The factors affecting the nature, quality and characteristics of olive oil, though diverse and complex are well known by producers. Beyond the fruit itself, its maturity, variety and growing conditions, it is through the manufacturing process (cold/hot pressing, physical/chemical extraction etc…) that each olive oil develops its distinctive nature. The extraction method is also an underlying factor in the determination of the “class” of oil (Virgin, Refined, Olive Oil or Pomace).
The taste of olive oil, however, has always been a more debated issue, with two different approaches confronting each other.
The first of these is defined by its efforts to standardise and systematise the tasting process through a number of predefined aromas, tastes and appearances. These are traditionally presented in the form of “Taste Wheels”, often protected by copyright by their authors, yet readily available on the internet.
Various organisations around the world have thus developed their own “tasting guide” and process to evaluate the gustatory qualities of olive oil. This results in a very large array of often intersecting aromas and tastes which cannot possibly be enumerated in a blog post. Similarly, categories established to regroup the various aromas present significant variation but often include various elements under “Fruity”, “Nutty”, “Floral”, and “Spicy” (among others).
This approach, while offering the benefit of a standardized, homogeneous and normalised set of results is sometimes criticised for its rigidity and the exclusion of individual sensitivity demonstrated by the tasters.
The second approach relies much more on the skills and abilities of the tasters. Throughout their education and (most importantly) their professional experience, taste experts continuously encounter new flavours and aromas which they are able to recognise and name in other products. Relying on this extensive knowledge and experience when tasting olive oil helps to obtain a much broader description that captures unique characteristics which would otherwise go unnoticed.
Finally, regardless of the approach taken, the optimal conditions for tasting olive oil also require a rigorous tasting procedure to capture every aroma and characteristic of the product and, above all, a quite, aroma-neutral environment that favours concentration and allows the taster to associate their sensory experience with their vocabulary and knowledge of quality. These
At the International Taste & Quality Institute, a combination of these two methodologies allows our taste experts to reconcile a systematic approach with their unique ability to identify rare savours and aromas during their sensory analysis. Together with our fitted tasting environment and scrupulous respect of the product, the iTQi methodology ensures that all olive oils submitted for evaluation are analysed in detail and that, at the end of the tasting session, a rich report can provide producers with the knowledge and the vocabulary to improve and market their products in the best possible way.
At the end of the day, producers know that creating a superior tasting olive oil is both a Science and an Art. Why shouldn’t tasting this historical product be both as well?