The adventures don’t stop because the husband is working and the kid is in school! I went off on my own during the weekday to experience a day packed full of olive oils, olive picking, wine tastings, and cheeses… all with a fabulous group of people in gorgeous Avellino. Just another day in Italia 😉
Our first stop was to Olearia Russo in Montesarchio, a small producer of olive oils since the late 1800’s. We began with a given a tour of the workshop where the olives are transformed into a superior quality of extra virgin olive oil.
After, we were then able to do an olive oil tasting, which was a pretty neat experience! Here are a few notes and some ABC’s of tasting olive oil:
The Tasting Technique
The first step to carry out the tasting is to pour about a spoonful of oil into a glass, cover it and heat it in the palm of the hand to facilitate the perception of odors. Color is not an indicator of the actual quality of the oil and, therefore, should not be evaluated. A first evaluation of the oil is made by bringing the glass to the nose and inhaling slowly and deeply, 2 or 3 times in a row, focusing on the perceived olfactory sensations. At this point, it is necessary to take a small sip of oil distributing it throughout the mouth cavity and take in air with short and successive aspirations. In this way the olfactory perceptions are defined and the gustatory ones are evaluated (bitter and spicy, dry-astringent). Now, it is necessary to express an evaluation based on the olfactory and gustatory sensations, positive and negative, memorized during the tasting phases and compared with those present in our memory. For this reason, experience and training in tasting is very important, especially if carried out under the guidance of an expert taster.
A good quality oil…
… it is characterized by the aroma of “olive fruit,” a fresh and pleasant smell reminiscent of the olive, the olive leaf rubbed between the hands, freshly mowed grass (and any notes of tomato leaf, artichoke, other vegetables, fruit such as green apple or berries). Tasting, then, it can give a slight bitter and/or spicy taste sensation. This sensation is mainly due to the presence of natural antioxidants, antioxidants that protect the oil during storage. These antioxidants play a very important action in protecting our cells from aging and from oxidative stress (they block free radicals). The bitter-spicy oil (“oil that pinches in the throat”), when not exaggerated, is therefore an important quality of the oil. Unfortunately, many consumers mistake this value for a defect, believing that an oil that has this taste is a “heavy,” “indigestible,” or “sour” oil. This is absolutely false as the free acidity of the oil is not perceived to the taste, as the low-fat fatty acids of the oil are odorless and tasteless.
A bad quality oil…
… has, on the other hand, unpleasant odors (“defects”). One of the most common defects of “rancid” is due to oxidation by the effect of air. The rancid oil has a hint reminiscent of walnut, yellowed ham fat, up to a paint-plastic smell and is very frequent in old or badly preserved oils. Among the defects of fermentation origin, frequent are those of “avvinato-inacetito” (odor reminiscent of wine or vinegar), of “mold” (odor that recalls the mold that has developed on rotten olives) or of “heating” and “sludge”(smell reminiscent of brine and cheeses). Other defects are those of “earth” (smell reminiscent of wet earth), of “terracotta”, of “vegetation water” and of “metallic.” To the taste, an old or defective oil often shows a flat taste. The absolute lack of bitterness and spiciness, connected to the rancid defect, is a clear indication that the oil has now undergone an irreversible degradation process and has its own properties and quality.
Approaching the oil tasting technique is of fundamental importance for olive growers and oil millers in controlling the quality of the product, but it is also for all consumers and cooks interested in a more conscious and critical choice of oil to be placed at the table. Often our taste and smell are addicted to the consumption of low quality oils, with a flat sensory profile, without particular merits or – even – characterized by defects. Acquiring the ABC of the tasting technique of extra virgin olive oils, under the guidance of an expert taster, is quite simple and allows you to evaluate the organoleptic quality, typicality and freshness, as well as to estimate the nutritional quality of the oil for consumption.
After our time at the olive oil factory, we headed off to a winery for lunch and a wine tasting. But on the way, we made a quick stop at the family’s olive oil groves! It was so peaceful and beautiful. The fall colors were just starting to peak out and the rain had lifted so we still had a view; however, I think against the gray skies, the colors of the groves and mountains popped even more! There were only three of us in the group, so they let us do a little olive picking as well!
Lastly, the winery. It seems only natural to end an already amazing day with wines and snacks! I mean… wine goes with everything, right?! Agricola Bellaria is found in the hills of Irpinia. The rain had picked up a little bit more by then, but the dreary clouds and mist continued to accentuate the colors of the mountains and vineyards. We walked a short way along the vineyard and then turned inside as the rain fell heavier. The winery itself is still a work-in-progress, but I didn’t mind the construction or empty feel once I stepped inside the cellar room… because above was a beautiful, hand painted fresco which depicts the colors of the Irpinia area and wine combined. We were joined by the director, Antonio Pepe, for a wine and cheese & meat pairing under this very jaw dropping painting. We even had the chance to get a sneak peek at a new wine being made AND taste it!
“The Maffei family originates in Roccabascerana and has lived for centuries in the historic center, exactly where the centenary lime tree that characterizes and embellishes the image of our cellar stands majestically. The Bellaria farm was founded by the family’s will to keep its presence in the area alive and active by creating economic inducements and employment through the exploitation of the land owned and handed down for generations. And it is from the land that the adventure of Bellaria begins, a company dedicated to the internationalization of Irpinia that creates employment and wealth for the territory, planting vineyards, building new plants every day and exporting excellent wines all over the world… Thus were born wines such as Greco di Tufo DOCG, Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Taurasi DOCG, Irpinia Coda di volpe DOC and Irpinia Aglianico DOC Indigenous wines produced through ancient natural processes without any chemical alteration…
…The desire to bring the authenticity of our products to tables all over the world guides and inspires our daily work. The experience accumulated over the years and inherited from past generations has taught us to cultivate our lands using techniques that respect nature, its rhythms and its needs.”
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!