Monday, April 10, 2023

Lapping Up the Fruity, Bitter, and Pungent


"Olive oil is a fruit, so olive oil is a fruit juice," David Garci-Aguirre explains to me on a Zoom tasting. "The moment you extract oil from an olive it's at its best." The tasting is sponsored by the California Olive Oil Council or COOC, And Garci-Aguirre knows his stuff, as Vice President of Operations and Master Miller at Corto Olive with 14 years in the field.

COOC has two main functions--certifying olive oil producers who do things the right way and promoting that seal-certified oil to the rest of the state and the world. Despite the gorgeous amount of olive oil trees one might spy touring the state, all of California's production is merely 2% of the oil consumed nationwide. "For the three years I've been with COOC, the mission has been the same, for better or worse," Garci-Aguirre insists. "The climate for consumers is still terrible, as supermarket quality oil is very poor. So we have to find California producers that care and have developed the certification process so customers get fresher oil."

One of the stumbling blocks for this project is the average consumer finds low quality oil familiar and therefore acceptable. Turns out that most production worldwide happens two months later than it does at COOC certified producers. Longer hang-time leads to fermentation, alcohol is the byproduct, and you end up with fusty oil. To top that off, commercial EVO often is a blend of oil from around the world--the sample sent to me was a blend from Argentina, Chile, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Peru, Portugal, Spain, and Tunisia. Turns out that an oil that seems like it should show up in a steamer trunk plastered with exotic luggage labels isn't such a great idea. The sad stuff has traveled distance and sat around. So on your tastebuds is stays greasy and unpleasant.

Light, heat, and air are all enemies to quality. That might make things particularly difficult for those in the Midwest, but here in the Golden State, we have a surfeit of great olive oil--indeed, 65% of the state's oil is now COOC seal certified. Yep, it costs more, but part of that is you get what you pay for. It's also been hard to mechanize harvest, but recent advances lead Garci-Aguirre to say, "It makes me so excited, we are going to be able to democratize fresh olive oil."

So look for the COOC label. Their website will help, and lots of the best you can purchase direct-to-consumer. Perhaps some of it will be like the mind-altering oil made solely from Sevillano sample I got to sip--natural, warming, crystal clean, and no oily aftertaste. It ranked high on all three adjectives in this post's title. Given most of us don't do olive oil shots, it's also good to know that Garci-Aguirre discussed a recent study that suggests the polyphenols in high quality oil protect the integrity of tomatoes, say, during cooking. That oil is going to help the tomatoes on your next designer pizza sing.

Even better, olives make for a sustainable California. In addition to having low water needs, they also score well for carbon sequestration. 

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