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An Oleologist’s Decalogue: An Interview with Nicholas Coleman, International EVOO Consultant

An Oleologist’s Decalogue: An Interview with Nicholas Coleman, International EVOO Consultant

Virgin? Extra? Olive oil has many surnames, but few know its identity, that which makes it unique. The New Yorker Nicholas Coleman, international EVOO expert and co-founder of the Grove and Vine Consultancy, is convinced that he has discovered its secret. A firm defender -and creator- of the theory that whoever tries a good extra virgin will become obsessed with this foodstuff, he has not hesitated to share his 10 commandments for becoming an expert on EVOO with us. On an oleologist’s word.

Coleman considers himself to be a real oleologist, a term that he borrowed from the Italian expert, Luigi Caricato. “He was the first to coin the word oleólogo. I thought that if an enologo becomes an enologist in English, then oleólogo should be oleologist.” His theory is that an oleologist is very different to a sommelier; an oleologist not only chooses the best EVOOs and gives advice on how to pair them, but he also should be traveling around the world visiting olive groves, getting to know the different producers, to understand the diverse climatic conditions and the peculiarities of each harvest, the extraction techniques and how these affect the yield and the flavor profile. A world that “is fascinating and increasingly popular every day,” to which Coleman gives us in 10 keys:
  1. “The biggest misconception is that olive oil is a mere condiment”
    It is a fundamental ingredient! It’s the first thing in the pan and last on the dish. It conducts and evenly distributes heat. Olive oil connects flavors, transforms textures and delivers nutrients. It is the ultimate sauce and a mandatory requirement in Mediterranean cuisine.

  2. “To choose a quality EVOO, look for three facts on the label: harvest date, olive cultivars, and the region from which it originates”
    Unlike many wine varieties, olive oil does not improve with age, so freshness is a key quality component. Check the date. In addition, different olives will have varying organoleptic properties (taste, color, aromas, feel, etc.) and knowing the cultivars of which the oil is composed is crucial. There is a saying: “what grows together goes together.” Be sure the olives from which the oil in the bottle is produced come not only from one country, but from a specific, localized region within that country. However, the most important thing when choosing oil is to smell it -when it is possible- and then taste it on its own, independent of other food, so that you can experience and then analyze its viscosity and flavor profile. This will trigger ideas about what it pairs best with. There are no firm rules here; it is very personal. With eyes closed, listen to your palate.

  3. “If you’re taking an EVOO as a gift to a dinner with friends, first find out what the menu will be”
    It depends on what’s being served. A variety of approaches can be applied to pairing oil with a specific dish. One is to consider how the food is prepared: Is it raw? Baked? Grilled? Fried? Each method produces a different food “weight” that better corresponds with an oil’s particular intensity. For example, a grassier, more robust oil would be a better choice for a seasoned grilled steak than for a raw preparation, such as steak tartare. It’s also useful to think regionally. If, for example, the goal is to re-create an authentic Tuscan dish, then the most accurate result will be achieved using Tuscan oil. If the goal is to re-create a Sicilian dish, use Sicilian oil.

  4. “Cook in a clean, extra virgin olive oil at an affordable price point”
    Reserve your expensive EVOOs to use raw, anointing the dish tableside.

  5. “You will know if it’s an early harvest EVOO if it gives off strong aromas of freshly cut grass and bitter herbs...”
    All olives begin their life green and ripen to a deep purplish-black; their color reflects their stage of maturation. Typically early harvest oils tend to have strong aromas of freshly cut grass and bitter herbs, ending with a pungent, lingering black pepper finish that slowly trails off in the back of the throat. The cause of this peppery sensation…considered an attribute of high-quality olive oil…is oleocanthal, a natural phenolic compound that has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Late-harvest oils, however, tend to be mellow, delicate and ethereal, with soft undertones of almond or banana.

  6. “... and that it’s a defective oil if it reminds you of black olive tapenade or vinegar”
    The presence of olfactory or gustatory defects disqualify an oil from extra virgin status. Sensory panels are designed to analyze and correctly identify these defects. For example, oils reminiscent of black-olive tapenade or emit a winey/vinegary aroma are signs of anaerobic or aerobic fermentation. In addition, oil should never leave a greasy, unpleasant texture in the mouth. There are many more defects -rancid, grubby, musty, frost bitten, muddy sediment...-, but they’re best explained through structured sensory training.

  7. “No single oil can solve all of your culinary conundrums”
    One should have at minimum: a delicate finishing oil that won’t overpower basic flavors, one robust finishing oil to cut through stronger food, and one more affordable (but clean tasting) extra virgin olive oil for cooking.

  8. “Olive oil has no need to envy wine, it’s already a cool product”
    Olive oil is already cool. I don’t understand why the rest of the world isn’t obsessed with it! However, it would be nice to see some influential celebrities hop on the olive oil bandwagon. It’s important to remember that olive oil and wine are not in competition. They compliment each other in the landscape and on the table.

  9. “The producer should work with nature, without trying to redirect it”
    The best producers plant the right cultivar in the correct microclimate to obtain a balanced fruit during the available growing season. They work with nature without trying to redirect it. It’s aikido, not boxing. However, a common problem I’ve observed is new world producers who reverse engineer their crop. They try to force a cultivar to thrive in an environment that it struggles in. This is a recipe for disaster because nature always bats last.

  10. “Chefs should embrace the immense variety of options that EVOO offers them, as an opportunity to demonstrate their culinary acumen”
    Some chefs know little about olive oil, while others are dialed in. Dave Pasternack, the executive chef at the Italian seafood restaurant ESCA in New York, is a real olive oil aficionado. He has numerous high quality regional monocultivar oils on the line and depending on what dish comes out, he’ll finish each one generously with the appropriate oil. I hope more chefs and restaurateurs start to see the opportunity to showcase regional olive oils on their menus. It is a simple yet effective way to distinguish their culinary acumen.
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