‘Drizzle with a little olive oil’– just those few words is enough to kick my taste buds into action and instantly bring memories of a long lunch on a warm day in a vineyard café somewhere with a plate of fresh focaccia, the vineyard’s own olive oil paired with a cheeky little glass of …. Or do they have your inner Jamie Oliver springing into action? Whatever the effect, when olive oil is on the shopping list I stand and look at the shelf and wonder whether to buy what I bought last time, whatever’s on special or splash out and try something new. Usually it’s the Lupi olive oil with the olive green label that gets put in the trolley.
For this survey I’ve been tasting under $10 olive oils. I bought ten 500ml bottles at New World and Countdown, ranging in price from $5 to $10.
According to Google’s olive oil tasting recommendations, I should use small blue olive oil tasting glasses, twirl the oil like a fine wine to release the aromas, sniff the oil, slurp it into my mouth noisily (like great aunts tell you off for) and then let the taste fill my mouth. The oil was poured, ramekins numbered so we were blind tasting and a tasting order of palest to darkest. The palest oils could only be described as being the poor second cousin of a good olive oil. Delicate is a kinder description; only be used when making your own mayonnaise.
Moving quickly on to the mid-coloured range, we started to taste olives – very little bouquet and slight bitterness at the top of the mouth – green tea taste, fresh cut grass. It helped to have a list of the aromas and flavours we might find. Then there were several oils with a decided banana aroma. Now we’re getting somewhere – a silky texture with buttery flavour; crushed rosemary; black pepper; window putty – not good! Google was right – slices of Granny Smith apple between tastings and a quick swill with fizzy water made a difference.
With taste buds calibrated, the oils were all tasted again to check our first descriptions. There was one clear winner – the Borges Extra Virgin. Lovely smooth olive flavour, peppery at the back of the mouth – very pleasant. None was worthy of second place when compared with the Borges. So joint third place to the Olivani Extra Virgin and the Pams Extra Virgin. Sorry Lupi – we’re breaking up.
Our overall conclusion was that most of the oils tasted slightly old. Perhaps that was because most were blends of very average olives to start with. The labels stated two of the olive oils were made in Tunisia, four were produced in Spain, three were packed in Spain or Italy from imported ingredients and one was a product of the Mediterranean. All had an 18 month shelf life. The Borges had the highest calories and levels of total fat, monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats, but it was worth it.
Olive oils tasted: Borges extra virgin ($8.50), Essentials olive oil ($5.00), Lupi ($7.00), Olivani extra virgin ($10.00), Pams extra light ($5.29), Pams extra virgin ($5.49), Pams Pure ($5.59), WW classic Spanish ($5.60), WW Spanish extra virgin ($5.90), WW Spanish Mellow ($5.30).