I was speaking with a friend and he mentioned Olive oil from Palestine. I already tried it, I had not written about it because it could be perceived, as having the wrong political connotations. After rejecting the suggestion that it was good, (I felt it was oxidized), he mentioned that he received some bottles from Greece named “Olea Juice”. He thought the quality was superb and I agreed.
There are always skeptics, I am one of those people. Before I can agree that something is recognized as outstanding, I try to dig into the process, understand it, and analyze it. So this is exactly what I did with “Olea Juice”. Tasting it, I contacted the owner and asked more details. After spending time with him, I realized that making olive oil is simple, but perfecting it is a personal choice, a choice he has made.
From our investigations these past months, we started to have greater understanding of olive oil. After all, its confusing for consumers, as there are thousands of oils to choose from. When I walk into a grocery shop, or a specialty shop, how do I select an oil. It is usually based on three factors, bottle shape, branding and price.
I buy at least 2 or more bottles of olive oil per week. Many are so disappointing that I don’t bother to write about them. Some are interesting but from my standpoint, I am interested in a pure taste, and many miss it.
The main problem with olive oil is there are so many producers. Italy and Spain produces millions of bottles of olive oil. Italy too produces nearly the same, having a reputation of the best virgin oils, Spain is a close second having more varieties of trees than any other country producing olive oil.
I still prefer Greek olive oil but I also enjoy selected oils from other countries. There are many small producers making very good oil, the problem is access to these producers.
The confusion between fruit and acidity, or those peppery tastes that dominate the palate is apparent. There is no doubt in my mind olive oil should be balanced between fruit, acidity and flavors, those pungent flavors you find in cold pressed olive oils. This goes without saying, so for each person it is a journey, the discovery of what is good olive oil and what is not.
It is not arbitrary, you cannot say I have the best olive oil without understanding what makes the best. The best should be based on variety, harvesting, malaxing, decanting, extraction, bottling and storage. So back to taste, the single most important aspect of olive oil. What should cold pressed virgin olive oil taste like?
In “The Handbook of Olive Oil” by Harwood and Arapicio, they cite studies done by the authors that show that aglycons are responsible for the bitter and pungent sensory attribute, as well as tyrosol and possibly alpha-tocopherol. The phenols are related to astringent attributes. It is probably the combination of bitterness and astringency that causes a person to cough. Is coughing a bad thing – no, many people do after tasting freshly pressed olive oil.
These tastes and fragrances derive from compounds like hexanal, green, grassy and fruity flavors, trans-2-hexenal the green and bitter tastes, and 1-hexanol and 3-methylbutan-1-ol, which are the major volatile compounds of olive oil. Many of these flavor compounds decompose if temperatures during milling are too high.
An interesting side note: Gary Beauchamp and other chemists published a September 1, 2005 article in Nature that shows that oleocanthol, the pungent compound in some oils which creates a stinging sensation in the throat, has similar properties to anti-inflammatory compounds such as ibuprofen.
There are hundreds of different varieties of olive trees. Some are very similar, sometimes identical with just slightly different names. Some are very different. They have different looks as well as growing characteristics and preferences. Their olives vary in size, oil content, taste, chemical characteristics, ripening time, and many other factors.
It has always been my dream to make olive oil, to dedicate myself in finding a way to improve the overall process. Hence we talked with producers this past harvest about their specific varieties of trees and the usefulness of blending of olives and terroir.
We begin to compare olive oil to wine making except it is an easier process, less susceptible to mistakes and spoilage. The comparison to wine relates to the olives, in wine making it has become clear that Merlot is a grape that adds a certain velvety structure and taste. It took years for wine makers to figure out that certain grape varieties, or combinations are preferable in wine making. It was always thought that Cabernet Sauvignon was the single grape of choice, and in time we realized that blending was key to give a rounder taste.
So what is it that makes a great olive oil? Is it the trees, the hand harvest, the press, the extraction temperature? It is a combination of events, the control over processes, and the micro and macro study of how to improve the end result. This is something that is an ongoing process, and “Olea Juice” continues to improve the end result.
The question of when and what are the best harvest periods, fruit size and texture and color are among the most important factors in judging optimum time to harvest olives. Harvest should be delayed as long as possible to obtain maximum flesh-pit ratio, yet not so long as to produce processed fruit with an unacceptably soft texture.
As the olive fruit matures from green to yellow-green, it starts to soften and then the skin turns red-purple in color. This is called veraison, “the onset of ripening”, when the olives still have a high polyphenol content at this stage, and are starting to develop some ripe-fruity characteristics. They have close to a maximum amount of oil per dry weight, and are often considered to be at their peak for olive oil production.
“Olea Juice” hand sorts their olives in order to get the right balance. Olea’s owner watches this carefully to ensure the right amount of green and black olives are in the process. He produces two olive oils, one is medium rare which is blended, and the other oil is a single variety.
The two varieties of Olea’s olives are grown mainly in the Peloponnesus. The Manaki is considered to be one of the best and most recognizable Greek olives for oils. It is distinguished by sweetness, its rich taste and soft texture. These are the colorful bottles produced by “Olea Juice”.
The second olive is Koroneiki, the smallest variety of olives, and the owners favorite. It is one of the most recognized and awarded types of olives. Its golden-green olive oil is distinguished for its unique organoleptic components, its high nutritional value and its intense fruity aroma.
Olea’s Koroneiki variety is limited to 600 bottles and it is branded Medium Rare. It comes from a biological olive grove near the village of Lappa in Ahaia. In combination with their Manaki Medium Rare is an exceptional blend of a medium robust intensity, a fruity character and a pungent, peppery strong after note. The olive oil from Koroneiki olives is soft, juicy and releases a unique and a refreshing taste.
The idea that oils from the same region taste the same is untrue, you can have one from a nearby grove that will very different. There are so many factors that influence oil, the state it remains in and the changes that happen after it is bottled.
What I like about “Olea Juice” is the owner stores his olive oil under tank and free of oxygen to keep them from oxidizing, and when an order is made, he bottles only then. This way the olive oil produced doesn’t have an expiry, it doesn’t sit in a bottle or in a warehouse, or stay in conditions that wouldn’t benefit the oil.
Each oil’s taste depends on a number of factors and in the case of Olea they certainly cold press, under 20°C while most producers are in the mid twenties during pressing or even and as high as 49°C. is considered cold press.
The process of extraction is key to the integrity of the oil. The myth that using stones is the best way to crush the olive and pits, is a myth. Because the use of the stone mill requires a loading and unloading phase, this extraction method is discontinuous, i.e., there are times when all the machinery is stopped and the fruit gets exposed to light and oxygen.
The two main agents that cause the degradation of olive oil are oxygen and light. The oxidation begins immediately upon harvesting. In the period between harvest and grinding, the fruits’ enzymes are very active and increasingly degrade the oil, and therefore oil obtained after a longer wait is lower quality, presenting higher acidity. Once an olive is harvested, it should be pressed. “Olea Juice” understands this so he is sure to do two things; one make sure the press is ready, washed and waiting, and two he harvests and presses as soon as possible.
It would be nice to identify a single chemical that could predict good or bad taste, we would have no need for tasters. Unfortunately, there are thousands of chemical compounds in olive oil and the interaction of hundreds of these probably contributes to flavor. Over one hundred such compounds have been identified which, as a whole, contribute to the distinctive characteristics which make extra virgin olive oil so unique.
What happens when you produce olive oil in a controlled way, spare no expense, and preserve the integrity of the fruit from harvesting to bottling?
The end result is you get the finest olive oil you can produce, Bravo “Olea Juice” [!] Bravo [!]
Note: all photos are courtesy of “Olea Juice” harvesting and extraction 2013.