This is the only way to judge the quality, says olive oil expert Mary Platis. Platis and colleague Laura Bashar, who call themselves the Two Extra Virgins, have compiled what they know in a book, "Cooking Techniques and Recipes with Olive Oil" (hardcover, $26.95).
By tasting you can detect a range of flavors--grassy, herbaceous, fruity and more. These vary according to the type of olive, the climate and in what season the fruit was harvested.
The burning effect that may stab at your throat when tasting genuine EVO oil isn't a flaw. It's from the polyphenols that make olive oil good for you.
By tasting, you can also detect rancidity, which is regrettably common in olive oils on store shelves, many of them chemically processed and blended.
Avoid these and buy only extra virgin olive oil from a reliable source, then use it for everything, from salads and stews to desserts. "Think of it as fresh juice," says Platis.
Joining them was George Menzelos of Arianna Trading Company, who imports a raw, unfiltered, organic extra virgin olive oil from Greece (above).
In a blind tasting, they presented sips of fall, winter and spring extra virgin olive oils. Fall is the main crop, yielding oil that is harbaceous, green in flavor and vibrant. Spring oils are the lightest, good for spring vegetables and baking. Winter is in between, with full flavors suitable for soups, meats and braising winter vegetables.
Although they avoided brand names, they did say that you can get good EVO oils at stores such as Trader Joe's and Costco, not just at premium markets and specialty shops.
To prove how well EVO oil works in cooking, Melissa's chefs prepared a buffet of dishes from the book. A baby beet and raw Brussels sprouts salad with a touch of feta cheese (above) is perfect for cooler days.
When purchasing olive oil, buy only a small quantity that you can use within a year and store it away from light, the authors advise. Good olive oil should be in a dark bottle. It doesn't matter if you can't see the color, because color has nothing to do with flavor and quaity, they say.
BABY BEETS AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD
From "Cooking Techniques and Recipes with Olive Oil"
3 baby beets, washed, trimmed and peeled
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 large Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced or shredded
2 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon fresh dill
Reserved beet juice from steaming
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Place beets in a small, heatproof shallow bowl.
Fill a wok or a pot large enough to hold a bamboo steamer with 2 inches of water. Place the bamboo steamer into the wok. Place the shallow bowl holding the beets into the steamer and cover. The shallow bowl will collect the juice sweating from the beets.
Bring the water to a boil and steam until the beets are fork tender, 35 to 45 minutes.
Carefully remove the bamboo basket from the wok and allow the beets to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Chill until ready to serve.
Strain the beet juice and blend with the olive oil, vinegar, garlic clove, salt and pepper to make the vinaigrette.
Divide the sliced Brussels sprouts between 2 serving plates. Slice beets in half and divide between the two plates. Top with feta and dill. Serve with vinaigrette.
Makes 2 servings.