Visiting Olive Oil Tasting Rooms

If you want to develope your organoleptic – or tasting – skills where olive oil is concerned, start in the tasting rooms that offer oily enjoyment nationwide. Dip enough bites of bread and soon you’ll be able to discern the buttery olive oil from the floral, and get a new perspective on the uses and fragrances of the oil.

On the west coast of Florida, Naples Olive Oil is a gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop that offers a wide variety of organic virgin olive oils for tasting. It’s enough to draw tasters off the smooth white sand beaches. Owner Marie Heiland is an olive oil expert, knowledgeable about everything from oil and vinegar pairings to beauty treatments and medicinal uses.

Her shop offers over eleven organic oils and twenty-four aged balsamic vinegars. The range of flavors and flavor combinations are dazzling. Whether you’re sampling the owner’s favorite, citrus-y Persian Lime or the sweet and smoky Chipotle flavor, the subtle variety is a lot of fun to explore. Knowledgeable staff works hard to educate visitors on flavors, pairings, and use, and the shop even offers private group tastings.

Across the country in Los Olivos, Calif., a town known for its plethora of wine tasting rooms and small gourmet restaurants, Olive Hill Farm offers local oil and vinegar tastings. There are five flavored blends offered here, including the sweet blood orange, crisp lemon, and richly Italian basil. The shop’s owner, Gus Sousoures began farming olives in 2002, and works to blend other local and organic flavors into the oil making process. The oils run the gamut from mild to peppery. Visitors can also sample balsamic vinegars, truffle oils, and table olives.

Nearby, at Global Gardens in Solvang it’s not just the tastings, it’s the inventive recipes suggested by the shop’s owner Theo Stephan that contribute to a flavorful and informative visit. Stephan creates an impressive two-thousand-gallons-plus of olive oil annually. She’s always ready to suggest a dish that can be highlighted with the oils available for tasting – a brushing on a sandwich, sauteed vegetables, eggs, or most notably as a flavorful addition to a desert tart or cake.

A bit further north, in Templeton, Calif., more locally produced Central Coast oils are bringing European quality to the region at Olea Farm. The owners respect the European heritage of fine olive oil craftsmanship, and their tasting room reflects a European ambiance. Antique furnishings inside the tasting room and a long line of Arbequina olive trees bordering the road to the farm’s tasting location give visitors the sense that they’ve been transported to Italy. The oil itself is award winning Californian. The farm’s award-winning Arbequina olive oil – called “spring in a bottle” – is offered for sampling along with subtly blended oils, Crescendo and European, and the light lemon and basil oil offerings. Tastings are available only on Saturday and Sunday, but are well worth scheduling. Limited edition olive harvests mean unique flavors and oils may only pop up a few times a year.

So put down your wine glass and pick up a bread-bite. Olive oil tasting is changing the face of tasting rooms everywhere.

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