Waking up after my first night sleep at the luxurious Villa Pipistrelli in Tuscany was surreal. I stepped outside of the front door with my cup of freshly brewed Italian coffee and watched the fog burn off over the rolling hills hardly comprehending where I was. Is this a dream? No. This fantasy was actually my reality and it was only going to get better. Not only was there a breakfast spread filled with jam crostata, sliced cheese and prosciutto waiting back inside, but this morning we were participating in a blind olive oil tasting.
Could my first day in Tuscany start out any more perfect? Only if there was a large jar of Nutella in the cabinet. There was.
Massimo, the farm manager at Montestigliano estate, which includes Villa Pipistrelli, started with taking the group on a tour of a small portion of the 2,000 olive trees that were scattered throughout the 2,500 acres of the estate.
There are four different varieties growing on the estate: Pendolino, Leccino, Frantoio and Moraiolo. These are blended to create Montestigliano’s spicy and lightly bitter extra virgin olive oil.
Though the plants look healthy now, in 1985 Tuscany had one week of frost that killed 90% of the olive trees. Even then, the growers continued to have faith, believing that the olive tree was sacred and its heart had not died.
It took time, but the trees flourished once again.
Even though it was not picking season, which happens in November, they demonstrated how it would be done using a simplistic picker that looked similar to a hedge-cutter on a long stick.
After finishing 2,000 trees, this mans body surely must be vibrating on its own.
After the olives are collected they go into the granary, a store room. This stone storehouse is where we would be doing the blind olive oil tasting, a reproduction of an official olive oil panel test.
On a rustic wooden table sat four foil covered bottles labeled with the letters A thru D. Massimo poured about half an ounce of each variety into our plastic cups labeled the same as the bottles.
Though the glasses looked like the perfect size of a liquor shot, it is not recommended to drink it like Jaegermeister, which is good since I haven’t done a shot since 1998…that’s another story.
The olive oil tasting technique was a cross between traditional wine tasting and a coffee cupping.
First, you look at the oil to check its color. A good olive oil has to have clear color of greenish-yellow and not cloudy or orangish. Next, smell the oil to see if you can distinguish scents of defects or goodness.
After a big sniff, slightly warm it by holding the cup tight in your hand. Then you can taste it by slurping the oil to get air through it and then make sure it coats your mouth. This is when you can identify its distinctive attributes.
Is it bitter? Spicy? Sweet?
After every time you taste, before moving on to the next olive oil, take a drink of frizzante water and a nibble of apple to clean your palate.
Two of the oils represented today in the blind olive oil tasting were DOP (protected origins), one was a general olive oil and the last was said to be “industrial crap”.
I ogled, smelled, slurped and tasted all four.
Letter ‘A’ was sweeter, ‘B’ was spicier, ‘C’ had an immediate scent of acidity and ‘D’ tasted like straight vegetable oil. The last lacked color, smell and taste. It had no business on an Italian dinner table.
After noting characteristics, it was time to choose the best of the bunch. I chose ‘B’ as my favorite due to its spice and beautiful color, and so did the rest of the group.
Massimo then unveiled what was under the foil of letter B and it was the olive oil that was made from the olives in the very grove that we had stepped foot on moments ago.
The Montestigliano extra virgin olive oil was the clear winner. Now if I just had a piece of crusty bread to dip into it it would be the best food experience in the world.
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