April 02, 2003
The first IOOC (COI) recognized taste panel outside the Mediterranean region recently tasted oils made from the Arbequina and Arbosana varieties grown in California. Samples were tasted blind by eight members of the official California Taste Panel who rated the oil according to the IOOC (COI) methodology plus the EU (CE) rating scale of 1-9. The Arbequina oil received a fruity intensity rating of 5.00, a bitterness rating of 2.55, and a pungency rating of 3.95. It was given an overall number rating of 7.76 as an extra virgin oil. This is clearly an oil that will last several months and maintain a high level of flavor for a long time. The fruity character was also indicated as being slightly grassy and herbal along with an undertone flavor of ripe tropical fruit, apple, and fresh artichoke. It is harmonious oil with very deep complex flavors.
The Arbosana was also a very good extra virgin oil with a number rating of 7.67. It was given a fruity intensity of 4.45, a bitterness intensity of 3.25, and a pungency rating of 4.70. It was an oil with less complexity in flavor compared to the Arbequina with most of the flavor being in the grassy herbal category. The Arbosana oil was also rated higher in bitterness and pungency than the Arbequina oil. The style of the single variety Arbosana oil is similar to the strong pungent oils from central Italy that have become famous among some chefs and consumers in America.
Beyond the technical numbers given to these oils by the taste panel experts, American consumers who have tasted these oils really like them. In two recent consumer sensory evaluation training courses for olive oil, these two oils rated as the favorites for many of the attendees. There is something for everyone in the Arbequina and Arbosana oils. Those who like very fruity oils with little bitterness and pungency fall quickly in love with Arbequina. Consumers who favor oils with more bitterness and strong pungency really like the overall flavor of the Arbosana oil.
The California taste panel was started in 1997 by Paul Vossen, a University of California olive oil researcher and educator with the help of Juan Ramon Izquierdo, Jefe de Seccion de Aceites y Grasas – Laboratorio Arbitral Agroalimentario – MAPA de Madrid, Espanya. The taste panel members were selected using IOOC (COI) standard procedures for determining tasting thresholds and identification of olive oil defects. The panel was later joined by Roberto Zecca, who received training in Italy and together Vossen and Zecca are co-panel heads for the California Panel. The 22 members of the panel had been tasting oils during training sessions twice per month for five years before they became recognized officially by the IOOC (COI) by passing their established test for taste panels in 2000-2001. They were also recognized by the IOOC (COI) for 2002-2003.
The members of the panel include olive oil producers, processors, merchants, and some general consumers that have excellent palates for tasting olive oil. Some of the tasters are: Nancy Ash, who is a private business and marketing consultant for olive oil producers; Arden Kremer who has a family olive nursery and wine business; Dean Wilkinson is in the food import business; Marvin Martin is a wine country chef and boutique olive oil producer; and Julie Menge is a consumer, who previously worked as a taster for the Campbell Soup company. There are many others who as volunteers have offered their time to help establish the internationally recognized standards for olive oil in America. They have also worked very hard and devoted a great deal of time to providing group tasting results for the California Olive Oil Council Extra Virgin Certification Seal Program that awards a special bottle sticker to oils that meet the sensory profile as extra virgin oils.
This article originally seen in Olint Magazine and reprinted by permission