Oils ain’t oils. Sure, this was a tagline from an old Castrol ad but it seems the same thing can be applied to cooking oils and the murky territory that is olive oil. FEVOO – the inaugural festival celebrating Fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil – saw an assembly of oil aficionados (growers, producers, academics, chefs, nutritionists and consumers) come together for the love of oil. We also were able to dispel some myths with an event that was broken down into five interesting parts.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the only oil that has not been chemically or physically refined. The brands labelled “pure”, “100% pure”, “lite/light” and “extra light” are merely marketing terms. These are not the unadulterated, natural juice of the olive and are not recognised by local and international standards.
In a 2010 test by Choice, they sampled 28 brands of extra virgin olive oil sold in Australian supermarkets. Of these, half of the samples failed to meet the widely accepted international standards as they were adulterated, refined or blended with seed oils or left in plastic containers or out in the sun to go bad. There is now a voluntary code of practice and its signatories are identifiable by a special symbol.
FEVOO’s first session was an olive oil master class run by Dr. Richard Gawel, who has worked for 15 years as a judge at many major olive oil shows. A sensory expert who provides taste and blending consultancy services for numerous Australian olive oil companies, he has also published scientific papers on olive oil assessment and regularly conducts seminars and workshops on tasting, blending and judging. The man was a wealth of knowledge and he was very obliging in sharing his experience with the audience.
Gawel opened his session by dispelling the myth that olive oil is produced by pressing olives. This process had not been used since the early 1970s. Instead, centrifuge is undertaken where the applied pressure allows the release of oil from the vegetable matter. This ultimately produces a better product, one containing less oxygen and one that will retain its freshness and health benefits for longer.
Each participant was given five different oils to sample (including a bad one). We learnt that these are usually consumed at a rate a little higher than room temperature. Gawel also directed us to the olive oil tasting wheel (www.aromadictionary.com). In this, the oils are broken down into tastes like muddy, green, fruity, fragrant, spicy, etc. The ones we tried included a variety that according to Gawel had a grass aroma and a floral note; a fresh, fruity one with a strong, peppery flavour; a Spanish variety that had more depth; and a bitter and pungent one that was full of antioxidants.
In addition to sampling the oils straight, the participants would also be treated to music and canapés at the end of the session. The menu was created by food, wine and lifestyle personality Lyndey Milan, in collaboration with Trippas White. The guests were treated to golden brown zucchini fritters that had been cooked in a light olive oil, so that they were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. There was a confit of ocean trout finished with golden beetroot puree and microcress in a light olive oil. The puree added a soft, almost buttery touch, which meant the fish was delicate and not too overpowering.
The goat’s curd tart with roast tomatoes had a hard, coin-shaped exterior to match the robust olive oil. The tomatoes almost looked like they were sun-dried and were capped off with some crumbly, white goat’s cheese. The pick of the canapés, however was the divine walnut, orange and olive oil cake. This had a hint of cinnamon and a little bite with the inclusion of the walnuts. It was also one of the most light and moist cakes I’ve ever eaten, it practically melted in my mouth, it was so good!
The session also included a panel discussion about the benefits of extra virgin olive oil. This was chaired by ABC 702’s Simon Marnie, who is also a judge for the Royal Agricultural Society. The participants included: Dr Gawel;former principal research scientist and adjunct professor at Charles Sturt University, Professor Rod Mailer; dietitian and nutritionist, Dr Joanna McMillan; agricultural engineer and head of Modern Olives’ technical team, Dr Leandro Ravetti; and Stephanie Alexander OAM, the renown celebrity chef, author and restaurateur.
In this discussion, we learnt that other varieties of cooking oils are refined, bleached and deodorised. There was also talk about how the Mediterranean diet (one high in olive oil consumption) will reduce heart disease and that we should perhaps draw our focus into creating delicious foods with healthy ingredients because then people will pick the right options. We also learnt that olive oil is versatile and can be used for different cooking applications, even making mayonnaise (the trick is to use a lighter variety compared to the one you’d drizzle over your salads).
A panel with some of the growers’ followed and their wares were also available to be sampled at the tasting bar. The exhibitors included: Cobram Estate, Cradle Coast Olives, Alto Olives, Gwydir Olives, Camilo Olives, Pukara Estate, Nullamunjie Olives, Rosto Grove, Chapman River Olives, Wollundry Grove, Woodlands Olive Grove, Longridge Olives and Rylstone Olive Press. Following the tastings, there was an auction for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Foundation where $8000 was raised.
FEVOO had proved to be one enlightening and enjoyable festival. With Australians consuming 45 million litres of olive oil per year and with these rates rising, we are now the highest consumers per capita outside of the Mediterranean. So it is certainly one area of food that is on the up and up. We learnt that fresh, extra virgin olive oil should be fruity, robust and delicate but also smooth on the palate. It’s also really crucial to check your oil to ensure it is what it claims it is. It is vital, because in reality, oil is the cornerstone of our diet and the wrong choices can have implications on your health.
Originally published on 11 July 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/eating-with-the-au-the-inaugural-fevoo-fresh-extra-virgin-olive-oil-festival-the-mint-sydney-10-07-2013
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