When I was at the International Food Bloggers’ Conference in September, I attended a session given by California Olive Ranch to learn more about olive oil and taste the oils in their product line. First of all, I was impressed with the flavor of their oils, which reminded me of the grassy notes I typically only come across in the dipping oil served with bread at high-end restaurants. However, I was surprised to learn that California Olive Ranch oils are not an exclusive boutique product, but something you can find in your local supermarket.
I also learned a lot about the dos and don’ts of extra virgin olive oil, rethinking several of the don’ts in my own cooking life, because had no idea. For example, when it comes down to it, olive oil is fresh squeezed fruit juice, where the olive is the fruit. Just like any fruit juice, once squeezed (or in the case of olive oil, pressed), it starts to ferment. Unlike wine, olive oil does NOT get better with age. Ideally, olive oil should be purchased within two years of the harvest date (difficult to know since most olive oils don’t include the harvest date on the label). Once opened, a bottle should be consumed within two months of opening. That makes sense, though even for me, who uses a lot of olive oil, two months seems ambitious. Of course, the main message for this tip is to buy olive oil in the quantity you will in a two-month period even if that means buying smaller bottles. Even if you don’t take advantage of the economies of a large bottle, time is not olive oil’s friend, so the smaller bottle with its optimal flavor is actually the better value. If you have a larger bottle, once it’s opened, you can transfer the oil to smaller bottles which will limit expose to the air as you work your way through your supply.
Light and heat are also enemies of olive oil. Darker green bottles offer much more protection from light than clear bottles. Storing your oil in the dark of a cupboard or pantry instead of out on the counter or close to the stove also helps diminish the oil’s exposure to light. The ideal storage temperature for olive oil is 60-70F, so the pantry is also likely to be a cooler spot than near the stove.
At the end of the session, California Olive Ranch invited us to sign up to participate in a Virtual Olive Oil Tasting Party. That sounded fun to me. Who doesn’t love a party? Last Thursday, November 14, about fifteen bloggers across North America hosted Olive Oil Tasting parties and shared reports of their menus, the physical parties, and the guest feedback. Because of an evening conflict, I opted to host a daytime party complete with lunch prepared with a variety of olive oils. California Olive Ranch sent party materials: placemats, tasting wheels, tasting cups, napkins, a tray, and, of course, an assortment of their olive oils. I invited eight of my food-loving friends who were available for lunch.
We started out with a blind tasting. All the oils were in brown paper bags, so no one could see which was which. In addition to the three California Olive Ranch oils, I included a recently purchased bottle of Trader Joe’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and an ultra fancy French olive oil purchased at the Oliviers & Co boutique (harvest date was November 2006).
We had fun with the 4 S’s of tasting. Swirl, Smell, Sip (and Slurp), and Swallow. As we tasted each one, we compared impressions. Adjectives including grassy, peppery, herbaceous, nutty, and olive-y were mentioned. We tasted all the oils before I revealed the true identity of any. The declared favorite was California Olive Ranch’s Miller Blend. The olive oil from Oliviers was also a favorite, even though it was technically well past its prime, based on our new knowledge.
After the tasting, we ate lunch. I made a variety of salads using the California Olive Ranch oils and an olive oil cake for dessert. Everyone enjoyed their lunch. Recipes (which I share below) were requested. Overall, my Virtual Olive Oil Party was a success!
Chicken Salad (Miller’s Blend)
Mediterranean Salmon Salad (Arbequina)
Farro Salad with Roasted Mushrooms and Parmesan (Miller’s Blend)
Simple green salad (Arbequina)
Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake (Everyday)
Adapted from this recipe from Food52
¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
4 cups cubed roasted chicken (optionally, with skin)
3 tablespoons chopped roasted red peppers
1 small jar (6 oz) marinated artichoke hearts (drained thoroughly), coarsely chopped
¼ cup roughly chopped smoked almonds
¾ teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (I used California Olive Ranch Miller’s Blend)
Freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkle the onion with salt and toss to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes. Squeeze the onions to drain any juices.
In a bowl, toss together the onion, chicken, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts and almonds. In a small jar, shake together the thyme, mustard, vinegar and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the chicken and fold together. Let sit for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Note: If I don’t have leftover chicken, my favorite way to cook chicken for chicken salad is to season split chicken breasts (with bones and skins) with salt and pepper, place them on a cookie sheet and wrap it tightly with foil, then roast them in a 350F oven for 25 minutes or until cooked through. Let the chicken cool, wrapped in foil, before shredding or chopping. It turns out very moist.
Mediterranean Salmon Salad
1 can (5-6 oz) wild Alaskan salmon, drained
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed, dried, and coarsely chopped
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 Tbsp chopped green olives
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (I used California Olive Ranch Arbequina)
Salt and pepper to taste
Place salmon in a medium bowl, and use a fork to gently flake the fish. Fold in the remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Farro Salad with Roasted Mushrooms and Parmesan
Adapted from this recipe from Food 52
1 cup uncooked farro (I used parboiled 10-minute farro from Trader Joe’s)
½ pound mushrooms (use a mix of your favorites: button, cremini, oyster, whatever you like)
Extra virgin olive oil (I used California Olive Ranch Miller’s Blend)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup finely chopped or crumbled parmesan (not grated – you want a slightly coarser texture here)
¼ cup roughly chopped parsley
Cook the farro according to package directions. This could take an hour or more, so plan accordingly. When farro is tender but still has some bite, drain it well and spread it on a clean baking sheet to cool to room temperature.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Wipe and trim the mushrooms and cut them into bite-sized pieces. In a medium bowl, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss gently to distribute everything. Spread the mushrooms out evenly on the baking sheet and put in the oven for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until crisp around the edges and cooked through.
Combine farro and roasted mushrooms in a serving bowl. Add the lemon juice and 6 tablespoons of olive oil, tossing gently to combine. Add the parmesan, parsley and a generous grinding of pepper and fold gently. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve at room temperature.
Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from this recipe for Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake from Melissa Clark
Olive oil for greasing pan
4 Meyer lemons
1 cup sugar
Buttermilk or plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used California Olive Ranch Everyday)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Grate zest from 2 lemons and place in a bowl with sugar. Using your fingers, rub ingredients together until zest is evenly distributed in sugar.
Supreme 3 lemons: Cut off bottom and top so fruit is exposed and the fruit can stand upright on a cutting board. Cut away peel and pith, following curve of fruit with your knife. Cut segments out of their connective membranes and let them fall into a bowl. Pick out any seeds. Break up segments with your fingers to about ¼-inch pieces.
Drain any juice from the supremed lemons into a measuring cup. You’re aiming for about ¼ cup of juice. You probably won’t have enough, so halve remaining lemon and squeeze juice into the measuring cup to get to the target amount. A little more or a little less is fine. Add buttermilk or yogurt to juice until you have 2/3 cup liquid altogether. Pour mixture into bowl with sugar and whisk well. Whisk in eggs.
In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently whisk dry ingredients into wet ones. Switch to a spatula and fold in oil a little at a time. Fold in pieces of lemon segments. Scrape batter into pan and smooth top.
Bake cake for about 55 minutes, or until it is golden and a knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up.