How To Find a Good Olive Oil

This is all I want to taste when I'm sampling olive oil.

I view with suspicion the prospect of buying olive oil that I haven’t first been allowed to taste. No matter how many cute hand-lettered signs they post in the olive oil section decorated with hand-drawn olives and leaves and such, I don’t trust even the most well-intentioned marketing when it comes to plunking down a considerable sum of money for what is supposed to be a quality olive oil. So when I find a store that encourages customers to have a taste, I like to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.

Most of these set-ups have bread cubes for you to dip into the oil you wish to try. My problem with this is method of tasting is that the bread gets in the way. We wouldn’t dip a cube of bread into a glass of vino at a wine tasting, so why do this when we’re trying to explore the flavors and nuances of olive oil?

If the store provides tiny paper cups, I pour a bit of the oil into a cup and then pour that into my mouth, so that I can coat the various taste buds with the oil itself, unadulterated by the bread, which carries its own flavor and texture. Alternately, if I think I’ll be doing some olive oil tasting, I’ll throw a plastic, disposable spoon into my purse, and pour samples of oil into it for tasting, just in case no tiny cups are available.

As for whether to buy light or heavy, peppery or smooth, these choices are up to us as individual consumers. An olive oil isn’t good merely because someone else says it is. It’s our money we’re spending, so we should sample several olive oils and buy what we like.

Author Nancy Harmon Jenkins offers even more great advice on how to find a good olive oil and insight into the process. (And I see from her blog that we agree on the business of tasting those oils sans bread.)

The best way to get me to buy something is to give me a chance to sample it. I’m sure I’m not alone in this thinking. Are any of you olive oil sellers out there listening?

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