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European Olive Oil: A Lesson in Tasting, Pairing, and Eating!

Last Friday night, I was invited to a European (Spain and Italy) olive oil tasting event at my culinary school alma mater, International Culinary Center.  To further entice the media and invitees, two world-famous chefs - Antonio Ortuno representing Spain, and Mario Rizzotti representing Italy - were tasked with creating an EVOO-centric multi-course dinner.  This delicious and educational evening was produced by Ceq Italia Consortium and QvExtra! International to disseminate correct knowledge of (European) olive oils in terms of their quality and health-promoting features.  

*EVOO = Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Before I delve in to our scrumptious meal, I wanted to share some cool EVOO tidbits that I learned/took away:

*Why is EVOO pungent and spicy?  Because of its high concentration of antioxidants!
*To maintain its quality, EVOO needs to be protected from light, oxygen, and heat.
*How to properly taste EVOO:

  1. Put oil in a small glass, cover and warm it between your hands.  Try to catch its different aromas.
  2. Sip a small quantity, trying to hold it between your lower lip and clenched teeth.
  3. Breathe in some air to vaporize the oil inside your mouth and on the side of your tongue; evaluate its bitter and spicy intensity.
  4. Appreciate the different flavors such as tomato, grass, artichoke, apple and almond.

Dining tables were generously adorned with EVOO swag, tasting notes and how-to's, baskets of freshly-baked bread, a trio of olive oils ranging in intensity, and a menu card so noteworthy that it would make anyone not invited (olive) green with culinary envy.  

Both Spanish and Italian wines were poured throughout the evening.  My favorite?  The outrageously smooth yet complex Italian red, Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso.

And how about the individual place settings with the olive branch peaking out of the napkin?  So cute!  So cute, in fact, that I picked up the branch and attempted to bite in to one of the olives.  Turns out it was plastic!


To Start

First course: Pulpo a Feira, by Chef Antonio Ortuno  Seared octopus with boiled potato, sweet Spanish smoked pimenton, topped with an intense fruity EVOO 

Second course: Zuppa di Zucca Stagione, by Chef Mario Rizzotti  Pumpkin soup with crispy prosciutto topped with Italian Amarena cherries and 25 years aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, finished with a mild fruity EVOO

Main Dishes

First course: Rigatoni alla Gricia, by Chef Mario Rizzotti  This tomato-free version of "Amatriciana" is traditionally made with guanciale (pork jowl).  Here, the pork fat is drained off and replaced by a medium fruity EVOO.

Second course: Bacalao al "Pil-Pil," by Chef Antonio Ortuno  Pil-Pil is a Basque dish made with salted cod emulsified with an intense fruity EVOO, garlic, cayenne, and a green olive tapenade.


Pistachio Panna Cotta, by Chef Mario Rizzotti  Eggless Italian pistachio vanilla custard topped with hazelnuts toasted in EVOO and finished with a drizzle of medium fruity EVOO


This event was so well organized and executed, and I loved learning more about my favorite oil.  I found that my tastes leaned toward the "intense" Spanish version, where I used the assortment of sliced breads (handmade in the bakery of my beloved culinary school) as a dipping vessel to sop up every last drop of liquid gold.  The EVOO-centric meal prepared by two world-famous chefs was exquisite and oh-so-perfectly coursed.  And that wine!

Me, Chef Rizzotti, and my friend, Natallia


Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle

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