olive oil, we asked Miciyo Yamada, the first – and so far only – professional Japanese Italian olive oil taster to explain us how to do it.
 
Miciyo was born in Kyoto, but she soon moved to Europe, graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris and spent many years in Italy working as a journalist and a publisher. Her love for Italian excellence led her to discover the world of extra virgin oive oil, and today she is part of  those panels that safeguard consumer rights by judging oil quality and reporting the oils that have no claim to call themselves extra virgin.
 
SJ: Can you tell us how you first developed a interest in olive oil?
MY: Years ago, as a journalist, while writing a story on extra virgin olive oil I got to know quite a few companies and I fell in love with this charming product, to the point of becoming an enthisiast. I decided to start my sommelier training straight away, and I eventually became an official taster. A few months later, panel groups and international competition contacted me and I became a judge. I took part in major contests such as the Copenhagen International Olive Oil Awards, the Japan Olive Oil Prize, the AIPO d’Argento in Verona, and the New York International Olive Oil Competition.
 
SJ: How do you become an oil sommelier - or rather a professional oil taster recognized by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies?
MY: First of all you need to do your training, by attending officially recognized technical courses and schools and taking part in a set number of tasting sessions. While wine tasters can rely on self-certification as a testimony of their skills, oil tasters need the written approval of Chamber of Commerce in order the to be put on the National Register.
Of course, continuing education is crucial for your personal enrichment; I often attend courses and seminars at Dipartimento di Analisi Sensoriale di Cesena, a branch of the Faculty of Agriculture at Università di Bologna.
 
SJ: Which features do you evaluate when tasting olive oil?
MY: Technical tasting begins with an olfactory approach, allowing you to assess if the oil is flawless, and thus extra virgin. You then move on to gustative tasting, taking a small sip of oil to perceive the nasal aftertaste and the pungent attribute, a feature that all extra virgin olive oils need to have.
Bitterness is another positive attribute that many extra virgin olive oils have. As for the scent, since it is an unfiltered natural juice, extra virgin olive oil has herbaceous notes, often accompanied by by notes of apple, almond, and green tomato - especially when it comes to fruity oils. Yet there is no such thing as lemon, orange or strawberry notes.
 
SJ: Is there a way to easily tell a good oil  from a bad one?
MY: It's pretty easy. Anyone can sniff oil and perceive the fresh, herbaceous notes of olive and oilve leaves: that is the hallmark of extra virgin olive oil. If those notes are missing, then it cannot be extra virgin.
 
SJ: You will soon be our guest at selected Slowear Store boutiques for an oil tasting tour. Can you tell us how you will introduce our customers to the world of extra virgin olive oil and which oil brands you have selected for the tastings?
MY: First of all I will explain them how technical tasting works - it has clear, very simple rules. I will then teach them how to recognize extra virgin olive oil by comparing an adulterated sample with an excellent one. Finally, I will invite them to discover the notes and the scents and to share their thoughts.
As for the oil brand, the product of excellence I chose for this occasion is Nettaribleo by Agrestis, a Sicilian company based in Buccheri, near Catania. Nettaribleo won six prizes in 2015 and its main assets are a green tomato note and a subtle bitterness. It is a great natural flavor enhancer, especially on a simple  tomato salad.
 
The first stop of Miciyo's oil tasting tour is planned for May 23 at Officina Slowear - Tokyo Midtown. Follow our Facebook page for more updates on the next stops.
 
Translated and edited by F.S.
Photo: Foodista

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notes  | tasting  | Extra  | virgin  | Olive  |

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