Malaysian-born Marie Cheong-Thong's fascination with olive oil began with tasting oils of all styles, varieties, quality and colour from all over the world; she then studied under the Maestro D’Olio Fausto Borelli in Tuscany and has judged, presented and taught the subject.
Marie explained the tasting technique used in judging. Pour a little of the oil in a glass, cover with your hand and swirl gently; this warms the oil while your hand keeps the aromas in. Then remove your hand and take a sniff - it is surprising how intense the aroma of a good olive oil is. As with wine we went through the identifiable aroma characteristics, picking out herbaceous notes of asparagus, grass or the vegetable notes of underripe tomato.
Tasting is similar to the technique used with wine, where you ensure you have coated the entire inside of your mouth and then introduce air by inhaling to bring out all the flavours. (A good tip is to eat an olive to clear your palate before the next oil.) With olive oil, acidity is key and used to grade quality; an Extra Virgin Olive Oil cannot have an acidity level over 0.8%, and a standard Virgin Olive Oil cannot exceed 2%.
Pairing an olive oil with food is again similar to wine; if in doubt, use the old adage 'If it grows together, it goes together'. In this way, a peppery Tuscan olive oil would be perfect with the big, robust flavours of a Chianina steak, whilst a grassy, aromatic Spanish oil would be stunning with a bowl of fresh, sun-ripened tomatoes. Crazy Pizza have a selection of high-quality olive oils to match their different toppings.
One thing that did surprise me is that the shelf life of olive oil; ideally it should be bought as close to the harvesting date as possible and used within 12-18 months, dropping to six months once it has been opened. This assumes it is being kept in a cool, dark environment and properly sealed. So, when you buy a good olive oil, don't hide it away at the back of the cupboard and keep it for guests - take it out, use it and enjoy it.
The oil tasting was beautifully paired with a Soave 2020 Monteforte and the Chianti Mediceo 2019 Toscana – both from Crazy Pizza’s extensive Italian wine list.
Many thanks to Crazy Pizza who hosted and provided the wine and nibbles, including their renowned thin foccacia, olives and a selection of their delicious thin-crust pizzas. It's a very stylish venue; perfect for when you want both an authentic pizza and a more upmarket dining experience.
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Deputy Editor, Chatting Food London: Amanda David
Amanda David is a freelance writer specialising in London’s restaurants, bars, exhibitions and events and is a regular contributor to London Cheapo and Palate magazine.
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