The California Olive Oil Council (COOC) hosted an extra virgin olive oil tasting and luncheon at Rich Table restaurant in San Francisco last weekend, ahead of the Fancy Food Show.
Why should a home cook care?
First, restaurant food is important to home cooks because new foods and flavors start out in restaurants where it’s somebody’s job to find them, prepare them and present them. Diners discover new ingredients and techniques, and then deal them into the dinner-table rotation at home.
Second, now that California produces and mills more high quality, true extra virgin olive oils than ever, home cooks no longer need to look overseas for an excellent quality extra virgin olive oil -- or pay the premium imports command. It’s still luxurious, but California extra virgin olive oil is a luxury you can afford to keep in your pantry.
Okay, so now what?
That’s what the luncheon was about. A tasting bar showcased nearly 20 local oils -- blends and single varieties -- and gave the crowd an opportunity to appreciate the subtle and complex spectrum of sensory attributes that extra virgin olive oils offer. The point: individual extra virgin olive oils, like wines, are infinitely variable by terrior and varietal. And like wine, individual extra virgin olive oils pair up to foods and ingredients in ways that bring out the best in both of them.
As guests tasted their way through the au naturel oils, staff passed a trio of hors d’oeuvre: “Fried Sardine Chips,” a fresh sardine dressed with Bari Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, reclining on an olive oil-fried potato chip; “Lamb Tartar with Chickpea on Pita,” Seka Hills Arbequina extra virgin olive oil overlaid a richness to the earthy lamb; and in the “Dirty Hippie,”– a tiny tub of dense buttermilk topped with crisp seeds and peppery sprouts -- Corto Extra Virgin Olive Oil underscored the fresh herb-y nature of the sprouts.
Lunch featured an appetizer of cured herring, pickled red onion and tortilla chip – tart, sweet, sharp pickle-y flavors in counterpoint to the briny herring with tortilla for a bit of texture, and a peppery hit of California Olive Ranch “Miller’s Blend” to bring it all together. McEvoy Ranch Organic Olio Nuovo – hardly out of the olive groves at this point – lushly dressed an entrée of poached chicken with grains and cabbage. And finally, Lucero Ascolano extra virgin olive oil, a single varietal – it had the fragrance of peaches! – was the star ingredient in a cookie-streusel scattered over the tangy-sweet apricot cap of a panna cotta.
So you’ll rush out to fry a batch of potato chips in extra virgin olive oil for that hors d’oeuvre you’ll serve with dinner tonight, right?
Maybe not. But you might think to dress your salad with an herb-y extra virgin to bring up the fresh flavors of the greens. And a drizzle of a peppery extra virgin over grilled fish would make it especially luxurious, even though you’re not having company. A cookie with olive oil? Or maybe a cake? How Mediterranean.
And that’s the point. Refer to the California Olive Oil Council website for more information about tours, tasting rooms, and where you can buy certified California extra virgin olive oils, as well as detailed information about individual producers and their oils.
For recipes and more information, check out the winter issue of Edible East Bay, or the recent olive oil feature by Fran Gage in the San Francisco Chronicle. Gage’s book The New American Olive Oil (Stewart Tabori and Chang, 2009), which includes 75 recipes, is also an excellent resource.
California Olive Oil Council luncheon participants included:
- Bari Olive Oil – www.barioliveoil.com – Central Valley
- Bava Family Farms - www.bavafamilygrove.com - Sacramento Valley
- California Olive Ranch – www.californiaoliveranch.com - Sacramento Valley
- Calivirgin-Coldani Olive Ranch – www.calivirgin.com - San Joaquin Valley
- Chacewater Olive Oil – www.chacewaterwine.com - Lake County
- Cloud 9 – www.cloud9orchard.com - Central Coast
- Corto Olive – www.cortoolive.com - San Joaquin Valley
- Enzo Olive Oil-Organic - www.enzooliveoil.com - Central Valley
- Green Valley Olive – www.greenvalleyolive.com - Sacramento Valley
- Lucero Olive Oil - www.lucerooliveoil.com - Sacramento Valley
- McEvoy Ranch-Organic – www.mcevoyranch.com - Marin County
- Moonshadow grove-Estate Organic – www.moonshadowgrove.com - Sacramento Valley
- Oliva di Vita - www.olivasdevita.com - Central Valley
- The Olive Press - www.theolivepress.com - Sonoma County
- Pepper Oaks Farm – www.pepperoaksfarm.com - Central Coast
- Seka Hills – www.sekahills.com - Capay Valley
- Sutter Buttes – www.sutterbuttes.com - Sacramento Valley
- Talcott Carneros Estate – www.talcottoliveoil.com - Napa Valley