EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL: THE TASTING WHEEL GOES ROUND AND ROUND

High-quality extra virgin olive oil is available in a wide spectrum of flavours and aromas. Knowing when to use what type of EVOO is a kind of culinary art that can take years to master if you don’t have access to the much-needed tools of the trade.

One of those tools is the widely-known olive oil flavour wheel which demystifies the complex aroma components present in different olive oils. When studied closely, it enables you to identify flavours that will pair well with certain food and also help you to figure out which oils you are partial to.

When knowing what you are looking for it makes it easier to communicate to your olive oil stockist what exactly you are looking for which can help to make the process of preparing your favourite meals effortless.

But how exactly was the olive oil tasting wheel developed and established as we know it today? Read more below to find out.

Humble beginnings

The wine tasting wheel that was developed in the early 1980s by professor Ann Noble of the University of California at Davis gave utterance to a new vocabulary that accurately described the flavours found in wine. By grouping similar aromas into ‘families’, this first flavour-identifying tool allowed novice wine enthusiasts to understand the basics when it came to a very complex topic.

This laid the foundation for olive oil connoisseurs to develop similar wheels to pinpoint the sensory components of extra virgin olive oil. As with wine, these wheels prove very useful when making sense of the different sensory components and aromas present in the olive oils themselves, and the different olives that produce them.

A step in the right direction

In 1993, two researchers, namely Jos Mojet and Sijmen de Jong, presented a paper titled The Sensory Wheel: A Proposal for Standard Reference of Virgin Olive Oil Sensory Evaluation. This sensory wheel divided 50 different descriptors of olive oil into three distinct categories so consumers could analyse the appearance, smell and mouthfeel of the oil.

This sensory wheel, also coined the Mojet Wheel, was the first step taken towards understanding the complex aromas associated with different extra virgin olive oils.

The debut of a new olive oil tasting wheel

Not long after the Mojet Wheel made headlines, a new and more advanced sensory visual depiction of olive oil was developed by Richard Gawel, the leader of the Australian Olive Association Tasting Panel. This wheel boasts 72 different terms that better capture the kaleidoscope of flavours associated with extra virgin olive oils.

The main sensory classes place specific emphasis on the following characteristics of the olive oil in question:

  • Taste
  • Tactile
  • Defects
  • Dried
  • Nutty
  • Spicy
  • Fragrant
  • Fruity
  • Green
  • Herbaceous

These specific characteristics were selected mainly because of how frequently olive oil connoisseurs were perceived to make use of them when describing different olive oil aromas.

Some Spanish cultivars, like Picual or Navadillo Blanco, are commonly associated with the aroma of a tomato leaf, while oils made from the Italian cultivar, Leccono, yield a more malt-like flavour. Some Tuscan cultivars are often described to have a more perfumed flavour.

The defect category consists of 25 flavours that are not considered pleasant or suited to olive oil. Flavours of caramel or toffee are defects of olive oils which place them in the ‘burnt’ category. Muddy defects are often described as flavours that smell of smoke, bacon or even salami.

Enjoy your extra virgin olive oil your way

Next time you go for an olive oil tasting or ponder which olive oil you should buy at the store, take this tasting wheel into account. You can contact Willow Creek Olive Estate at 023 342 5793 or info@willowcreek.co.za if you need more information on any of our award-winning products.