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Expert Julie Coldani leads olive oil 101 class

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Posted: Saturday, March 2, 2013 11:32 pm

When Julie Coldani offers tastings of her family’s olive oil at trade shows, there is one question she almost always gets in return.

“What did you put in it? They say it tastes like grass, like flowers, very fresh,” she said. But this is the original flavor, with nothing added.

Coldani said the secret is most Americans have never tasted fresh olive oil, and aren’t prepared for the depth of flavor it can hold.

“We were in the same position as everyone else at the start, buying the Star or Bertoli Olive oil without knowing any better,” she said.

But when the family dug into the world of olive oil a few years ago, they discovered the hardy little olives have just as variety and sophistication as winegrapes.

The Coldani family grows olives in high-density trees in a grove in Lodi and sells in some local shops, around California and online.

Coldani held an Olive Oil 101 class at Olive Heaven on School Street on Saturday. Owner Jasmine Harris sells her own olive oils, balsamic vinegar and flavor blends in the shop. This course is the first of a series.

Most home cooks use olive oil as a substitute for butter in some dishes, said Coldani. Polyphenols and good fats makes olive oil a superfood for heart health.

Coldani said there’s such a range in flavors and varieties of good olive oil that a cook can keep four or five in the cupboard and pull them out to pair with dishes, like wine.

Oil is freshest the day of harvest, and begins to degrade immediately. Coladani said it’s good for at least 18 months if stored in a cool dry place.

“There’s nothing like it coming out of the mill and tasting it,” she said.

Three class attendees tasted several varieties, including garlic, jalapeno, basil, lemon, Buddha’s hand, rosemary and original.

During the class, Coldani answered the following questions:

How is olive oil made?

Harvest is from October to February, depending on the taste profile a grower is looking for. Once the olives are off the trees, they are cleaned, debris is blown away, and the entire olive is crushed into a pulp. That pulp is spun in a centrifuge at 7,000 rotations per minute to fling out the water and mashed plant material. All that’s left is oil.

What does first press and cold press mean?

First press means all the oil came from one press through the machine. Cold press means no heat was applied to the oil during milling.

How to flavored oils get their flavors?

Most flavors are added to oils after milling. Calvirgin adds whole produce to the olives during pressing to get the oils straight from the fruit or herbs, like lemon or basil.

What does virgin and extra virgin mean?

It’s a way of measuring the acid content of the oil. The milling process and how the oil is stored can affect the acidity and in turn the flavor.

Tests can determine the level of acids, and professional testers from the California Olive Oil Council follow a strict guide to see if it fits the virgin or extra virgin title.

Freezing the bottle of oil is not an accurate test of extra virgin status.

What about light or extra light olive oils?

Those have the same calories, but they’re extra refined and stripped of all the good stuff people expect in olive oil.

What’s the professional way to taste olive oil?

Professional tasters use blue cups, so they aren’t influenced by the color of the oil. Some harvests make for very green oil. Then they swirl the oil to release the aroma, and give it a good sniff. The oil is slurped loudly, to bring in oxygen and release the flavors before swallowing the sample.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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