Friday, March 09, 2007

Cameras on the food world

The proliferation of webcams has invaded not just bedrooms and living rooms of private individuals, but now is popping up all over the food world. I had posted earlier about a camera trained on a wheel of cheese as it ages. Here's one 24 hour camera trained on a coffee roaster. Why? Who knows. I'm going to try to collect more food webcams.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Olive Oil 101.04 - How to taste

When a customer comes into the store and tries to taste olive oil, it is not my job to tell them how they should eat their food. If they want to gulp down a bite of each oil in rapid succession, soaking just a corner of a larger piece of bread, that is perfectly fine. Zingerman's is there to give them whatever experience they most want--we're the Disneyland of artisanal flavors.

However, if a customer comes to a tasting, they want that experience; they want to learn how to most optimally taste or most optimally use a particular food. So, here's how you most optimally taste olive oil:

1. Pour a little olive oil in a brandy snifter or a really thin shotglass.
2. Hold the glass in your hand so that you can heat the oil with one hand.
3. Cover the mouth of the glass with your other hand (this is to capture all the aromas you can)
4. Start swirling the oil (this helps both to speed up the warming process and to release more aroma)
5. Just enjoy the moment and the anticipation as you take about a minute to warm the oil to the temperature of your body.
6. Bring the glass to your nose and inhale, smelling and noting the smells. Associate them to other foods and smells in your life. Enjoy the smells separately and together.
7. Drink the oil, keeping it in your mouth. Hold the oil in your mouth and experience it. Feel it. Note its mouthfeel, its texture, its tastes.
8. Most of taste is paired with your olfactory nerves, so smile widely; touch the tip of your tongue to the hard palate of your mouth so as to cause the oil to pool on both sides of your tongue; inhale sharply so as to bubble air through the oil pools; and swallow (spit first if you prefer)
9. Exhale through your nose after you swallow, so more olfactory nerves are stimulated.

Note all of the aromas and flavors. Use your own words or try to identify the flavors using a tasting wheel. The one I've linked to was developed by Richard Gawel and is called a Recognoze wheel:

Gawel explains his motivation behind undertaking the project. "Finding the right terms to describe complex foods such as olive oil is a difficult task. Known as the 'tip of the nose' phenomenon, it is very common for someone to recognize an aroma or flavor, although they are unable to find the correct term to describe it. Having access to a structured and comprehensive list of descriptors can greatly assist them in finding the right terms to accurately describe the olive oil" explains Gawel.

The use of the 'wheel' format whereby descriptive terms are listed around its perimeter, with similar aromas and tastes being adjacent to each other, was inspired by the success of the now famous Wine Aroma Wheel developed at the University of California, Davis.

The 72 terms fall into the main olive oil sensory classes of herbaceous, fruity, fragrant, spicy, nutty, dried, defects, tactile and taste. Their selection was based on how frequently experienced olive oil tasters are perceived to use them, as well as their occurrence in the olive oil tasting literature. Gawel explains that "some descriptors such as 'buttery', 'nutty' and 'grassy' are commonly used in that they define specific oil styles. Others are varietal. Examples include the 'perfumed' character of the Tuscan variety Frantoio, and the 'tomato leaf' character found in the Spanish varieties Picual and Nevadillo Blanco. Others would seem rather unusual with the 'malt' like character found in some oils made from the Italian variety, Leccino, and the 'cat wee' and 'crushed ant or formic' character found in some very ripe oils."

Olive Oil 101 page of ads to discuss

Clear, intensely green, this filtered Tuscan has a fruity, well-rounded and spicy taste, reminiscent of fresh olives; aroma has hints of artichoke and pepper. Using Frantoio, Moraiolo, and Leccino olive varieties, the Frescobaldi family has produced olive oils and wines since the Middle Ages, and this oil was awarded Outstanding Olive Oil at the 2001 New York Fancy Food Show, and rated #1 Tuscan oil in 1997 by Wine Spectator.. Estate produced from the hills of Chianti Ruffina

Olive Oil 101.03

It is very simple to think about olive oil. The text of a good course in olive oil could be reduced to a single page, two if you want to provide the historical perspective on olive oil. The bulk that would make up the text of a good Olive Oil 101 book would be the supplying of definitions to many of the terms used within the text. In addition, the supplying of examples would make up a good bulk as well. The basic text, though, would read as follows this paragraph. This website shall be the course syllabus. The class would include interaction with an instructor. The fee will be decided later, but I see this as a viable way to provide a service to people that is worth paying for. The class would be made even more amazing because while you were taking it, you would be eating the foods being talked about as examples. Taste would be a major component of the class.

The simplest way of understanding olive oil is to think of it as grape juice. Really. Olive oil is as close to grape juice as, say cherry juice is to grape juice. A cherry and an olive are the same type of fruit, it's called a drupe.

Wine, as obscure as it actually may be to the general population, is still something that is widely appreciated. The variations that come from different varieties of grape, lend the same characteristic differences to olive oils (whether monocultivar or blended) Blended olive oils are often blended in order to avoid the varied yearly outputs of an olive tree. But because sugar is not present in the juice of an olive, olive juice is not sweet, but savory like a vegetable juice. Thinking of it as a vegetable will help reshape your attitude toward it such that it is much easier to work with in the kitchen. on a culinary level, it should be treated like a food or like a spice or like a little bit of both; rather than a medium in which to cook other food.

All of the fourteen following factors can play a part in the taste of an olive oil:

• Variety of olive (this varies from one geographic region to another. Some varieties are known as super-cultivars and are widely used worldwide.)
• The date of the olive harvest; early when the olive isn't technically ripe or later in the season when it has reached the heights of maturity.
• the soil
• the amount of rain and sunshine the crop received, and when
• the temperature of the season
• the altitude
• the humidity of the season
• the care taken in cultivation (this is vital)
• the use of pesticide and the amount of pests that season
• the density of the trees
• the age of the trees
• the method of storage
• the age of the oil

The main components which differentiate one olive oil from another olive oil are best seen in this ad,

Gourmet Extra Virgin Olive Oil Half Liter Bottle (about 17 oz). Grown, pressed and bottled 100% in Sicily. Hand picked, cold pressed, non-genetically modified. Made from a single olive variety of "Biancolilla" from a single estate.

USE: A milder fruitness makes "Biancolilla" evoo the ideal companion for the most delicate dishes, salads and fish.

Let's separate each separate component out into a table:

Extra Virgin (note that Extra Virgin is one of a slew of other things that determine the flavor characteristics of olive juice, but it is important enough that if an oil isn't extre virgin you just shouldn't buy it. Pure olive oil can be cooked with if you want the same results as canola oil or soybean oil. But it is a cooking oil and that is where it must always be relegated if you are to preserve the vibrant taste of a dish. A heated, highly refined oil with little hint of aroma, color, or solids does not belong among the palette of taste experiences you have available to you in life.

Gourmet (as pompous as that sounds, it serves to separate this extra virgin olive oil from an olive oil that is extra virgin by greater than mechanical means)

Half Liter Bottle (this would be a good time to talk about storage)

Grown, pressed and bottled 100% in Sicily (this is where one geographic region has developed its own tradition and style behind the making of olive oil, it could be said that this is where the style of the artisan shows through)

Hand picked (this is to ensure that bruises and wounds aren't inflicted on the olives, because a damaged olive will rapidly oxidize)

cold pressed (the warmer the olive when pressed, the more oil which can be extracted from it. Yet when the olive is too hot, the cooked oil will lose much of its flavor, thus this is also a minimum requirement of good olive oil)

non-genetically modified (all of the world's oldest crops have fallen prey to our scientific instincts. Whether wheat, soybean, corn, or olive, industry has solved many problems, yet stripped away many tastes and experiences.)

single olive variety (this becomes another art of the presser, akin to the skill of the distiller of a single-malt scotch or the blender of Canadian whiskies._

"Biancolilla" (this would be a good time to taste two monocultivar olive oils from Sicily, one from Nocellara (actually Nocellara des Belize) olives and the other from Biancolilla olives.

from a single estate (which can be even more tightly restricted, specifying a region of an estate)

milder fruitness (this is when tasting the olive oil would really be vital to the experience)

companion for the most delicate dishes, salads and fish (remember olive oil is a savory vegetable, use it that way. In the same way one wouldn't slice up ginger and toss it on top of some delicate cheese that would be lost in ginger's wake, one wouldn't drizzle a robust and peppery oil onto a delicate fish. But as one might grate a bit of ginger onto a spicy, grilled Thai dish, one would drizzle that same oil onto a spicy tomato soup.)

Olive oil 101 postulate

Necessary subsets of any class deemed "Olive Oil 101" must be "Oil 101" and "Olive 101"

Olive oil 101 questions

Because of my four years living in a very talkative commune, I tend to overinvolve people when I seek input. This isn't a negative tendency from my perspective, but may get on other's nerves. I also have a lot of direct contact with union organizers, and really appreciate how involved they try to make everyone in order to generate a sense of ownership in a project to ensure its success. Given that, I asked for questions that my colleagues might want answered in an Olive Oil 101 class. These were their responses:

I would love to know a bit about the history.

What oils (either specific brands or specific taste profiles) work with what dishes?

I'm looking for the practical applications of different flavors.

What are the foodie terms used to describe different oils?

Are some oils better for cooking, and others for dipping or tossing pasta?

What is extra virgin oil?

How should you store olive oil?

Seriously-----is oil healthful?

What accounts for the large variation in price of oil?

Those seasoned dipping oils---what's that about?

Can we grow olives in Michigan?

Which olive oils are the best to use for every day cooking?

What is the difference between filtered and unfiltered olive oil?

Is it best to have the most recent year, for an example 2006 as to 2005? If you do have a 2005 harvest does that mean that the oilive oil is in bad condition?

Why shouldn't you store it in the refrigerator?

Does it go bad if it becomes frozen?

What makes a good olive oil?

What is the difference between the olive oils that Zingerman's carry and the ones that are found in Wholefoods?

How should you pair the best bread to the best oil?

More questions may follow as they leak in.

Olive Oil 101 class in 3 weeks

The first of my teaching goals at my work is about to happen: I will be teaching an olive oil 101 class to my coworkers in three weeks. Now I have to sift through my knowledge about olive oil and make it coherent and focused toward my foodie colleagues. Because I'm basically a lazy person who would like to pour in the energy for one project and have three or four projects be produced, I'm also going to use this as the foundation for an Olive Oil 101 tasting and use this blog as the sketchboard for my thoughts. In this way I can teach three groups of people about olive oil, my coworkers, the Ann Arbor community, and anyone in the future who stumbles on this in their web surfing.

Three entries have come before this in my fledgling series of Olive Oil 101 posts: a too-wordy introduction, a note about the expansion of the olive tree, and a paragraph about drupes (olives, cherries, plums). But the next two weeks should be much more prolific.